I have never met a Christian legalist

legalistI have never met a Christian legalist.

At least, not to my knowledge.

You may be out there. But your self-diagnosis is suspect in my book.

Let me explain why.

Legalism has become one of our favorite words in Christianity. We use the notion of legalism as an excuse to escape the hard work of radical obedience.

Excessive obedience is not legalism. Is it even possible to be too obedient?

We use the “legalism” excuse when we’re challenged to do something hard for Jesus: Sharing the Gospel more regularly, increasing our giving, fasting, having daily quiet times, memorizing Scripture.

Go ahead. Have a conversation with another Christian about one of these topics and count the seconds until they throw up the “I don’t want to be legalistic” excuse.

We also use this label when we encounter a Christian who takes her faith seriously. Initially, the Spirit of God convicts us, whispering, “Let her faith sharpen and challenge you to follow Jesus with more zeal.” This is immediately followed by the natural, fleshly reaction that restores our contentment in the status quo: “I don’t have to do that; she’s probably just legalistic.”

The “legalism” excuse gives us permission to obey God less and feel good about ourselves at the same time.

If the church had as many legalists as we like to think, our offering plates would be overflowing and ministry funding would never be a problem. That’s because everyone would be legalistically giving over 10% of their gross income. Unbelievers would be coming to faith in Christ right and left because legalists are obsessively sharing the Gospel. Believers in the pews would have chapters and books of the Bible memorized, thinking that they’re earning God’s favor for doing so.

But these occurrences are exceedingly rare.

Working hard to obey God does not constitute legalism.

We are mistaken if we assume that obedience to God should always come naturally. Christianity is a relationship that contains certain rules that God expects us to follow. Legalism forms when the rules get ahead of the relationship. Obedience is doing God’s will and we should do so with eagerness and earnestness. Doing more of God’s will today than we did yesterday does not make us legalistic.

Stop using legalism as an excuse to obey God less, fitting in with a lukewarm American Christianity. In truth, you’re probably just trying to get out of doing something. And don’t let others who label you legalistic rob you of the joy of zealously following Jesus!


NOTE: I’m aware that nine out of ten people who read this post will consider themselves either legalists or recovering legalists. I’m trying to make a point: you think you’re in the ten percent exception, when in reality you’re in the ninety percent that has misdiagnosed yourself. I’m trying to say that “thinking you are a legalist” does not make you a legalist. You’re probably not.


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