Twisted Tuesday – Are You Legalistic?

My friends, if you proclaim the Gospel to enough people you will eventually be called a legalistic Christian. Why? Well, you’re calling people to repent from their sins. The only problem is, we don’t live in a society that understands sin or the Law. We live in a postmodern era filled with generations that have no idea how holy God is. They see Jesus as a good man, a buddy, that just loves to love everyone regardless of their sin and blasphemy. That means we inevitably end up explaining these things, the sin against God by breaking His Ten Commandments, and the thrice holy God that is infinite, just, and righteous. At that point, unless God no longer needs to work patience in you, a professing believer will step in and label your message one of legalism. But what does that word mean? Are we even using it correctly?

In actuality, to be preaching a message of legalism you have to be teaching that obeying the Law is what will either save you, or keep you saved. Postmodernism has caused a disease of jellyfishitis to spread through the churches, which makes Christians uncomfortable hurting anyone’s feelings. Or worse, offending them. So, we need to understand that these generations who have been tainted by the absolute absurdity of postmodernism 1. don’t realize they’re expressing this humanistic worldview, and 2. usually believe they’re doing the right thing. These are sometimes brothers and sisters, sometimes false converts, who simply need more instruction in these areas. I don’t tell you to abandon the unbeliever to teach the professing believer who is interrupting you. But politely ask them to wait, that you’d love to talk to them when you’re done. Lovingly correct them with Scripture. Start by explaining what legalism is, and is not.

When we express to the lost that they have sinned, we have to explain that (Romans 3:23-24). It’s just a truth of our time, they do not understand the Law. Giving them the Law is like showing them a mirror, as Scripture teaches us, it shows them how unrighteous they really are (Romans 7:12-13). Humans will always proclaim their own goodness, even if they claim not to believe in God and blaspheme Christ, they’ll still tell you they think they should go to Heaven. Recognize, my beloved friends, that showing them their flawed worldview is not unloving, or legalistic, it’s what we’re called to do. Once they comprehend their predicament they’ll be able to see just why Christ had to live that perfect life, why He had to be crucified, why He had to bare the full wrath of God, why He had to die, and why He had to rise again!

The last thing I want to say, I hope will be read in light of everything I’ve said thus far. This is meant with love, and humility, so please take this as a gentle rebuke. Slander is very serious. It means to accuse someone of something wrongfully. Please, dear ones, be very careful not to slander others by wrongfully calling them legalistic. Are they teaching that you must do something to be saved? Are they teaching that you must do something to remain saved? That’s legalism, and it should be refuted. We do not earn our salvation by obeying the Law, obedience before salvation is impossible. The lost man is chained and enslaved to their sin, and only faith in Jesus Christ can set them free of that. Obedience after salvation does not keep you saved, it doesn’t even come from a desire to remain saved, it comes from an outpouring of thankfulness for what has already been done on our behave. Someone sharing the Law and the Gospel is not legalism. (Romans 3:31) Someone rebuking a believer for their sin is not legalism. These are two things we’re commanded to do, and they are different. I hope this helps to clarify the issue, but if there are any questions please feel free to ask them. If you’re uncomfortable asking them publicly I have a new e-mail address that you can send questions to. I’m also including a short clip below for further explanation on this topic. As always, beloved brethren, be good Berean’s and study to show yourselves approved.

Author: lnhereford

I am a Christian, wife, mother, podcaster and homeschooler currently traveling the United States with my loving husband and darling daughter!

9 thoughts on “Twisted Tuesday – Are You Legalistic?”

  1. Sister, thanks for this good post on the many aspects of “legalism.” I’ve written many times about the Gospel-preaching church we attended for eight years after accepting Jesus. The pastor preached the Gospel, but he also relied heavily on guilt and shame to “motivate” the congregation. I rarely left a service feeling joyful. I’ve often described that church as “legalistic” because of its joyless emphasis on obedience and our failures. The pastor of the next church we attended refreshingly emphasized God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness as well as obedience and sanctification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, brother! Anytime there’s a leader of a church preaching on sin, without sharing the answer to that sin, it can give someone the impression that we can make ourselves right by our own effort. I would call that pastor legalistic also, or at best unbalanced. The reason it’s so important for elders, leaders, preachers, and teachers to emphasize Gods grace is because He is the one that ought to get the glory for believers overcoming sin in our lives. It’s only by His strength that we are able to. But, when grace, mercy, and forgiveness are not mentioned at all many people, me included, walk away feeling the heavy yoke of the Law on our shoulders. Or, worse, someone can walk away feeling justified in their own works, rather than Gods goodness, taking the glory upon themselves! We’re not under the Law, but under grace. That doesn’t mean we sin more, like Paul says may it never be! It means we have someone to turn to when temptation strikes, we have prayer, fasting, study in the Scriptures, and the body of Christ that can come alongside us. Those are all gifts from God, so when any or all of them help us overcome a sin He gets the glory. That’s why legalism is so disturbing to me, it takes the glory from God and gives it to man. A godly man, like yourself, will reject that. Instead, you walked away feeling like you had failed your beloved Savior. It’s the Pharisee that was prideful and the tax collector that humbly beat his chest. One walked away feeling justified, the other walked away having received forgiveness.

      I recognize that it’s difficult to fit all that into one sermon, but in 8 years of staying there it seems like it was purposefully left out. I don’t know his heart, so I won’t judge his motif. But as a generalization I think we can all agree that Gods forgiveness, grace, and mercy are some of the most magnificent topics a man can preach on. Even as believers, we still sin, but we hate that sin. That means we already come to the throne of grace disgusted in our sinful act, in desperate need for Gods mercy. I don’t see anything wrong with pointing out how dark sin is in light of Gods righteousness, but to park there is not very helpful. I’m glad you’ve found a church that you’re being fed a healthier, more balanced, diet brother!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for all the good comments, sister! There is certainly a balance taught in God’s Word, as you mention. Born-again believers should not become despondent and defeated by our sinful frailty, but neither should we revel in sin because of God’s grace.

        Liked by 1 person

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