Series: Matthew: We Need a King

Discerning Legalism, Pt. 1

November 06, 2022 | Jeff Crotts

Passage: Matthew 15:10-14

Matthew 15:10-20 – Breaking the back to legalism (pt. 2)


Intro: To break legalism, you must see it for what it is.

[Question] A concise definition for legalism?

  • Draw a circle with the Gospel at center.
    • What you affirm for salvation.
      • Draw one concentric circle out and fill inside with applications, implications, and traditions.
      • What are not necessary to save you.


  • Now invert the circles.
    • This become central to getting to God and staying with God.
    • Working from the outside/in verses inside/out. Works not Faith.


  • Jesus strips back the layers to see the source of legalism.
    • Legalism is a coverup.
    • Most dangerous coverup in the world.
      • Because legalism is a coverup for sin.
      • Sin is what sends you to Hell.


  • Everyone hates a coverup.
    • People love to hate a coverup.
    • Why coverups are must-read articles.
      • Scandals hurt people.
      • Make people angry.


  • “What about the worst scandal?”
    • From most dangerous Enemy?
      • Promises safety when not!
      • Engineered by Satan; scandalizes soul.

[TRANS] Verses 1-10 Jesus uncovers Pharisees as hypocrites, crying “Corbin” to undermine obedience.

  • Jesus cast them as a return of Isaiah 29.

[TRANS] Verses 10-20 bore down deeper to uncover legalism’s source.

  • Unmasking façade of safety.
    • Revealing what lurks inside the heart.
    • To break the back of legalism


[Prop] “Do you understand?”

You are either living outside/in or inside/out

  1. Living outside/in (vv. 10-14)

[KEY] Jesus always teaching the disciples around him. 

  • Jesus called out the Pharisees but to what end?
    • Not concerned with being right.
    • But to protect from the error.
      • Pastoral call, “Hear and understand…” (v. 10).
      • Ears attuned to right verses wrong.

[KEY] Verse 11 is the corrective!

  • Jesus speaks in first grade terms.
    • Clear with faith.
    • Unclear without faith.


“…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a person” (v. 11).


  • Spiritually minded shifts gears from physical to spiritual mid-sentence.


  • Jesus’ context is Pharisees’ rebuke for not washing hands before eating.


  • Ceremonially washing is what they had in mind, making the case that the bread the disciples were eating (possible reference to the feeding of the 5,000) was defiled because they had not followed the traditions!


  • They did not wash, so the food was contaminated in God’s sight.
    • Legalism is witting or unwitting control on what others can do or not do!
    • Reacting to manmade protocols; subversive to faith.

[Illus] Fearful to raise question like this: “Does Scripture command believers to pray before every meal?”

Or, “Is it an application base on Scriptural principle?” Or, “A personal conviction based on Scriptural principle?” Or, “Can praying before a meal become a mere tradition?”

I believe there are elements of all three.

We are called to pray without ceasing and to rejoice and give thanks “always!” To regularly, “give thanks” or “ask the blessing” before food, acknowledging God’s provision with thanks is bathed in Bible.

This is the month of Thanksgiving! We have a meal together this evening! 

Jesus models this when he publicly gave thanks to the Father before feeding the 5,000 and 4,000. And when He performed Passover which became the Lord’s Supper. And, Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Paul is found “giving thanks” before a meal on a ship in Acts 27.

ESV  Acts 27:35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. (Act 27:35 ESV)

ESV  Acts 2:41-44 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Act 2:42-44 ESV)


ESV  Deuteronomy 8:10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (Deu 8:10 ESV)


But having said this I want to examine this practice as a modern and personal application whereas “ceremonial washing” would not be. Something near verses something distant. 

“Is praying before meals a biblical requirement?”

What about, before every time you eat anything? To even raise this as a question touchy, as it has been engrained in many upbringings a as a regular disciplined opportunity to pray, not to mention a public witness out in the marketplace.

All of which I personally and wholeheartedly encourage. Still, this as an example easy to relate to.

[KEY] There is a single New Testament passage that speaks to praying to “consecrate” food.

ESV  1 Timothy 4:1-5 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,

2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,

3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1Ti 4:1-5 ESV)


[KEY] Important not to isolate verse 5 from its context.


  • Understand, Paul (like Jesus) is calling out legalism.
    • Confronting early church Gnostics who slipped into the church.
      • Claiming, what’s physical is evil.
      • “teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).


  • “…insincere liars who have seared consciences, forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods!” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2-3).


  • Much of OT Law still was functional, in mind of the early church.


[Illus] Peter’s vision on the roof top at Joppa, where Peter’s vision, dropping a sheet three times with ceremonially unclean animals, commanding him to “kill and eat.”


Peter’s misplaced loyalty manifest to the Law was misapplied. Israel’s separation was to reach lost nations by holiness, otherness.


God’s plan for witness had shifted. Theocrasy to the Global outreach as the Church with the coming of Christ. His sacrifice opened the door wide for the world to be compelled to join God’s kingdom and be saved.


Joining by the New Covenant comes by way of a new heart, believing a Gospel, given to all people groups, to all nations.


