Don’t Fall Back into Legalism


Keeping your eyes on Jesus will keep you from becoming a people pleaser. It will also help you avoid the snare of legalism.


Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).


Please people or please God. This was the issue that prompted Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Peter, the one who boldly delivered the first gospel sermon and the one who ended the heated debate at the Jerusalem Council with a stunning claim that Gentiles were saved by grace just like the Jews, had become a people pleaser.

The believers in Antioch witnessed Peter’s lapse in judgment. When he first arrived there he enjoyed fellowship with all of the believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. He ate with the Gentiles regularly. However, once the men sent from James showed up, Peter’s actions changed.

He separated himself from the Gentiles altogether. Other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray.

Paul could not let this gross misrepresentation of the gospel go unchallenged. He admonished Peter in front of all the believers in Antioch. You can imagine the tension that filled the assembly, but it had to be done. The truth of the gospel was at stake.

Why did Peter cave? What provoked this blatant display of “people pleasing” on his part?

Paul points to three signs.

  • Fear — Peter separated himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those men that had come from James. If you live for the approval of others, as Peter did, fear will become the controlling force in your life. 
  • Hypocrisy — Peter’s actions were not in line with the truth of the gospel. He acted hypocritically. Trying to please others will cause you to act in ways that are contrary to the truth of the Gospel.
  • Forcing others to follow suit – Peter’s actions influenced others. All the Jews, and even Barnabas, joined Peter in his hypocrisy. To help justify your decision to give in to the legalistic demands of others, you will pressure others to follow suit. 

These are the telltale signs that you are on a “people pleasing” avenue. But you don’t have to continue down that road. You don’t have to give in to the opinions or customs of others. Here is how to avoid that trap.

  • Recognize that you have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ. You are already right in God’s sight (Galatians 2:16). God is pleased with you and his opinion is the one that matters.
  • Keep the unity of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:3). Demanding others to follow customs based on human teachings and traditions divides and becomes a form of legalism.
  • Let your life be shaped by grace through faith in the one who loves you and gave himself for you (Galatians 2:20, 21).
  • Remember what counts: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).


God never intended for your beliefs, attitudes or actions to be shaped by the opinions of others. You were rescued from that realm and have been placed in Christ. You now are to live by his indwelling presence, being shaped by his death, burial and resurrection.  

Keeping your eyes on Jesus, not people, will keep you from becoming a people pleaser and will help you avoid the snare of legalism.


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