You Might Be A Legalist If...

Starting Where We Left Off

Photo Feb 27, 11 31 26 PM.jpg

Since my last post, I have had the opportunity to engage in some great conversations with some of you readers about what I wrote.  We have talked about how we sometimes feel a bit nervous, stressed, and afraid when we have friends coming over.  We have spoken about how hard it is to let people see our messes and imperfections.  We have gotten to discuss what it looks like to apply the Gospel to the way we welcome people into our homes.

I have noticed in these conversations that generally everyone has one of three objections to the idea of having people in their homes and creating a hospitable environment:
1.    I don’t even want to do it
2.    I want to do it, but it is for the wrong reasons (such as to impress people or look perfect)
3.    I want to do it, but I don’t know how, or I am legitimately unable at this point (this one is the least common)

Let’s focus on the top two reactions since they seem to be more common.  Though they look sort of opposite, they still both tend to produce one of the same two actions:
1.    I do it anyway
2.   I don’t do it at all


Am I A Pharisee?

But let’s move from talking about hospitality alone to any issue of obedience (see Jenn’s post to read more about hospitality being an issue of obedience).  The responses above are common in any matter of obeying God.  When I think over my own everyday experiences regarding obedience, I can fall into either of these camps, depending on the issue or even just the time of day.  

We know from what Elaine wrote that part of our response to the Gospel is to obey God.  But what about when we just don’t want to?  Do we wait until we feel like it?  Or what about when we want to do something outwardly good but know our inward motivations are not God-centered?  Do we put it off until our hearts are in the right place?  The real question at stake is if it is legalistic to go ahead and do the things we don’t want to do or do want to do but with the wrong motives.  And if that is legalistic, does that mean we just should not act? 

Most of us probably don’t want to be legalistic because we know the legalistic religious group in the Bible is the Pharisees, and we read in Matthew 23 what Jesus thought of them.  So is the opposite of legalism disobedience and inaction? Do we avoid legalism by just sitting around, waiting to obey until we want to do it and for all the right reasons? To quote Paul’s response to some similar questions, “By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2, 6:15-16).  Instead, the way we obey when we don’t feel like it or when our motives are not 100% pure is discipline.  You might also call this self-control.  Paul writes about this in Titus 2:11-14 (see also 1 Corinthians 9:24-27):

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (ESV)

Legalism vs. Discipline

So how do we tell if are being legalistic or disciplined? Outwardly, they may look the same, but inwardly, they are different.  Legalism is a performance to appease God or someone/something else, even ourselves.  Legalism is all about earning something good or avoiding some type of punishment.  It is is often either begrudging and guilt-driven or proud and boastful.  Discipline, on the other hand, comes from faith. Discipline is practiced in grace, love, and humility and through prayer and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It comes from the belief that even though we may not always want to obey God, His way is the best way.  Discipline trusts that God will change our hearts’ motives as we follow Him.  Discipline does not have to try to earn something from God or avoid His punishment because it knows that Jesus already earned our righteousness and took our punishment (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Here are a few examples so you can see the difference:

If you read through the above chart and are feeling like a convicted legalist, fear not and despair not! That tug at your heart and conscience is evidence that God’s Spirit is working in you even now. I hope you will join me for my next post, and we will think through some practical responses to that conviction.

See y’all in the Round,


“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."