Legalism is deadly. It does not matter what form it takes. Sometimes it lures us to find our acceptance with God in our efforts instead of in Christ. Other times it holds out promises of greater holiness or closeness with God if we begin obeying human precepts. In either case, legalism turns our eyes away from Jesus and points them toward self-made religion; it leans on asceticism and severity to the body to find spiritual growth. The problem is, though it may have the appearance of wisdom, it is of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23)
In the clip below, Jeff Saltzmann, pastor of Bethel Grace Baptist Church, gives us a helpful illustration of why all these man-made rules and regulations are powerless against sin.
Below is the transcript of the video clip edited for reading.
Here is an illustration that I think may help. How many of you have ever had a cavity in one or more of your teeth? Most of us have had cavities. Let us say that a person finds that they have tooth decay, and it is right there in one of those teeth that is easy to see. So they discovered for themselves this big old gnarly spot, and it is big, and it is serious. It is a cavity right there in one of those important teeth, so the person who discovers that they have this cavity says, “I have got to take care of this. This is no good.”
So they decide, I am now going to go on a super-disciplined process of brushing my teeth five times a day. I am going to brush my teeth five times a day to take care of that cavity. Is that going to do it for the cavity? No, it is not. What if they say, “Okay, I am going to pull out the heavy artillery here, and I am also going to bring out the dental floss. I am going to do what it takes to really take care of this cavity.” Is that going to handle the cavity? No, it is not.
We have this sin nature that affects the human body, and a person can sit there with all of these rules and regulations just scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing, and it is not going to deal with the root issue of human sin. Rules and regulations cannot do the trick. It does not heal it. So, what does?
What, then, is powerful to overcome the sinful proclivities of the human condition is something much more radical than rules and brushing and scrubbing. It requires something wonderful, and what we are talking about is that the flesh is overcome by virtue of the glorious doctrine of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are joined to Christ by faith, by the working of God’s grace, and it is Jesus himself who forgives all of our sins. He is the one who raises us up in the newness of life, giving us newness within. Transformation internally by the indwelling of his Spirit that comes and makes things new; that deals with the reality of sin within us. It is always Christ and his work and his power personally released into us that deals with the issue.