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Legalism in the church is like a fortified wall that separates us from God and one another. It's time we tear it down.
The year was 1987, and he stood larger than life. The place was the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It was there that President Ronald Reagan declared: "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Within two years the first holes were punched through the thick concrete and rebar wall. A reunited Germany soon followed. In many ways, the Goliath-head of Hitler's lingering ghost was finally severed.

Speaking of walls, looking down from well above the Earth's atmosphere the human eye can trace what looks like a thin vein coursing through the nation of China. That vein is the Great Wall of China, which is roughly 4,154 miles long--greater than the distance from Miami to Seattle.

In recent years I have begun a quest to understand how walls get built and why they last. Not so I can build one, but so I can destroy one. Walls of racism and walls of denominationalism are just a few of the walls I'm surveying.

But one wall seems to stand above the rest when it comes to division and separation. It's the wall that excludes and condemns like no other. It's the Great Wall of Legalism. I am convinced God can see it coursing through the body of Christ from His vantage point in heaven.

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Raised in the church all my life, I have danced between the world of authentic biblical holiness and the world of prescribed human restrictions. I have begun chronicling the characteristics of legalism.

The term legalism, or legalist, is not specifically named in Scripture. But it is clearly denoted by Jesus and Paul, who coined terms such as "the circumcision" and "dogs" to describe the harsh opposition of legalism to the kingdom of God. "Pharisee," "religion" and "traditions of men" are just a few more of the terms used to define this strain of deception.

Legalism in its basic form is the art of mixing personal achievement and unconditional acceptance into a single belief system. When you come to discover the nature of grace, you realize this is an impossible proposition.

The foundation for all legalism and false religion is competitive fear as opposed to servant love, which is the basis of the kingdom of God. I have come to realize that not becoming something will only motivate me behaviorally for so long; I must gain a vision of what to become if I am going to thrive over the long haul in faith and leadership. Legalism as a way of life is a problem because it's based on avoiding failure not on pursuing joy.

Our pursuit as believers is not to keep from failing, but to enjoy and enter into the life God has for us. In Christ we are dead to sin, but it doesn't stop there. We are also alive to God.

Holiness to a legalist is separation from the world. Holiness to a kingdom child is separation unto a wonderful God. It's the goodness and virtue of God we cling to that is creating the transformation in our lives, not just the mere absence of evil.

There are myriad contrasts between the religion of man and the kingdom of God. Here are a few:

Years of service are more valuable than grace to a legalist.
A legalist views repetitious behavior and faithfulness as the same action.
A legalist pursues form without substance.
A legalist cannot stand delayed rewards from an invisible God; their performance of deeds must have an immediate reaction from the audience.
Legalism uses the fear of judgment as a way to control people; the kingdom of God motivates people with the hope of a coming reward.
Legalism tries to control attitudes; the kingdom of God produces new attitudes.

The Holy Spirit seems to be saying to the church what Ronald Reagan said to Gorbachev that pivotal day in 1987. It's time once and for all to "tear down that wall" and to start living as free people--people who have experienced the freedom of Christ and who can proclaim that freedom to others.

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Dr. Mark Rutland's

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