Legalism and Deuteronomy 22:5

I received a comment from a former Message believer that I wish to address on the blog today. This comment was regarding modesty and pants.  He is specifically referring to how we use Deuteronomy 22:5.


I have seen Message women wearing dresses that were decidedly immodest and non-message women wearing pants that were very modest.  But those in the Message would condemn the woman in pants. Such legalism is not appropriate in the context of the New Testament church. – Former Message Believer


I also have seen Message believers wearing immodest clothing. It is not intentional. They are following “the rules” of wearing a skirt or a dress. The problem is that they are thinking of the specific restrictions. They are not thinking about modesty. This is the point in the first place. They have not been taught that the root of the specific instructions is modesty.

Obedience to the scriptures is not legalism. How it is enforced, and the attitudes that go along, can be described as legalism.

In Western culture, pants have their roots in the feminist movement and began to be pushed (marketed) to general society because of several homosexual fashion designers in western Europe, particularly France.  Much like the swimsuit industry in the United States, the designers of pants had a specific agenda they were seeking to accomplish.  In I Timothy 2:9, the apostle Paul commands that women wear modest katastole (apparel in the KJV).  This is a term for an article of clothing which is essentially a dress.  It is not the general term for clothing in Greek (himatismos) translated as attire at the end of the verse.


“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”

(Romans 6:17)

Obedience to the scriptures is not legalism.  How it is enforced and the attitudes that go along can be described as legalism.

The law is perfect and holy.  But how it was enforced was not and how they treated others was legalistic.  The law was ordained to give eternal life to man (Romans 7:10).  The law is spiritual and we are carnal, sold under sin, therefore that which was ordained to life led to death.  The New Testament is to be delivered by the Spirit of God to our hearts.  We obey the laws of God through the circumcision of the heart.  Yet, it is quite clear that the apostles gave commands that God intended us to follow.  As Paul wrote, we obeyed from our heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to us. The root of obedience, under the New Covenant, is the gift of the Holy Spirit, not external pressure and force.  Instead it is internal guidance and conviction from God.


Antinomian is a big word, but don’t run away from that.  Many former Message believers, and for that matter, many Christians, have become antinomian.  Here is Webster’s 1828 Dictionary’s definition of antinomian, “One of a sect who maintain that under the gospel dispensation, the law is of no use or obligation; or who hold doctrines which supersede the necessity of good works and a virtuous life. This sect originated with John Agricola about the year 1538.”  You can read more about antinomianism here.


Antinomian, “One of a sect who maintain that under the gospel dispensation, the law is of no use or obligation…”


If we dismiss the law, we are dismissing the schoolmaster that is to lead us to Christ  (Galatians 3:24-25).  We dismiss that which is used to restrain sin and we dismiss the part of the Word of God which we are to follow.  The Spirit of God empowers and enables us to follow the moral law of God, and we know that the law is summed up in this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:14) Once we come to faith in Christ, we are no longer under the schoolmaster.  It does not mean the schoolmaster is no longer necessary or that we forget everything the schoolmaster said.  It means we have graduated and now can put what we have learned from the schoolmaster into practice in our lives.  Indeed, under grace, we are empowered and enabled by the Spirit of God to put it into practice.


Since we are under grace, this does not mean we can dismiss the law and state that it is now of no use.  The law was laid down for ungodly and sinful people.  That does not mean it was not made for the righteous person, instead it means that it is not directed “AGAINST” the godly man.  It is for the godly man to follow.  Under law it was by compulsion, and under grace it is through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The law is not dismissed.

Now we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully; understanding that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

The law is not merely God’s expression of his wrath against sin but is His eternal will for his people to follow.


It is not merely the Ten Commandments that we are referring to when we speak of the law. There are many other moral commands attached to the law, outside of the commandments. Under the New Covenant, we cannot use the approach of the Law to enforce them but rather we, by the Spirit of God, can discern biblical principles that we are to follow.  Just because we are not under the law does not mean we dismiss the commands of God as being invalid for us. This is precisely how the apostle Paul used the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) as he wrote, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

In Paul’s instructions to Timothy he writes regarding the Scriptures that were in existence at that time, what we call the Old Testament. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) He instructs Timothy that the Old Testament (clearly the New Testament are considered in Scriptures now) is profitable for doctrine (teaching), for evidence, for correction and for training in righteousness. Are we to then to dismiss the teachings, the evidences or proofs, the correction and training of the Old Testament?

When we refer to Deuteronomy 22:5 as a prohibition against women wearing men’s clothes and men wearing women’s clothes, this is referred to as legalism.  Remember, the Bible says what was written before was for our learning.  So we can refer to this scripture for our learning as a biblical principle.  If you read the context of Deuteronomy 22, you see many moral commands given and then a few commands regarding clothing.  Some of these are moral and some of them are ceremonial.  We can look to all of them for our learning, for spiritual types, and sometimes as prophetic passages.  Paul used the scripture, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” as a command to give an offering to a minister of the gospel.

Using Deuteronomy 22:5 as an example or as a teaching for us to follow is well within the normative use of the Old Testament.  It is not a reference to legalism.  It is a teaching.   And like any other teaching from the Bible, under the New Covenant it is to be obeyed from the heart through the Spirit of God.



3 thoughts on “Legalism and Deuteronomy 22:5

  • This was very good reading!! Speaking as someone who first started wearing skirts and dresses many years ago and then stopped going to church and wearing pants again…I can tell you that you should NEVER wear dresses for any church, preacher, or the like. If you truly want God’s will you need to be saved, filled with the Holy Ghost in your soul and God will take care of taking those desires away from you that he doesn’t want there. Never cutting your hair, never wearing pants or makeup, none of that is going to save you. Pray for God’s Sprit and I promise you, speaking from experience, when you are a changed person, you will never go back to your old self again. God bless.

  • Can I add one more thing? Most all of the ex-message believers that I know from Facebook wear clothing that they did not wear before and many have short hair. They will all attest to growing up in the message and I am sure this was all they knew, even into teenage years. Herein lies the problem, they were only doing these things because they were told that it was the right way to dress, wear their hair, etc. Because it was only “mans” requirement of them those are usually the first things to change when they stop going to church. If God would have convicted them of such things and came into their soul, their desires to please him and dress and act a certain way, would still be there. It is not hard to follow the laws of God when you have his spirit within you, it’s just natural.

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