Five Signs You’re Trapped In Legalism

My blogging friend Mike Douglas comes out with some excellent stuff on his blog. And this post is no exception. At the risk of giving a spoiler, Mike uses at the end of his piece the three most important words that Jesus ever uttered – “It is finished!” Jesus has done it all for you. All you have to do is to enjoy the freedom.

The essay is linked to here, but I will also reproduce below what Mike wrote. This is wholesome stuff and it is my prayer that it brings you into ever-increasing freedom:


“A response from one of my readers got me thinking… He wanted to know why some Christians could be so harsh in their views and be so willing to judge others faith and salvation when they don’t agree with them.

Here was my answer to him:

‘How do you explain the far Christian right? In a word, fear.

For some believers, they think salvation or acceptance by God involves saying the right things, voting the right way, supporting the right things etc. If they don’t, they live in fear of being judged and sent to hell. Being ‘right’ is all important.

Therefore, if you or I were to disagree with them, we are not saved and cannot be one of them. Because we are wrong and being right is everything.

And, sadly, they also feel that since they are absolutely right, any disagreement is persecution for their beliefs.

Rather than being angry with such people, it makes me very sad. Rather than living in the glorious love, acceptance and presence of a loving Father, such folks opt for ‘never to be sure’ striving to make them good enough for God. I don’t want that.

Thanks for writing. Reject the legalistic nonsense. It’s all about Jesus!’

What is legalism?

In short, legalism is adding anything to the gospel. Legalism takes the words “Follow me” and adds rules, clauses, and rituals. It’s WRONG, and, over time, you believe its lies. The ultimate lie being Jesus wasn’t enough. Legalism shifts the end goal from Jesus to something else.

Here are 5 signs you might be trapped in legalism.

  1. You believe God loves you. But you don’t believe He LIKES you.

Right now, what God look like? Is he smiling? Frustrated? For much of my adult life, I pictured God with a slow, disapproving, puzzled head shake. Don’t get me wrong. I believed God loved me. But I didn’t believe he LIKED me. But He only loved me in the global sense that He loved everybody.

And we all know loving someone and liking them are two different things. When you like someone, you enjoy their presence. You welcome their company. You ask them over to watch the game or go to the movies.

And here’s what legalism does. If you don’t believe God likes you, you won’t draw near to Him. Legalism never allows you full access to God’s presence. At some point, the “I’m not good enough” or “God isn’t pleased with me” voices will speak to your heart, forcing you to retreat.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, God is pleased with you. And, when you suck at life, that doesn’t change. You can blame Jesus for this.

  1. You have never been sure about your salvation.

I can’t tell you how often I have asked Christians and others, “On a scale of 1-100, how sure are you that you will go to Heaven when you die?’ I have got many answers covering the full range of possible answers. But the least common answer is 100.

Here’s the rub. There are only two possible correct answers: 0 or 100. How we get to Heaven and the only way we get to heaven is putting our faith in Jesus. Either we have [100] or we haven’t [0].

Isn’t it awesome we can all answer 100! But so few of us do. We have doubts. Despite what the Bible tells us. We have doubts because we think we must measure up, there must be more we must do, or we think we might blow it. That’s legalism.

I have asked many Christians and others where they would go tonight if they died. Most aren’t sure. They might even tell you they’re sure, but if you asked their heart, you would receive a different answer. Do you believe in Jesus? In what He has done for you? Then your answer is 100. Learn to rest in what Jesus has done, not what you did.

  1. You compare yourself to other Christians.

Legalism rarely celebrates others’ successes. It says only the best get in. With legalism, Jesus isn’t the standard. The standard is the Christian beside you. If your life looks better than Jim or Jill, you’re good.

When you make God’s approval a competition with other Christians, you secretly hope people fail. Rather than walking with people through struggles, you give yourself a silent fist pump. Instead of celebrating with people who accomplish great things, you silently hope they fall.

And it leads to an exhausting life, one where you ride an emotional roller coaster because you’re worth and acceptance are tied to other people.

  1. You believe outsiders must behave before they belong.

This is the core of legalism. There’s a standard outsiders must meet before being accepted. Legalism says you worked hard to get to this point. You’ve been in the church game for a long time, and until others get to your level, they’re on the outside looking in.

If you don’t allow people in, whether it’s in your worship, your home, or your life, you’re making a declaration over them Jesus never made. You’re declaring some sins are worse than others, and certain behaviors are too ugly or distasteful for God. Praise God that’s a lie!

  1. You believe in joy and peace, but you’ve never experienced them.

Legalism lets you see God, but it does not experience His grace, joy, and peace. The church today is filled with people who are deeply spiritual, but distant from God.

If your spiritual activities aren’t producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, you’re likely on the road to spiritual legalism. When you’re in God’s presence, you WILL bear the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22).

Is your heart increasing in joy and peace or cynicism and unrest? Does God appear more like a grumpy old man or a life-giving Father?

God knows you can’t live up to His standard. We sin every day. He doesn’t condemn you. He’s FOR you. Embrace the simplicity that Jesus did it all. Rest in the security of your salvation. Jesus has accomplished everything. It is finished! Nothing to add!”


This is excellent stuff. If I might add just a couple of observations: firstly, I mentioned above that ‘It is finished!”. When Mike says in his piece that for the legalist ‘Being ‘right’ is all-important’, I would agree entirely.

And one of the reasons why they feel so threatened by Grace, and those living under it, is that it threatens their ‘rightness’ and their carefully-constructed legal paradigms. One small puff of the wind of the Spirit and the whole house of cards comes crashing down.

When your security is in your Rules for who’s included and who isn’t, your security is not in the Finished Work of Christ. “It is finished!”

Secondly, and I find this really sad, but you will have met evangelists who say to their victims, ‘If you died tonight, do you know where you would be going?’ And Mike clearly demonstrates in his blog post that even once someone joins the Church, they still don’t know for sure, if they’re under legalism. Because they still don’t know if they ‘measure up’.

How sad is that? Jesus has done it all. All that is necessary for our acceptance with God, Jesus has done. God has given us everything we need for godliness (2Pet 1:3) However you believe that happens, just get hold of it.

Once again, let me write it: Jesus said, “It is finished!”

Wow!

 

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