Peter then is sent to Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, considered to be the first Gentile convert to the NT church. Peter comes to give him the message of the Messiah. Hearing, he is saved in dramatic fashion. This new modus operandi marks the exponential spread of the Gospel and growth of the church.


Still, there are several speed bumps along the way where Jews struggle with whether they can let go of what was ceremonially binding under the Old Covenant Law.


Even Peter later having to be opposed by Paul “to his face” (cf. Gal. 2:11-13).


Romans 14 tells the story of stronger and weaker brothers in the church. Those who by their conscience cannot give up certain sacred days or who are unwilling to eat certain foods. Coupled with those who see a day as a day as a day, knowing Jesus is their Sabbath. And who can eat certain foods with no compunction whatsoever.


Soon, the church at Colossae also adopted a church heresy on asceticism (i.e. “a doctrine of demons” cf. 1 Tim. 4:1) akin to dualism: “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (cf. Col. 2:21).


ESV  Colossians 2:20-23 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-- 

21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"

22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)--according to human precepts and teachings?

23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23 ESV)


  • Submitting to regulations, to human precepts, what has the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism!
    • None of this as any value whatsoever, “…in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (cf. Col. 2:23).
    • Being a Monk or Hermit for spirituality.

[TRANS] So with all this as background to Paul’s earlier point from 1 Timothy 4:5, by saying,


4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1Ti 4:1-5 ESV),


  • Paul is saying the OT ceremonial laws are no longer in effect, so “everything created by God is good” and the issue of eating and drinking or even the category of marital union is opened to the New Covenant believer.
    • Forbidding marriage for celibacy being more considered more holy.
    • Ramping up Paul’s preference for singleness for the unmixed devotion (1 Cor. 7:7-9).
      • Freedoms to serve.
      • Yet allow marriage to answer passions.


[TRANS] Paul answers what believers do regarding God’s provisions.


  • He receives things with thanksgiving.
    • Those who “believe and know the truth” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3).


  • Know “…everything created by God is good” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:4).


  • Everything God creates (though affected by the fall) materially is morally neutral so it is “good” – part of common grace.


  • The exception to this being people (born with a sinner’s heart).


  • Transformed believers, worship with “thanksgiving” by eating and drinking or freely marrying in the Lord, by God’s design.


  • What is giving to all by common grace, becomes “holy” or “set apart” as worship when acted upon by faith.


  • This is the sense in which it is set apart.
    • Whether you eat or drink to the glory of God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).
    • Not offending a weaker brother when you eat or drink (cff. 1 Cor. 8; Rom 14) and you are “marrying in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39) whether Jew or Gentile, does not matter!
      • All is being done in faith.
      • So, the details of how you apply this principle, before you eat or anything else that is morally neutral.


  • Christians do all by faith based on a transformed heart.


[Question] “What does this mean in terms of how often or how you pray before a meal.”


  • I believe this is a matter left to the conscience and personal conviction.
    • Drawing deeper sincerity in praying and thanking the Lord for provision!
      • Freedoms to enjoy the Lord.
      • Countering perfunctory prayers by tradition.


[Appl] I enjoy praying before eating in formal settings. Still, not struck in my conscience when praying is done before, during, or even after a meal. Or if I neglect to say thanks before a snack or a meal.


[POINT] Careful not to make a personal application or even conviction a test of spirituality for others. 


[Point] Paul counters teaching that would bind people to any religious obligation.


[Appl] I regularly close prayers “in Jesus’ name” acknowledging access to God comes through the intercessory ministry, based on the ongoing mediatorial role of Christ. From his perfect sacrifice.


ESV  John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (Joh 14:13 ESV)


Not a magic incantation, speaking the name “Jesus” to empower God’s will through spellbinding powers. No empty words or rote mantra.


Prayer is synchronizing our prayers with God’s will by way of the intercessory work of Christ, our High Priest. The Holy Spirit interpreting our words with God’s will (cf. Rom. 8).


When you pray as a Christian, the only true prayer is through Christ (Jn. 14:6).


ESV  John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Joh 14:6 ESV)


When speaking the Lord privately, I may close a bit more organically. A simple A’men, from Hebrew meaning, “truth!” or “it is true!”


Not bound to religious words; not bound to religious actions, like “crossing yourself” but bound to pray by faith, through Christ, from a new heart!

A new heart prays with gratitude, to the glory of God! 


[TRANS] Living from the outside/in is legalism.


  • Satan’s prescription for you, to bind your conscience.
    • To reassure you are climbing your way to God.
    • When you may be dupped into sending yourself to Hell.


  • Legalism, a coverup scandal, religious superficiality that covers, ignores, excuses, and hardens the heart from seeing the sinfulness of sin.


[Point] Jesus’ point; your problem has nothing to do with being ceremonially unclean.


  • Unclean to religious authorities? Nothing! Zero.
    • Verse 11 end saying, “…but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a person.”
    • Jesus obviously not talking about the physical at this point.


  • Jesus’ saying could be comprehended on a first-grade level.
    • Without spiritual ears, what Jesus says, will pass on by without retention.
      • What comes out is not physical.
      • No regurgitation.


