The Judaizing Christians who gave Paul and his infant churches so much difficulty were legalists. There are, of course, legalists around today as well. The Jerusalem council once-and-for-all decided to put an end to legalism in the church when they ended their letter with these words:
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to lay any additional burdens on you than these essentials: . . .
Then they went on to mention sacrifices to idols, blood from strangled animals and sexual sin, all of which had to do with pagan worship.
Did you get it? Not “any additional burden!” No legalists I know are making additional rules regarding pagan idolatry. But, sure as the day is long, they are busy all the time laying other burdens on people. It’s interesting; if you ask “why do you think that we must refrain from this or that?”—or “why we must certainly do such and such?”—what sort of answer they give. Usually it’s something like this: “you don’t get it; these things are really important. Such rules are crucial.”
Whoa! Did you read Acts 15:28 carefully? It says nothing but “these essentials.” Those listed in their letter are the only essentials. I quoted them above—and if I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d bet dollars to donuts that these “really important” matters aren’t among them.
Every legalist—one who wants to make rules that aren’t found in the Scriptures—has his own set of “essentials” that differs from those of the council. Think twice before requiring them of others. The important thing is to always sharply distinguish God’s commands from your suggestions. What you say may or may not be expedient, and it probably is worth giving consideration to, but if it isn’t God’s Word it doesn’t have the same authority. And whenever you add to God’s Word, you adulterate it—now, that’s something that’s really important to avoid, don’t you think?