I had a good conversation on Twitter the other day about legalism. I asked for definitions and got some great ones back, including:
Legalism says it is still I who live, for though the Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me I don’t really trust him. (@davebish)
Elevating obedience to the level of (or even above) grace in terms of its value for our lives (@epaga)
Appealing to, living according to and demanding others live according to works-righteouness for salvation and/or sanctification (@marcushoneysett)
A mechanistic approach to my relationship with God. Do this get that. (@BearwoodChapel)
Obeying to stay loved, instead of obeying because loved (@richpitt_)
Anyway, the twitter conversation stirred a list of symptoms of legalism. Perhaps you recognise some?
- Negative attitude toward pleasing God – it is duty rather than delight (I feel like a slave not a son)
- Competitive attitude toward others – they don’t live up to my standard (biting and devouring one another)
- Prideful attitude towards self – it may be self-despising at times when I fail, but it is a self-evaluation that registers somewhere on the pride scale.
- Distracted focus of the heart – me and law and others, more than Christ Himself.
- Corrupted view of love relationship – I must obey in order to be loved, rather than I lovingly obey because I am loved.
- Broken representation of the Trinity – I obey to merit love, so I shatter the beauty that I am called to represent, of a Son lovingly obeying His Father in a loving response to love.
- Selective distaste for sin – I will express my dislike of sins that bother me (i.e. those that are “worse” than mine, or that I never struggle with), but I seem to harbour and nourish other sins (private, secret, “sanctified” gossip, or talk that tears down, or pride, or self-righteousness, or whatever).
- Disproportionate conversation – I have much more to say about rules, standards, laws and evaluation of others than I have to say about the wonder of Christ. Get me going on issues of sin and I wax eloquent, but raise the beauty of Christ and I don’t have much to say.
- Embittered personality – I reflect an inner tension, sourness, anger or negativity, rather than an increasingly effortless manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit.
- Restricted vulnerability – I may offer some token statements of my own failure and weaknesses, but I am reticent to reveal too much of my inner self.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the twitter chat. They may not agree with everything in these posts, but I do appreciate their input (@StephenColin @JonathanWest @Jim_Thomas @WhyBAnneB @PastorSproul @S_Crosthwaite @petetheirishone @LukeCawley)