Worldliness And Legalism Am I A Legalist?

Worldliness And Legalism Am I A Legalist?
By: Nan Pamer

Several month prior to my graduation from college, a professor called me into his office. He pointed his finger across his desk at me, and in the spirit of “Christian love” (the type of love John Calvin must have experienced before he burned Michael Servetus at the stake) he said to me, “You are a guilt-ridden legalist.”

I didn’t know at the time the exact meaning of a legalist, but from the look in his eye, I knew it was something I wanted to get rid of as quickly as possible.

He proceeded to tell me that legalism was a terrible distortion of Christianity and that legalistic homes have the highest rate of perversion and immorality of any homes in America.

By this time I had an enormous lump in my throat. Tears were making their embarrassing march down my face, and I was unable to make a single comment in defense of my way of life. He was a Ph.D. I was legalist. What did I know?

I had a thirty minute drive back to my home, and I wept as I searched my heart every minute on the trip. All that I was had been attacked, and I stood there helpless. Did people really believe this of me? Was there really a higher rate of immorality among my type of people? And most importantly, was I doing something that displeased God?

Somewhere along Interstate 77 between Canton and Akron, Ohio, I purposed in my heart that I would either change my ways or I would prove to that professor he was wrong and misinformed.

This article is written in response to his accusations.

The term legalism in The Random House College Dictionary is definedas “1. strict adherence to law esp. to the letter rather than the spirit. 2. Theol. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.”

According to the dictionary, there are some groups who believe salvation can be gained by good works. But after the encounter with my professor and after reading some Christian periodicals, I realized that many people in Christendom automatically brand all those who live by a code of conduct as legalists. Historically, Holiness and Pentecostal churches have maintained such a code and are easily recognizable by their emphasis on modest dress. They, myself included, are accused of being legalists because of their outward appearance.

I am amazed that educated people such as my professor would make such a sweeping generalization that all people who adhere to certain standards are legalists, believing their works merit salvation. Prior to that visit to his office, we had never discussed any church doctrine; he had no idea of my relationship to god, yet he judged me as being an inferior Christian.

The following section will explain the code of conduct our Apostolic Pentecostal group maintains, in relation to our salvation. We do not believe our codes merit salvation, but rather they are a reaction to it.

For me and for our people, the blood of Jesus is our only righteousness. Our salvation only comes from God, never from our good works. To think that I could merit His marvelous grace by adhering to a set of laws would be a terrible wrong. There is nothing I or anyone could do as sinful person that could make us worthy of the cross of Christ. I am not a legalist.

But to accept the grace of God and then be indifferent to Christ’s commandments for holy living would be a dreadful discredit to His mercy. Dietrich Bonhoffer has labelled this type of action as “cheap grace.” “Grace without discipleship. Grace without the Cross. Grace without the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” To preach Christ and His saving grace and then not finish the sermon with a code to live by leaves people open to
failure and vulnerability.

Who can view the Cross without wanting to mold oneself into the likeness of Christ? Who would want to continue the same sinful patterns of life when Jesus Christ has died to give deliverance from those sins? When a person begins to comprehend the holiness and the sinlessness of Him, does not he want to become more holy and less sinful?

This is where a code of conduct enters our Christian life. One need not have 20/20 vision to see that many of the pleasures of our secular society are not based on biblical principles. As a church, we believe persons who partake of all these pleasures may lose something very precious, which is a sense of the approval and presence of God.

While it is theologically true that the blood of Jesus does cover every sin, it is also true that our love for Him should restrain us from presuming upon His marvelous grace. The trend of undisciplined behavior is developing in some areas of Christendom and often with devastating results. Moreover, how can we hope to change our world if we are doing everything sinners are doing, the only difference being that we ask forgiveness at the end of each day?

Consider the inconsistencies of believing there should be no code of conduct among Christians:

1. In a success-oriented society, we do not consider it odd if a corporation requires its employes to conform to a dress code that mandates suits and ties for men and suits and dresses for women. Why then is a church that teaches neatness and modesty for the purpose of honoring the holiness of God considered to be narrow, restrictive, and legalistic?

2. In a sports-oriented society, we respect a coach who sets standards of no smoking, drinking or “wild living” to protect his athletes. Why then are these same standards regarded as intolerable legalisms when they are recommended by a church that cares to honor and protect the bodies of its members?

3. In a sensate and materialistic society, rules that protect property from being destroyed are popularly promoted and enforced. Why then are rules in a church that protect the purity of soul and body considered to be guilt-producing legalisms?

4. Society admires the youngster who trades his free time of watching TV or playing outside for hours of practicing on the piano or learning to play a brass instrument. Discipline in study habits, the “dos and don’ts” that the committed college student puts on himself for the purpose of getting the most from his education, are cheered by each of us. Why then are disciplines in the Christian life dismissed with disdain?

