August 22, 2012

Because Legalism Accomplishes Nothing of Value

Legalism: Focusing on and crediting your own obedience as the main source of your [practical] holiness. -Darrin
As a girl who has dabbled in legalism, allow me to share it's value: It has none.

The End.
OK, I know I can't end on that kind of note...

Legalism accomplished absolutely nothing of value in my life. In fact it did quite the opposite: It lied to me and it kept me at arms length with God, which inevitable hurt me.

I'll give you an example. Say a thought such as this were to pop into my head... 

Well if you loved God more, you'd do this and this and this (fill in the necessary blanks).

I'd heard myself say that enough that eventually I just reconciled myself to the lie: Maybe I don't love God that much… I don't know how to... Oh my gosh... what if He doesn't love me because I don't love Him enough?!

*Enter in a super cute church girl, who just so happens to sing like Celine Dion in the choir* 

Surly He loves her more than me. Just look at her! She reads her Bible several times a day, she journals and prays nonstop, she's going on missions trips every year, she's serving the church in all her free time, she only wears skirts… ones that go past her knees,  she's so much better at this whole femininity thing, she's been *home schooled her whole life, she can quote verses, she's at church every Sunday… of course God loves her more! Here I am. I don't go to church every Sunday. I don't carve out time for reading and journaling every day. I've never been on a missions trip and I only teach one Sunday school class a month. I wear jeans… and jeans that my figure looks good in too... and now I feel guilty for thinking such a thing. I only wear skirts if I'm going on a date. I can quote only two bible verses off the top of my head. And there are days where lies, fears, shame, and guilt get the better of me and my default is not to pray for one reason or another. And I complain about that too. 

Did you catch the recurring word in there? I. The focus is on me. The root of legalism is pride and self. And we know the God says that pride is a human's downfall. It's even worse when we inflict others with it... expecting them to live our standard rather than Christ's. And Christ's standard is Himself. Legalism is self-atonement, not Christ's atonement. In the moment above I had lost focus of Christ's atonement, and instead focused on my own (be it... none) and oh-so-seemingly-perfect-church-girl. It does Him a great disservice, and wounds others, including ourselves. J. Stowell points out 10 other flaws of legalism:
  1. New laws continually need to be invented for new situations.
  2. Accountability to God is replaced by accountability to men.
  3. It reduces a person’s ability to personally discern.
  4. It creates a judgmental spirit.
  5. It confuses personal preferences with the divine will of God.
  6. It produces inconsistencies.
  7. It creates a false standard of righteousness.
  8. It becomes a burden.
  9. It is strictly external, never internal. 
  10. It was and is rejected by Christ. 
I know I've shared these before, but C.J. Mahney really hit the nail on the head in summing up what it looks like to live in legalism:
  1. You are more aware of and effected by your past sins than the finished work of Christ.
  2. You are more aware of areas you need to grow in than the finished work of Christ. In other words, you figure that if you can just spin enough "discs" (Bible reading, prayer life, meditation, family worship, serving others, church ministry) on your fingers then you’re more accepted with God.
  3. You live thinking, believing, and feeling that God is disappointed with you.
  4. You assume His acceptance is dependent upon your obedience.
  5. You experience regular condemnation.
  6. Your sin in the morning ruins/condemns everything you might seek to do for the Lord that day.
  7. You have an undue concern of what others think about you. For example, someone confesses sin in a small group, and though you struggle with the very same sin, you remain quiet.
  8. You lack joy. You think that joy in the Christian life is based on your worthiness rather than the finished work of Christ.
I still have to repent of falling into legalistic tendencies, but it's so worth it. So from one person to another, if you tend to fall prey to such ideas, join me at the foot of the cross. His perfect and beautiful atonement is all we ever need. 

*Sorry to point you homeschoolers out. But sometimes you kinda intimidate me... but that's my problem.


  1. How do you always seem to know what I am thinking? :) This was an awesome post! You're definitely right about legalism changing the focus. Unfortunately, I still have legalism left in my heart. Does it make me a better Christian? Not at all. I'm a worse Christian with legalism because it makes me proud, selfish, judgmental, and completly unChristian. Legalism serves the SELF. You are absolutely right!

    By the way, I was home schooled my whole life. And I know how intimidating home schoolers can be! Sorry! I always tried not to be that way, but I probably was at times. For the record, I was intimidated by a few myself. :P

  2. i'm joining you at the foot of the cross girl. I too often feel that I'm more aware of and effected by my past sins than the finished work of Christ. I want Christ's atonement to COVER all my past sin! THank you for sharing so beautifully girl:) love Katie

  3. You have really done your homework here. I need to chew on this for a while. Exceptional job!

  4. Oh man, it's scary how many of those points by CJ Mahney are present in my life! And I'm totally the same with comparing myself to a sister in Christ, thinking, "she's SO much holier than me!" Thanks for sharing, Natalie! I really needed this :)

  5. this is so great. legalism is all about comparing ourselves to others and comparison is so annoying!! i hate when i do it!! im thankful Jesus doesnt compare me to anyone else... that He already sees himself in me because of his grace. and all means, wear the figure flattering jeans and dont feel guilty for thinking you look good in them!


Thanks for leaving me your thoughts, comments, and encouragements! =) I do monitor every comment I get so that I can comment back as much as possible.

Any comments I personally deem as inappropriate or disrespectful (and any spam) will be trashed.