Dealing with legalism

The term, “devil,” means “accuser.”  The Psalms are full of impassioned pleas for God to deal justly with accusers.  Accusations are stressful; they put us on the defensive.  They are especially troubling when they are baseless and false.

The disciples were on the receiving end of such false accusations.  Their empty stomachs prompted them to pluck some grain while they were on a Sabbath Day walk.  The omnipresent and ever-critical Pharisees immediately put an end to such mischief.  They had made special rules to safeguard the Mosaic code, and the disciples were in violation.  Apparently hungry people may not be fed if it required work on the Sabbath Day!

Jesus jumped to the defense of the disciples.  Citing an otherwise obscure Old Testament example, he wanted to illustrate both legal principle and precedent for the Pharisees.  The principle of the Sabbath Day law was not to needle legitimately needy people with the letter of the law.  It intended to provide a reasonable outlet for physical and spiritual rest.  The case of David eating the showbread was God’s own legal precedent.

Dealing with the Pharisees’ legalism was an ongoing challenge in Jesus’ ministry.  He warned, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).  That’s the real irony of this story.  The Pharisees’ legalistic accusations of the disciples belie the real Sabbath Day violation - they refused to find spiritual rest in Christ.  

So also today legalists and other unbelievers may quote chapter and verse that falsely accuse Christians of sin.  Rejecting the Word made flesh does not qualify you to reinterpret the written Word in a vain attempt to assuage your own guilty conscience.


It is nothing but pure grace that Jesus stands by our side as our Advocate.  We’ve got plenty of sins for Jesus to defend without legalistically trying to invent others.  Regardless, Jesus defends us against both.  What a joy it is to have real rest in Christ who speaks to the Father in defense of any accusation.

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