The problem we face is this: “When could it ever be appropriate for us to speak to people with the severity of Jesus?” This is a very difficult question to answer, for unlike him, each one of us has a Pharisee in our own heart, a Pharisee who needs regular rebukes. This sad reality of our own inner lives should mean that our severity to the self-righteous and to the legalists around us must always be tempered by compassion borne of our own failings in these matters. Our severity should also always be tempered by the agonized prayer of the tax collector whom Jesus quoted: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Is our denunciation of self-righteousness and legalism motivated by our own pride that “we are not like the self-righteous Pharisees of our time, and we are not legalists”? Or is our denunciation of these obstacles to the gospel motivated by a passion for truth and by compassion for the Pharisees?Having made these necessary qualifications, we still must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life and outreach of our churches. Indeed, we may regard it as a principle: the more legalistic a church is, the less genuine outreach there will be.Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that the legalists impose upon them. We are to proclaim liberty: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world.
- Jerram Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, p. 177