The difference of Legalism and Righteousness:

Legalism is a term we hear in our society today in regards to Christians. When we compare the story of the crippled woman with today’s society there is very little difference. Jesus saw a crippled woman bent over in pain. He recognized her as being a child of the LORD God and a daughter of Abraham. He did not see a person lacking if holiness because she was a woman, or because her body wasn’t perfect according to the eyes of society. Luke 13:10-17

Jesus was harassed often by the Pharisees, elders of the people and the chief priest about healing on the Sabbath. The dilemma of Sabbath plagues our society even today. It becomes a difference between legalism and righteousness.
It is important that we remember it was not man who assigned a Sabbath, a day of rest. It was the LORD God who instituted the day of rest and keeping it Holy. The LORD did not say which day of the week it should be honored.

Our days of the week come from mythological gods of the ancient Roman and the Anglo-Saxon gods. Monday is named after the god of the moon. Tuesday the god of war, Wednesday the cunning god, Thursday the god of thunder, Friday is named after the goddess of love, Saturday from the god of time, and Sunday is from the god of the sun. (Dimont,1962).

The ancient Jewish court system was called the Sanhedrin. It was the highest court during the Second Temple Period. The Sanhedrin judged suspect lawbreakers, but could not initiate the arrest. It required a minimum of two witnesses to convict a suspect. There were no attorneys. Instead, the accusing witness stated the offense in the presence of the accused and the accused could call witnesses on his own behalf. The court questioned the accused, the accusers and the defense witnesses. (Encyclopedia,1971).

Israel was under the authority of the Romans at this time. The Roman Government allowed the Jewish Sanhedrin to enforce their laws of both the spiritual and natural. The Laws of the LORD God soon become mixed up with the laws of man and it soon become impossible to avoid breaking any of them.
It is the same today our laws of religion gets mixed up with the laws of man. There are limitations put on Christians today because of this. There are instances where the LORD would expect you to have one way, but the laws of man prohibit you from doing what is expected.

The rules set forth by religious leaders of old usually were from Biblical interpretation laced with what was profitable for them. Religious rules of today are based on man’s interpretation so religious leaders can be popular, gain power or just because that is what they wanted. Real issues that plague the people of Christ today are not addressed in the churches, they are just condemned. Examples of this would be child sexual abuse, wife battering, porn, gambling, even alcoholism or drug abuse. These are struggles that are happening in churches today and in most states there are laws against them. These matters are not addressed by most of the churches of any denomination. The victims are just condemned and shamed to stay out of the churches because they must have done something wrong to be in this situation. Legalism makes it clear it has no interest in victims of social problems only the crime and Righteousness focuses on the pain, hurting and destruction of the victims.

Mark 9:42 gives a warning for those who choose to put a stumbling block in the way of another to cause that child or adult to begin to mistrust the adults they should trust. “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

That’s pretty black and white there are many examples of a stumbling block that can and does cause people to mistrust those they should be able to trust. The law does not care about the victim just in identifying the crime. The churches do not care about the law or the victims. They care about if they are bringing in enough money, is the music hip enough to bring in more money, not offending the ones with the most money. Legalism doesn’t care about the stumbling blocks and Righteousness brings attention and gives warning not to cause one of the little ones cause to stumble or pay the price.

Then there are the issues like abortion that are not against the laws of man but abortion would be against the intent and Laws of the LORD God. Someday we will have to explain why we did to address this issue in our churches. It is okay with the laws of man to kill unborn children because it is socially acceptable. Legalism makes it acceptable and Righteousness makes it murder of the innocent and wrong.

When we compare the story of the crippled woman with today’s society there is very little difference. Jesus saw a crippled woman bent over in pain. He recognized her as being a child of the LORD God and a daughter of Abraham. He did not see a person lacking if holiness because she was a woman, or because her body wasn’t perfect according to the eyes of society. The priests and synagogue leaders say her unworthiness and the atrocity of her being healed on the Sabbath. They had their own addenda of tricking Jesus. The priests and elders missed the true miracle of healing; they say an opportunity to condemn. Jesus had violated the Sabbath.

What would many of the churches, the preachers, or priests see today? My answer is they would see nothing. They are so wrapped up in what they do they do not recognize what is going on around them especially if they did not institute the healing or activity. Today there are so many churches that are so busy convicting a person of their sinfulness they forget the righteousness of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is the one that convicts a person of their sinful behavior, and not ‘self-righteous’ or ‘self-serving’ preachers or church members who take it upon themselves to judge the actions or behaviors of fellow sinners who are in pain. Biblical speaking Godly behavior should be taught and understood in the church, and the church is actually supposed to hold Christians accountable for their sinful behavior.
Grace, forgiveness and the intention of the LORD should be taken into account. It is not the intent of the LORD God that legalism be interpreted as being the judge and jury. It is the righteousness of grace and the interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ according to His Word that is more important.

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:” (Ephesians 1:4-9).

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:16-21).

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13).


Dimont, Max. (1962). Jews, Jews, God and History. New York: The New American Library.

Encyclopedia Judaica (1971).”Sanhedrin”. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House.

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MLA Style Citation:

Holstein, Joanne “The difference of Legalism and Righteousness: .” Becker Bible Studies Library Oct 2014.<,>.

APA Style Citation:
Holstein, Joanne (2014, October) “The difference of Legalism and Righteousness:.” Becker Bible Studies Library. Retrieved from,.

Chicago Style Citation:
Holstein, Joanne (2014) “The difference of Legalism and Righteousness:.” Becker Bible Studies Library (October),, (accessed).

Joanne Holstein is a Becker Bible Studies Teacher and Author of Guided Bible Studies for Hungry Christians. She is a graduate of Psychology/Christian and Bible Counseling with Liberty University. She is well-known as a counselor to Christian faithful who are struggling with tremendous burden in these difficult times. She is a leading authority on historical development of Christian churches and the practices and beliefs of world religions and cults.

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