Legalism in Seven Movements: Converted to Hell

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and then you make that convert twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:14 TNIV)

While the adherent to legalism shuts heaven’s door in people’s faces, they are simultaneously zealous for the gospel. It is this combination that is so deadly. The gospel must be preached, but there are certain people who are unworthy to hear it. You don’t throw pearls before swine, so also you don’t share the gospel with certain types of people. At least that’s what they say.

Further than this, though, is the indictment that Jesus makes against these people. What makes His comment so powerful is that He is not totally critical. He begins by stating,

You travel over land and sea to win a single convert.

Jesus admires their zeal. They want others to join them in the family of God. The problem is, they bring their own rules with them. Obeying the law is not enough to please God, the possible convert must follow their version of it to be truly accepted by God.

Fast forward to the present.

While the missionary endeavor is vitally important, indeed it is commanded, there are still those today who insist that faith in Jesus is not enough. True, you must believe in Jesus to be saved, these individuals say, but you must also stop listening to certain styles of music, watching movies with a certain rating, wearing certain clothes, and reading books and magazines by certain authors or published by certain groups. Don’t say certain words and never criticize the status quo. God bless America.

The result of this type of evangelism?

you make that convert twice as much a child of hell as you are.

This happens in two specific ways.

One way they become a child of hell is that they flat reject your entire message, cross of Jesus and all. They may like what Jesus teaches, but they won’t allow themselves to become an adherent to anything claiming His name. There is even the possibility that they may totally reject Him and never follow Him at all. But hope is still there for them to “come around” so to speak if a true Jesus follower comes along.

Even more dangerous than if they simply reject the message, though, is the possibility that they just might accept this “gospel.” As they become indoctrinated in the ways of the legalist, they will shut the door to heaven in people’s faces. So, just as their proselytizers, they bring that condemnation on themselves. On top of that, though, they are now reliant on something other than the imputed righteousness of Jesus for their salvation. They are doubly condemned; “twice as much a child of hell.”

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