1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Examine all things. Firmly hold onto what is good.” *Bible Translation: Modern English Version

Life happens and when the winds of changes blow we need to grasp hold of something good and steady. To encourage his congregations and strengthen their faith the apostle Paul wrote many letters. In one of his letters he asked the believers in Thessaloniki to identify what is good and then hold on to it.

We try to get things right, but it is very human to lose track. One of the popular traps believers slide into is legalism. The legalistic approach goes completely against Paul’s advice. Instead of holding on to what is good, legalism first identifies what is bad and then proceeds to build fences and walls around it. We are all familiar with “You shall not steal” from the Ten Commandments – well, legalism does steal! It mines away justice, mercy and faithfulness. On several occasions Jesus confronted his legalistic contemporaries (Matthew 23:23-24):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

We can read between the lines how incensed the Lord had to have been. Jesus is strongly opposed to legalism because it undermines His redemptive work. He died to free us, but legalism puts the shackles back on.

Workers of the law seem to live exemplary lives, but we should not be fooled by mere appearances. In the eyes of the Lord they look miserable. When we open the door to legalism, love and joy will disappear. And if love is gone the Lord has officially left the building. The apostle Paul calls the legalistic Galatians “bewitched”. Here is what he what he wrote (Galatians 3:1-2):

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?”

With our legalistic attempts to satisfy the law we cannot meet God’s standard of holiness because we all fall short. Love is the heart of the gospel, most importantly, God is love. In the Son of God we hold on to everything that’s good; and Jesus will never forsake us – not now, not ever.

“Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm; in every high and every low you never let go of me!” (Matt Redman)