This article is one in a series of studies on William Branham and legalism - you are currently on the page that is in bold:
What is legalism? Did William Branham teach a legalistic version of the Gospel? Are his followers legalistic? Are there specific rules that message believers must live by?
What is legalism?
The New Testament does not use the word “legalism” and, therefore, it is easy to throw around the term without defining it Biblically. But legalism is evil and the New Testament does indeed deal with it, even if it does not use the word.
The word “legalism” can be used in at least two senses, but both have a common root problem.
God's Word as regulations
First, legalism means treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. In other words, legalism is present whenever a person is trying to be ethical in his own strength, that is, without relying on the merciful help of God in Christ. Simply put, moral behavior that is not from faith is legalism (Rom. 14:23).
Simply put, moral behavior that is not from faith is legalism. The legalist is always a very moral person. In fact, the majority of moral people are legalists because their behaviour does not grow out of a humble, contrite reliance on the merciful enabling of God.
On the contrary, for the legalist, morality serves as an expression of self-reliance and self-assertion. The first meaning of legalism is the terrible mistake of treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. It is a danger we must guard against in our own hearts every day. And we are all prone to it.
Erecting a code of conduct beyond scripture
The second meaning of legalism is the erecting of specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for full participation in the local family of God, the church. This is where unbiblical exclusivism arises.
There is no getting around the fact that the church does not include everyone. We do exclude people from our church because we believe worship should imply commitment to the lordship of Christ, the head of the church.
But exclusion of people from the church should never be taken lightly. It is a very serious matter. Schools and clubs and societies can set up any human regulations they wish in order to keep certain people out and preserve by rule a particular atmosphere. But the church is not man’s institution. It belongs to Christ. He is the head of the body, and he alone should set the entrance requirements.
What legalism does
- Legalism kills love for God (Revelation 3:14–22).
- Legalism places human tradition above God’s Word (Mark 7:5–9).
- Legalism hinders our vision of God (Matthew 23:13–15).
- Legalism overlooks the needs of others (Luke 10:25–37).
- Legalism is a source of selfish pride (Matthew 18:1–4).
- Legalism produces rivalry and deception (Luke 20:9–20).
- Legalism causes us to view others with contempt (Luke 18:9–14).
- Legalism denies our freedom of conscience (Mark 2:23–28).
- Legalism emphasizes externals (Mark 12:38–40).
- Legalism makes us Pharisees and hypocrites (Mark 10:1–12).
The impact of William Branham's legalism
The legalistic teachings of William Branham have a decidedly negative impact on believer’s spiritual development. So while there are those in the message that have experienced Christ’s redemptive work, they are weighed down by a theology that is inconsistent with Paul’s teachings regarding the grace of Christ. Paul states that such beliefs can alienate a person from the grace of God – “Those of you who try to be put right with God by obeying the Law have cut yourselves off from Christ. You are outside God’s grace.” (Gal 5:4 GNT)
A man named Simon thought that he could buy the Holy Spirit with money. Some message believers are trying to buy the Holy Spirit by public demonstrations of their own righteousness.
- But if the ministry that produced death—carved in letters on stone tablets—came with glory, so that the Israelites11 could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face12 (a glory which was made ineffective), how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be?
Paul clearly states that the ten commandments, written in tablets of stone, represented the ministry of death. Paul also was clear that Jesus did not redeem us from the curse of sin but from the curse of the law:
- Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
The problems of legalism
If you see Jesus as king who rules and prophet who speaks, but not as priest who serves, you will see Jesus as mean, as distant, as cruel, as a taskmaster. And sadly, this is the Jesus of the hardhearted, fundamentalist message. It’s the Jesus of legalism. It’s the Jesus of moralism.
It’s the Jesus who sits on a throne and yells at you, telling you what to do, but never gets off that throne to help you do it. The result of that view of Jesus is either despair or pride, but never worship because, let me explain this to you, if you see him as king who rules and prophet who speaks, telling you exactly what to do, you will try to live as he commands.
You will either fail and become devastated, sad, grieved, or you will think you’ve accomplished, and you’ll become very arrogant and say, “I’m a good person. I obey God.” Neither of which leads to the worship of Jesus. Neither of which leads to humility. Neither of which leads to Godliness. Neither of which leads to joy.
That’s the trap of the message. That’s the trap of legalism. The distant God yells at you and so you try. You try hard.
If you think you did a good job, you become arrogant and spiritually proud. You look down on denominational people as foolish virgin.
If you can't live up to the message standard, you become depressed.
Great options. The end game is depression or arrogance. You kill yourself or in self-righteousness, you kill someone else, if you don’t understand Jesus as priest. He doesn’t just tell you what to do, he comes down and he enables you to do it, he empowers you to do it, he walks with you, he gives you grace that empowers and mercy that forgives and patience that endures, and by Jesus’ strength you’re able to be obedient, which means that leads to humility. Jesus enabled me. That leads to victory. My life is changing by Jesus’ enablement. And that leads to joy. “Jesus really does love me, and he really is with me, and he really does care, and he really is helping me, and I really am glad.”
Those of you who were raised in the message, here is our fear for you: When you need him most, you’ll run from him, not to him. You’ll say, “I’m struggling, I’m tempted, I’ve sinned. Jesus will be very disappointed and he will yell at me. I must run.”
