Symptoms of Legalism

I haven’t posted anything serious in a while, so here are some notes I recently rediscovered, which I wrote while listening to a sermon by CJ Mahaney on legalism:

You are involved in legalism if…

* You are more aware of and affected by your past sin(s)—especially those committed after your conversion—than you are by the finished work of Jesus Christ.

* You are more aware of areas you need to grow than you are of the cross. If you are preoccupied with needing to study the Bible or pray more, you are probably involved in legalism. Yes, these acts are means of grace and they are important, and it is not wrong to evaluate the strength of these daily habits (or lack thereof), but they are not the basis of your acceptance with God. Misunderstanding this will lead you to participate in such activities with the wrong motives.

* You live thinking, believing, and feeling that God is disappointed with you rather than delighting over you…that God is “putting up” with you. God is pleased with you, not because of what you’ve done or are doing, but because he looks at you and sees Christ, and he is pleased with Christ’s righteousness.

* You assume his acceptance is based on your obedience. Don’t ever feel more justified because of your works. If you’re trying to shake guilt or create favor by doing something, you are a legalist. After Bible study, close your Bible and say, “Father, that act, I want to acknowledge, made no contribution to the basis of my justification before you. I will only, ever, and always be justified by the performance of your Son on my behalf.”

* You consistently experience condemnation. If you do not properly understand justification, you will experience condemnation. The way out of condemnation is not acts of obedience.

* You have an undue concern for what others think (read Galatians 2).

* You lack joy. Where are you focusing your attention? “Take ten looks at Christ for every one look at yourself.” (Robert Murray McShane)

The root of all legalism is pride.


I’ve referred to this list off and on in the last couple weeks. The more I grow in the Lord, the more I recognize (1) how prideful—and, consequently, legalistic—I am and (2) how much I need to be reminded of the truths of the gospel. My hope for change is not mustering up more will power, it is the sufficiency of grace purchased for me by Christ on the cross.

Random quote for the day: “Hello and welcome to the Café formerly known as LaMancha, where the food and service are par excellence! But between you and me, I’d avoid the salsa. It could kill a horse.” (Pancho in Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler)


Anonymous said…
cap, i'm impressed/stupified with how much you are able to write. It makes me wonder what you really do for a living...

I think you've made a pretty good list of valuable things to remember concerning legalism. But I do want to comment. After much thinking and 'hearing' of legalism over the last few years I believe that it can become a dangerously busy thing to think about. Be aware that the issue can be very paradoxical. What is to protect against a 'misguided' following of Christ can also protect against a broken, vulnerable and helpless heart, one necessary to actually seek and hear God. If one desires to be free from legalism and believes at some point they have attained this freedom then legalism stands as victor. If pride is the root then we pray for humility and trust in the power of God. Much more could be said, perhaps over coffee. shalom.