If Christian churches continue to mark any attempt at consecration and separation as legalistic, and at the same time advocate living so “free” in God’s forgiveness for anything that a person need not worry about his conduct, they will soon produce Christian anarchy! In an effort to keep out tendencies toward Pharisaical law, we can leave our generation wide open to permissiveness that will spiritually and morally destroy ourselves.

My husband and I have worked in the Apostolic Faith Assembly for over twelve years. Because we are in a position of leadership in the church and deal with these people and their families on a daily basis, I believe I can show a perspective that an outside observer could not. The church has been in operation for thirty-five years and throughout its history its members have adhered to a code of conduct relatively unchanged.

While the mainstream of society is experiencing an enormous breakdown of the family structure, we as a church are not. While premarital sex, abortions, and homosexuality are becoming common occurrences in America, our church is almost untouched. God forbid that I would say that in aboastful way, but there must be some reason why this has happened.

Because the church has taught that we should not let Hollywood dictate to us how we should dress, I believe it has had an effect on the people’s morality. I bring up the subject of “modesty in dress” because it is the point at which some Christians cry “legalists” the loudest, believing that it is a yoke of bondage, an overemphasis on the external. But I totally disagree.

Dr. David Seamands makes reference to the teaching of a code of conduct in his book, Healing for Damaged Emotions. I understand his concern that a religion of dos and don’ts could have adverse effects on people. But Seamand’s generalization that all churches who have dos and don’ts, a code of conduct, are producing neurotics, perfectionists and perversion is a gross injustice.

If we as a church were to teach that a person is saved by these dos and don’ts rather than the blood of Christ, I could certainly understand their concern, but these leaders are missing the purpose entirely. We believe that these codes will protect us from the onslaught of an immoral, degenerate society.

Let me explain what I mean by “protect us.” I am sure most people would agree that the way a person dresses sends out nonverbal signals about themselves. Though a Christian lady might send these signals innocently, the man who would respond to her does not know that and will treat her in the same way as those with the not-so-innocent signals.

My husband and I have given most of our time to the youth of our church and are certainly aware of the problems that they face. Of the more than one hundred young people, I don’t believe there is one who would say the code of conduct that we maintain has hurt them. To send kids out into an almost completely sex-oriented world with no boundaries is almost spiritual suicide.

I must add that our youth group is not without problems, but they are far below the averages of the world around them. And to say that these problems have arisen because of the rules of the church has advocated, and not because of the secular, ungodly world we live in, is being unrealistic and terribly biased.

Those young people who have kept a code of conduct and not become
involved in things “just because everyone else was doing it” have grown
to be secure, stable adults who are an asset to the community. They have
strong marriages and families, and they remain untainted by the p
permissiveness of our society.

From my observations, the accusation that our lifestyle produces perversion and immorality is totally untrue. Those who adhere to a disciplined Christian life are people with the highest integrity among church people and the community. Those who do not see the need of keeping themselves from the ungodly behavior of our present day are plagued with problems: physically, financially, socially, arid spiritually.

Because of the vast differences I can see among the five hundred members of our church, between the disciplined and the undisciplined Christian life, I cannot apologize for our way of life.

I am thankful for the challenge the professor presented me. He forced to examine my beliefs, but in doing so I did not come to his conclusions. Rather, I have concluded that we who have kept a code of conduct have contributed to the stability of our homes, churches and communities, and we have nothing of which to be ashamed.

My study on this subject has brought up this question: Would America be in such a moral decline today if churches would have maintained a more distinct Christian lifestyle? Perhaps if all churches would have kept an outward code of conduct, it would have been a reminder of godly things, and the world would not have been so easily swept into secularism.

Western civilization has evolved in the last one hundred years from an optimistic, progressive society with a bright future into what some historians term the “Age of Anxiety.” Could the Christian church have played a part in this dissolution because it has not given the world an ethical, moral, and spiritual code with which people can measure their conduct? If the “city set on a hill” is to be seen, it must have some distinguishable aspects; otherwise the world will never notice.

In an effort to have no “legalism,” many people have left our generation wide open for permissiveness. This lack of boundaries has left an insecurity in Christendom that has produced an unbelievably lax and unbiblical code of ethics. Who would have believed a few years ago that some Christian churches would accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, allowing homosexuals to become ministers? Who could have anticipated that churches would have approved abortion as a necessary evil?

I would like to address my final remarks to the professor who motivated me to examine this aspect of my life.

“Sir, perhaps it was my conversion that you did not understand. I was a lost sinner when Jesus Christ drew me with cords of love and wrapped me in His marvelous grace.”

“Yes, I am free to do as I please, but I am a captive of His love. Every facet of my life has been affected my heart, my mind, my soul, my spirit, and yes, my outward appearance.”