  • Spiritually blind and deaf: miss, explain way, excuse, ignore, or outright deny the real problem with themselves so they do not have to deal with the real problem.


  • Blind people do know they have no way of stopping their sin!
    • To what Jesus says, they say:
      • “I do not have a category.”
      • “I was talking about “’Not following protocol.’”


  • Jesus is talking about something coming out of a person’s mouth?”


  • Like Nicodemus saying, “How can someone be born when he is old, or a second time?” (cf. Jn. 3:4).
    • Jesus is not talking about physical food nor is he talking about religious defilement.
    • He is talking about the sinner’s heart.


[KEY] Verse 12, disciples wanted to bring Jesus up to speed on Pharisees reaction.


  • Imagine their sheepish tone of voice, addressing Jesus.
    • “Pharisees, offended when they heard what you [Jesus] said?”
      • Either, ignorant of Jesus’ precision.
      • Or, ignorant of Jesus’ omniscience.


  • Jesus knew Pharisees would be offended.
    • Undoing their power scam and coverup.
    • Jesus’ dipping back to parabolic teaching.
      • Warn friends from being wooed by false-religious teaching.
      • Remember legalism, makes compelling promises.


“Just follow these three easy steps and all will be well.”


[TRANS] This time, after undoing their false-doctrine, he now undoes their false character.


  • What Jesus taught before about “good seed” and “bad seed” is at play again.
    • Those “…my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up” (v. 13).
    • Viewing them those in view of their end.


  • Who will they be then is who they are now - “Let them alone, they are blind guides” (v. 14).
    • Another reference to Isaiah 29.


  • Blind, to what?
    • Blind to their scandals!
    • Their coverup!


  • What?
    • “Do they not know what they are doing?”
    • Most of the time, no!


  • False teachers blind to their own cons!


  • How Satan makes his imposters so convincing.


  • They are convinced that they are speaking the truth!
    • Leading others down the right path!
    • Why so believable and so believed!


  • Scam artists so sincere, smiling, clear-eyed and confident.
    • People just fall into the herd.
    • Blind leading the Blind where “…both will fall into a pit” (v. 14).


[Illus] Recently in Houston, the home of Joel Osteen. The epitome of someone convinced he is doing the right thing. Need to discern, what promised as freedom, is binding hearts with legalism.


[TRANS] Enter Peter giving a directive to Jesus for an explanation.


  1. Or, living inside/out (vv. 15-20)


Previous Page

Series Information

Other sermons in the series

June 28, 2020

We Need a King, Pt. 1

Intro: We are in an election year, right now, more than ever, people...

July 12, 2020

A King Who Saves

Matthew 1:18-25 – A King Who Saves It is not an understatement...

July 19, 2020

Two Kings Not Three

Matthew 2:1-12 Two Kings Not Three I am not sure if you have noticed...

August 23, 2020

Do Not Be One of Them

Matthew 3:7-12 - Do not be one of them   There are many protests...

August 30, 2020


Matthew 3:11-12 Baptisms Matthew 3 read as a whole, makes a clear...

September 06, 2020

Jesus Goes Public

Check here each week to keep up with the latest from the pulpit...

October 04, 2020

Without Hesitation

Who watched the first presidential debate?    An absolute...

October 11, 2020

Spreading Fame

If we are honest, the negative effects of our changing culture are...

October 25, 2020

The Beatitudes, Pt. 2

We open again with the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest...

November 01, 2020

The Beatitudes, Pt. 3

Intro: Verse 6 of Jesus’ list of Beatitudes says, “Blessed...

November 08, 2020

The Beatitudes, Pt. 4

Jesus wants you to be blessed.  This may be hard to believe...

January 24, 2021

Integrity Matters

One president has taken the place of another and what is the deepest...

March 21, 2021

A Hard Saying

We are living in circumstances that can be called an “Are you...

April 11, 2021

Countering Anxiety

An update on Grace Life Church in Alberta Canada, pastored by James...

May 09, 2021

Choose a Side, Pt. 1

The last thing someone says is usually the most important thing they...

May 16, 2021

Choose a Side, Pt. 2

The last thing someone says is usually the most important thing they...

May 23, 2021

Choose a Side, Pt. 3

The last thing someone says is usually the most important thing they...

June 06, 2021

Afraid to Get Sick

A more probing question than, “Does Jesus still heal...

June 13, 2021

Greater Faith

Intro: Verse 10 is the target of this text.  The crescendo...

August 15, 2021

Heaven's Home

“Heaven’s Home” - Matthew 8:14-17 Intro: To catch us...

August 22, 2021

Consider the Cost

Intro: We have been learning about the healing miracles of Jesus. A...

August 29, 2021

Faith for a Storm

Intro:  JC Ryle is one of my favorite puritan from church...

September 19, 2021

Which Is Easier?

“Which is Easier?” – Matt 9:1-8 Most agree that...

October 10, 2021

An Unlikely Disciple

Jesus was just passing by, making this encounter with Matthew...

November 07, 2021

Join the Mission

One of the great themes of Matthew is for disciples to join the...

September 04, 2022

Entering the Kingdom

What is hidden from unbelievers is revealed to believers. What is meant...