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Nomism (/no.mɪ.zm̩/, from the Greek word for law) is the belief that Christianity is primarily about following a list of rules. A good Christian follows all the rules, and everyone else doesn’t. Often this is also called “legalism”.

While part of following Christ is following God’s commands and obeying even the earthly rules imposed upon us, that is not the only or even primary purpose of a Christian.

The Christian’s life is lived in grace. Romans 6:14 The Bible is clear that none of us can be good enough to be acceptable to God on our own merits. Rather, we come to the Father only through our relationship with Jesus Christ. John 14:6 God’s greatest commandment is that we love Him. Matthew 22:37–38 Part of loving God is keeping His other commandments (John 14:15), but the emphasis is definitely on loving Him and growing in His grace, not just following rules.

The Bible, while prescribing many things people should and should not do, is also rather critical of rule-based religion. Jesus was constantly at odds with the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of His day, because they were so focused on following the rules that they missed the point of the rules. Matthew 23:23–24 The Apostle Paul also wrote extensively about the dangers of just trying to follow the rules. While the law is holy, trying to follow it in your own flesh leads to death. Romans 7:5–12 We just can’t do it, and trying to do so is a rejection of the grace of God. The purpose of the law was largely to show us that we are all sinful and that we cannot perfectly follow the law. Galatians 3:24

Even if we could follow the law perfectly, it would not be enough. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace, not by works. Ephesians 2:8–9 The Pharisees in the Bible were very focused on following their rules and appearing righteous before men, but Jesus said that they were like whitewashed tombs—clean on the outside but full of dead people’s bones. Matthew 23:27–28 More than our outward actions, God is concerned with our hearts. 1 Samuel 16:7

Few people would openly say that they believe in nomism, but it is an easy trap to fall into. We know that truly following Christ leads to living a certain way, so it is easy to link those concepts too tightly and think that just living a certain way means you are following Christ. In addition, our own pride is always liable to sneaking and making us think we are better than others because we follow the rules and pushing us to do so for our own glorification. We need to be on guard against this temptation and remember that we are all just vile sinners saved by grace.

The most important thing in a person’s life is his relationship with God. Faith in Christ is the only way to be saved, and it is also the only way to continue to grow in grace and live a life that is pleasing to God. Romans 1:17 We need to seek to grow closer to Christ, not just to follow a list of rules. If we are truly following Christ, we will be following the rules; but if we put the cart before the horse and try to reduce Christianity to a list of rules, we will ultimately fail in our own pride.