“I have seen the Cross, and not one part of me will ever be the same.”

(The above material appeared in a February 1988 issue of Pentecostal Herald.)


By: Nathaniel A. Urshan

A psychiatrist’s son burst out in utter frustration, “I really don’t know what I believe!” The astonished father suddenly realized that he had not only permitted his son freedom of thought but he had also failed to guide him as to what was best to believe.

If a person is familiar with the popular magazines’ articles of recent days that talk about youth and some of their wayward transgression and some of the desires they have, he will recognize that youth today need and want loving guidance. Even restraint is an expression of love when danger is in the offing. Correction has the element of love when it is administered properly.

The Scriptures warn Christians about worldliness. The Bible tells us that worldliness has a damaging, destroying effect upon a person’s spiritual life, and this damage cannot be overestimated. But what is worldliness?

The evangelical movement has through the years patterned its standards after the Word of God, and it is hopeful that those who have an evangelical thrust today will continue to adhere to this firm foundation. If they do not, or if we do not, we could all find ourselves filled with modernistic, Laodicean thinking rather than be a church filled with the desire to live in truth and purity.

When Israel was in Egyptian bondage, God chose Moses as the leader to deliver them. He sent Moses to Pharaoh with this message: “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Exodus 9:1). Under the divine pressure of the plagues God sent, Pharaoh gradually made four concessions, recorded in Exodus 8 and 10: (1) “Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land” (Exodus 8:25); (2) “I will let you go. . .only ye shall not go very far away” (Exodus 8:28); (3) Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God” (Exodus 10:7); “Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed” (Exodus 10:24). In these four propositions we see how Satan tries to impede spiritual progress and service.

The secret of victory over the wiles of Satan is found in the Spirit-filled, Bible-directed life. God still commands His people: “Come out and be ye separate”; He still describes the church as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Treasures are kept in special places for special purposes. The Lord is jealous of us because He loves us and we are valuable to Him. The Old Testament vessels of the Tabernacle were kept separate and apart for divine service. We who have been sanctified are vessels to the honor of our Lord Jesus, and we are suitable for the Master’s use.


In the midst of all the scriptural exhortation of what we can be, there is still a very definite dislike in us poor humans for being too different from what the rest of the world is. Israel reflected this desire to be like others. The people desired a king so that they would be like other nations. In this desire the people made concessions to the arm of flesh and were satisfied only when they discovered a man to take the helm and leadership of the country. Samuel warned the Israelites that they could be brought into greater bondage by this new, so-called freedom. But they would not heed his warning.

The dictionary defines worldliness as “devotion to, and affection for things pertaining to this world.” This implies fleeting pleasure which could come through the avenues of the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We are admonished by John in his epistle, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. . .And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17).

We must not let presupposition and uncertainty make a mark on our decisions about righteous living. The fact that there is a doubt presupposes something to be in doubt about. It may also indicate that the Lord is speaking to us about a particular matter. We need to take heed and to draw nigh to God, who is ever seeking to find more room in our lives for Himself.

The Apostle Paul wrote that anything not specifically sinful in itself is permissible and allowable to the child of God but not every thing is helpful or good for him. He must consider each practice and involvement in the light of the presence of God, and he must not become a slave to anything.


Many things in themselves are not wrong, but sin exists in their abuse and excess, and in the consumption of time that God deserves. if we do not have time to spend with the Lord Jesus, then it is obvious that we
are living in poor areas of affection. It is true that many people do not care for worldly pleasures, yet they do not have time for God and His purpose. Whether they are young or old, these people are choked with the cares and riches of this life. They bring no spiritual fruit to perfection; they fail to obtain spiritual excellence.

In the closing hour of this dispensation, we all need to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation. It would be terrible to stand before God empty-handed. Moreover, there is the danger of becoming wholly ensnared by the things of this life and therefore lose out completely with our Lord. If we do not keep the spiritual emphasis paramount in our lives, we may be eternally lost.

Someone may ask, “What’s wrong with a good movie?” Unfortunately, the adjective good needs to be defined. Even the biblical dramatizations on Hollywood screens, such as the stories of Samson and Delilah, and of David and Bathsheba, are designed to meet the public demand for sex and violence. Thus even biblical events portrayed on the Hollywood screen are tinged with all this innuendo of sexuality and severe violence. Moreover, the actors and actresses who change marital partners almost as often as scenes are changed in a play are not good examples for our youth.

