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Legalism

This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.


How does the Assemblies of God view personal Christian liberty as opposed to strict legalism?

The Assemblies of God, like most Christian groups, struggles to avoid the extremes of legalism and liberty/license. It is not hard to describe the biblical principles of Christian behavior, but the application of those principles sometimes leads people to one of two extremes.

Legalism is keeping man-made rules and regulations in order to earn salvation. The Ten Commandments are God-given enduring principles of right and wrong. But simply keeping those requirements does not by itself guarantee salvation, as the rich young ruler who claimed to have kept all the law found out (Luke 18:18-27). How much less will the keeping of dress codes and entertainment guidelines fall short of earning our salvation. Yet it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what we do or avoid doing will earn for us a place in God’s kingdom.

On the other hand, the Bible speaks of the freedom and liberty we have in Christ. Christian liberty, however, is not the freedom to do whatever one likes; it is the liberty one experiences when at salvation he is delivered from the bondage of sin. Paul advocated voluntary Christian discipline rather than either a legalized code of behavior or the freedom to do as one pleases. When speaking of Christian liberty, Paul qualifies the freedom by calling the Christian, in exercising his liberty, to be sensitive to those about him/her (the "weaker brother" of Romans 14,15).

Some Christians err toward the extreme of legalism while others fall into the error of libertinism, or being so free in Christ that they need pay no attention to accepted codes of morality or conduct. The Assemblies of God teaches that both extremes are wrong.

The Bylaws of the Assemblies of God–Article IX, Section 2 (Legalism) and Section 6 (Worldliness) state the official teaching of the Fellowship on this question.

Section 2 (Legalism) explicitly disapproves of those who try to press "matters of conscience" (or private opinions) on others. The biblical example of "the eating or not eating of meats" is presented as an illustration of "a matter of conscience." The section furthermore disapproves of those who seek to add conditions to salvation and who seek to press such personal opinions as keeping the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday.

Section 6 (Worldliness) reaffirms the Assemblies of God adherence to Bible standards in view of the alarming erosion of national moral standards. Rather than listing a catalog of explicit activities, some of which might become confused in time with cultural issues, the statement reads, "We urge all believers to ‘love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. . . . For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world’" (1 John 2:15,16).

To make the definition of worldliness clearer without drawing up a list of rules and regulations, the statement notes that the Bible warns against participation in activities which defile the body, corrupt the mind and spirit, grow out of a preoccupation with pleasures or position or possessions, involve extreme behavior or unbecoming speech or inappropriate appearance, or tend to lessen one’s affection for spiritual things (Luke 21:34,35; Romans 8:5-8; 12:1,2; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Timothy 2:8-10; 4:12; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; Titus 2:12).

Though some Christians may err on the side of legalism and others on the side of permissive license, the Assemblies of God maintains and teaches a biblical position that honors God out of a heart of loving obedience.


The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching. The official delineation of this position is found in General Council Bylaws, Article IX, Sections 2 & 6.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.