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A spool of string.

God says,

“Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.”

Acts 1:12

The Sabbath’s day journey spoken of in the verse above refers to the Jewish belief that in order to keep the Law of Moses you could not take a journey of more than 2000 cubits away from your home during the Sabbath. However, this became inconvenient and people started inventing different ways to get around the spirit of this law while seeming to keep the letter of it.

For instance, if you tied a string from house to house you could claim that, since they were “technically” joined, they were one dwelling. If you did this to enough houses then this would increase the range of a Sabbaths day journey from your one big “home.” Another way would be to place some food by a tree the day before the Sabbath calling that your temporary home. So by planning ahead, even if you were outside 2000 cubits from your home on the Sabbath you could continue your journey for another 2000 cubits and still be righteous. Basically, little by little, the Jewish rabbis figured out ways around the intent of the law until they made what it actually meant irrelevant.

Sometimes, we miss God’s point

God’s intent for keeping the Sabbath was for it to be a day of rest. Resting meant that believers did not plow your field, build a chicken coup, or be open for business. The desire was that His children were supposed to cease from their own labor. This was to be a blessing to those who kept it and also be symbolic of the rest that God wanted to give His people. However, when people do not wish to keep the true meaning of a law, when they find it restricts what they want to do contrary to the rules, legalism is at the door to help them find a way around it.

You can never pin a true legalist down for they always have a way of redefining the issue to avoid admitting they are wrong. They want to feel that they are right without actually having to be right. They want to look holy without actually having to be holy. They want to have the benefits of seeming to follow God without actually having to obey Him.

What legalism is

Many people, who want to appear to obey God while not having to really do so, become expert manipulators of the truth by using absurd details to avoid it. Any stretch of the imagination, as long as it has the least hint of scriptural relevance, is not too far for them.   Do you really think that if a Pharisee met the Son of God while putting food under a tree or tying a string between two houses that he would not be ashamed?  Truly, legalism really only makes sense to other legalists and not to normal human beings.

God is not impressed with legalism. If there is no heart obedience then He has no real interest in people simply going through the motions.

God says,

“Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

Isaiah 1:10-17


“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”

Matthew 5:8

Doing the things of God is sometimes not the same as obeying God

Doing the things of God is not always the same thing as truly obeying God.  If your service becomes perfunctory (just going through the motions) then God has no delight in what you do.  God is interested in your heart and if that is missing He wonders why you even bother.  If you use the jots and tittles of the law to break the spirit of the law then you have broken the law even though you claim to keep it.  You get away with nothing, for God will eventually expose everything.

In conclusion, God wants your heart and not just your head.  He desires obedience through actually fulfilling the spirit of what He asks and not just feigned obedience to its’ letter.  Here is a truth,

“It is better, in God’s sight, to be an honest sinner than a dishonest believer.”  

Legalism is lying.  It is perverting the truth by circumventing it.  It kills those who partake of it and dishonors those who are the recipient of it. It is never warranted nor helpful to violate the known intent of a rule or law simply because you don’t want to follow it.  It leads otherwise sane people to do stupid things like tying strings between houses.  It breaks trust and it perverts relationships until they are broken.  However difficult the real truth is, it is always preferable to follow the Spirit of the Law rather than do violence to it by a legalistic interpretation of it.