Recently in some of the large metropolitan papers there was a penetrating article written against TV commercials that use sex and violence to sell a product. Should Christians pay money to keep the devil’s playhouse in operation? When the scenery of a person’s life is only the fantasy he sees on the screen, he very likely will not have a vision of the lost going into eternity without knowing the reality found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The beat of some modern music appears to be of satanic origin, for the hypnotic way it holds sway over its captive listeners reveals a definite instance of the power of Satan. If we must be tuned into something all the time, let us keep our ear attuned to the voice of the Spirit of God. A tape or record player and Christian recordings can be assets if we will use them properly. Radio can be an asset if we know how to turn the knob to the programs that purify the thought process.

Television is a terrible danger that can destroy the opportunity of a child to understand the wholesome aspects of life. With the advent of television, powerful forces of evil and forces of disrespect for authority have become prevalent in our world. The constant diet of smut, pornography, and violence soon saturates the sub-consciousness of an entire generation, destroying the foundation of Christian character.

Alcohol, narcotics, and nicotine are not only harmful to the human body but also to the mind and soul. The born-again person shuns their use so that he can be the temple of the Holy Ghost. “What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The Bible uses wine of this world as a symbol of wine of the Spirit. When we find the lordship of the Holy Spirit, experience His power, and come into His fellowship, we no longer need the natural wine for exhilaration, for the spiritual wine, the Holy Ghost, brings a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.

The modern dance in its many forms seriously contributes to the immorality of our times. The suggestive movements of the body lead to the absolutely lewd moral sins suggested by the movement of the body, that of fornication and adultery. (See I Thessalonians 4:3-7.) Poise, they say, comes from learning how to dance gracefully. But poise comes from within a person. When we get our spirits under the control of the holy God, poise will automatically be there.

Filthy literature floods our newsstands across the land. To fill one’s mind with the trash contained in them is more harmful than eating out of a garbage can. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Thoughts lead to actions. Through immoral literature Satan reaches for the minds of men to use them for his corrupt purposes.

To be worldly in dress is to dress according to the fashions of this world. Worldly appearance starts in the heart, and Christians are first to be clothed with a meek and quiet spirit. But holiness is more than an
attitude. We are instructed to be modest in the way we dress; we are to dress as becomes a Christian. Modesty causes us to exclude from our wardrobe clothes that are too short, too tight and skimpy, and in general those designed to attract the unwholesome attention of the opposite sex. God wants us to reflect wholesomeness and natural attractiveness. The sensual and superficial belong to the world.

The motivation of divine love is a necessary requirement. When God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, it governs all we do. We must beware of the attitude that we are free to do as we please, for from such pride and arrogance come the impulse to sin. Love makes us responsible to each other. We are to be an example not only to the unbelievers but also to the believers.

When Paul wrote, “I am made all things to all men, that I might save some;’ he did not mean that he partook of the pleasures of sin to win people to Christ. (See I Corinthians 9:22.) In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 9, he stated, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest. . .when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway:’ Paul identified himself with the unsaved by being compassionate and understanding. He did not criticize. He did not condemn. Rather, he pointed the unsaved toward a better way, the way of Jesus Christ. He willingly sacrificed to witness for the Lord, but he refused to compromise his holy lifestyle lest he would join the ranks of the lost.

We cannot reach men for God from a self-righteous pedestal. Neither can we lift them out of sin by getting down in the pit of sin with them. Both of these attitudes are out of character with a child of God. We need to throw out the lifeline from the shore and draw sinners into safety, prayerfully considering with caution the worldly lures cast by Satan to destroy our souls. In the name of the Lord Jesus, let us beware of the definite trend of a worldly condition that is stripping and robbing men of the tender, compassionate relationship to Jesus Christ. We should allow the wonderful Spirit of Christ to grip our hearts and cause us to think seriously about the importance of our consecration to His cause. Let us turn our eyes unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Unfortunately, many churches have abandoned the position of directing Christians in the way that they should live. These churches have become only a sounding board for what the people want to hear, only a place where a preacher reflects the carnal desires of people. He preaches what they want to hear, not what God has said to us in His Word. We must not cater to those who compliment us on our oyatorical splendor, but we must seek the favor of our God.


To separate ourselves from the world is to shun the temporal, that which is fleeting, and cleave to the eternal, that which stands the test of time. As we grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, we find abundant pleasure in the Holy Spirit, and we come to know that He is not only our constant guide but also our refuge and fortress in the synthetic worldly atmosphere of our generation.

Someday we will stand in His eternal presence-clean, pure, wholesome, a sanctified child of God, washed by the blood of Jesus Christ, baptized into His name for the remission of sins, transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Let us, both young and old, shun the lures of a tempting world. Let us use the sword of the Spirit, the Bible, to rebuke Satan and refute worldliness. When we use the Word of God, we defeat every powerful influence that would enslave our lives and destroy us. God is not only able to save to the uttermost, but He will keep us until the day of His coming.

(The above material appeared in an October 1987 issue of Pentecostal Herald.)

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