"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27. ESV.)
Q: How can you tell the difference between someone who exercises legalism and one who lives by grace?
A: The "scribes" and "Pharisees" were all about the rules. They lived, judged, and condemned others based on the laws. Jesus, however, was all about compassion. While we were still sinners He gave His perfect life on the cross so that we may have a relationship with God the Father.
That's my opinion on the matter, anyway.
Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who claimed to be upright and looked down on those (they perceived) who did not follow God's commandments. Their righteousness was only skin deep. But on the inside, they were ugly, apathetic, and callous. Perhaps it is safe to also say, self centered. As I try to grasp the character of the "scribes" and "Pharisees" of Matthew 23:27, I feel as though they were all about themselves. Maybe they even thought, "If I say or do such and such, how will it make me look to others?"
Christ was a stark contrast. He was only concerned with what God, His Father, was going to think about His words and actions. Not to mention, he was empathetic, loving, and without fault.
There have been times in my life when I let someone down and could have done better. One such time was years ago when a young unbeliever and I were discussing a very serious decision this adolescent was contemplating. Instead of sacrificing my own comfort, time, energy, and pride, I simply gave a "safe" response then busied myself with my own life. The person went on to make a life changing choice. Not long after that the individual died. I could not help but think, "Jesus suffered the cross and I could not be bothered coming along side this juvenile for the long haul." I know I am not the Holy Spirit but when the Lord places a believer or unbeliever in my life I need to stop doing what I feel is important and give my attention, efforts, hospitality, love, encouragement, guidance, and every thing else I possibly can to what the Lord has assigned for me to do...for as long as it takes.
Christ never said taking up the cross would be easy! Infact, I do believe He stated quite the opposite. It's going to be uncomfortable, painful, embarrassing, exhausting, frustrating, intimidating, nauseating, head-pounding, heart wrenching, and unfathomable but NOTHING compared to being tortured and crucified!
I do not always WANT to do what the Lord gives me. I would prefer to do what comes easy to me and then give Him the glory for it. But God is good and has provided the Whole Armor of God and the body of Christ for support and assistance. I am so thankful I can count on sisters and brothers in Christ (and grace) when I need some back up.
When I think of legalism, I am reminded of Sir Walter Scott's quote,
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive."
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10. ESV.)