Legalism: Strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit. The judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
Most of us would rather not be termed a legalist as described above and in other similar dictionary definitions. Legalism would of course imply that we’re rigid, don’t have an open mind and are judgmental about others who don’t see things quite the way we do.
However, I wonder if we can’t all slip into some version of unintentional legalism and not be aware of it, all with the best of intentions and motives. In fact, we would likely argue with anyone who would suggest we are of the legalist ilk.
So let me throw out a few actions and attitudes that seem to be showing up on a regular basis these days. See if any might be impacting your thinking and experience and perhaps consider loosening up a little for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.
We may be a legalist if:
- We think God answers prayer the same way for others as he does for us or vice versa.
- We tend to criticize other believers (churches) who worship or do church in general differently from our way.
- We focus on what God has done in our lives as better than what He does for others.
- We regularly wish that other Christians acted more like they did in the old days.
- We love innovation and technology in every part of life except the church.
- We hold one or two teachers or pastors as the ultimate authorities on biblical truth and practice.
- We think God has given us special access to Him beyond what other believers have.
- We tend to claim or demand answers or blessings from God that only He has the right to offer.
Yes, there are absolute, unchanging truths that God has established and underscored in the Bible. But we also have a creative, all-knowing God whose ways are higher than our ways. Stand on his promises of course. But enjoy seeing Him be God and carry out His plan in people and methods that just might not be where our comfort zone ends but are clearly God at work anyway.
I wonder if we’re not going to experience a lot of joy . . . and surprises . . . in Heaven!