No.You must understand him as not only the king but as your high priest, and you must run to him.
Why did Jesus come? As prophet to speak to us. As priest to serve us. As king to rule over us. That’s why he came. And he’s alive and well today, and he continues these ministries. Speaking, serving, ruling.
Those in the message should ask themselves - "Where am I deficient in my understanding of the ministry of Jesus and why he came?"
And then ask him, “Jesus, I’m gonna start reading scripture. Reveal yourself to me as priest. I don’t get that. I get the king part but not the priest part.”
Pray before you read scripture, asking that Jesus would reveal himself to you through his word. And seek to grow in your understanding of all three of his offices and ministries. I assure you it will change everything. You’ll love him like you’ve never loved him, you’ll enjoy him like you’ve enjoyed him. And the times when you need him most, you’ll run to him, not from him because you will understand that he alone is able to help in your time of need, and he sympathizes. He sympathizes. And so he will receive you in love. 
Quotes of William Branham
And yet a loving, compassionate Father passing right through it. But sometimes people don't know what love is; you get love and sympathy mixed up. See? Love is obedience. God speaks; it's obedience, regardless of what sympathy or anything else is.
No wonder He said, there in the Garden of Gethsemane, His sympathy to leave His friends and everything, but said, "Thy will be done." That's right. That's love; that's real love is obedience.
And no matter what the world has to say about you, work to please God. Do everything you can to build the Kingdom of God.
Now, when the Father finds a child that's obedient. How he likes to come and say, "Sir, your boy is a perfect child, how obedient your children are, how they love to worship You. They gather together, and they raise their hands, and the tears runs down their cheeks. They're just so full of joy." How the Holy Spirit might--must love to do that, for God is an object of worship, and God wants to be worshipped in Spirit and in truth. Jesus said so. But we get so starchy we just can't make a grunt. We couldn't say, "Amen." We--we just set there. See? How the Holy Spirit must dread to say that to the Father. But when we are obedient, and love Him, and praise Him, and give Him glory, how the Holy Spirit must love to bring this to Him. You know He'd say? "Father, you know, Your son's just like You. Oh, it's just perfect." And if we'd say it here in our street expression "just a chip off of the block." "Why, He loves You; he's obedient."
Now, in the Bible, we always try at our church to follow the rules and regulations of the Scripture, just as close as we can.
And on that great morning, over there, when the table's set across the canopies of the skies, when all life is over, and we set down at that wedding supper, I want to be there so bad, brethren. Oh, I want to be there. I--I believe I will. If I live right and try hard, God will let me come there, not by what I do, but by His grace, I'll reach across the table and shake hands with some of you all, and say, "I remember you, you was at Yakima. (See?) on earth. No doubt a little tear will run down our cheeks for joy.
Listen, friends, this is the only way for you to please God, is to obey Him. 
For to please God, we must believe His Word and keep His Word. And then, Father, so is it today, that every son or--of God, every daughter of God, in order to please God, must keep God's Word.
I can only speak the Word. It's up to you to decide. But remember, this same message will judge you. It's on magnetic tape in heaven, and it'll be played over again at the day of the judgment.
And I'm by His grace, we're going to try this next year, if He shall spare me, spare you, by His grace I hope I am a better pastor next year than I have been this year, hope I be a better servant to Christ. I'll try hard to try to live closer, more truer to bring the Message just as He gives me; I shall bring It to you the best that I can, withhold nothing that He would want me to give you. I'll do all that I know how. And I know you feel the same way. You--you feel like that we all want to work together now, for the evening Lights are certainly getting dim, and the sun's far setting.
If your child is sitting out on the street; you say, "Well, there sits Junior. He oughtn't to do that, but I don't want to hurt his little feelings." You don't love him. He'll get killed there. If you love him, you'll bring him in and give him a spanking. You'll make him obey. That's the way God does. Love is corrective, and that's genuine love.
"Oh, I swear that I never trespassed the vows of my husband." Your husband will judge you for it if you did. But God will judge you by what kind of a spirit you got in you; not judge you by your body, but by your spirit, that inner man.
That's what's the matter with our country today. The reason we got so many loose-leaf things in the earth today, the penalties are not strong enough. If a man was caught running out with another man's wife, they should both be taken out in public and castrated, right, public, and turned loose. That's right. If a man is caught doing anything wrong, down the road, speeding, he oughtn't to be given less than ten years; he's pre-... premeditated murder. See? You put penalties like that on it, you'll slow them down.
A man told me not long ago, said, "I don't preach a clothes-line religion."
I said, "Then you're not preaching the Gospel." Yeah.
God laid it out there, He said what to do. And you either do it... That's your natural, reasonable thing. What little thing... what... the little insignificant. Jesus said, "Blessed are they that would take all the little thing, do the little things." And a woman to let her hair grow, that's just a... why, it's just something she can do, and she won't even do that. She won't even do that.
- John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 153.
- John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
- Bill Bright, Written by the Hand of God (Orlando, FL: NewLife Publications, 2001), 77–78.
- Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible, 2 Co 3:7–8 (Biblical Studies Press, 2006).
- The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ga 3:13–14 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009).
- Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive 2005-2009 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009).
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