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    Seven Quick Steps to Become a Legalist

    Seven Quick Steps to Become a Legalist

    As many of you know, I grew up in a very legalistic church (at least during my high school years).  This is really how it goes... read Mark Driscolls list of how to become a legalist in seven easy steps.  Years and years after seeing the damage of legalism, I still hate it...

    How to Become a Legalist:

    1. Make rules outside the Bible.
    2. Push yourself to try and keep your rules.
    3. Castigate yourself when you don't keep your rules.
    4. Become proud when you do keep your rules.
    5. Appoint yourself as judge over other people.
    6. Get angry with people who break your rules or have different rules.
    7. "Beat" the losers.

    For those of you who grew up in a legalistic church, how has legalism damaged you?  What are it's long-lasting effects on your life?


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    1. Leonard on Tue, April 06, 2010

      Todd, you and I both know this one too well.  I think that legalisms impact on my life was huge.  The positive impact of my heritage is a deep love for the word and a solid doctrinal foundation. 

      It’s damage is that it distorts our view of God by making a close relationship with God kind of like a secret handshake that someone else knows and judges you for not knowing. 

      Legalism can only learn what gives it power and strength.  It cannot be taught a different understanding of truth because it is down deep inside afraid.  This fear must have a prescription for all of life because without which, people will not follow God.  Because in the deepest recesses of its thinking lies fear, it can only pass on fear. 

      When someone cannot keep up with the “religious Jones’s,” legalism declares them “not saved in the first place” rather than examining its methods.  Legalism is a brand of faith that either makes you nit-picky, self-righteous and unable to learn anything that doesn’t strengthen you while pointing out the flaws of others. 

      The Greek word for what I am saying is… “Legalism sucks” or as the legalistic translation might read… “sucketh”

    2. Peter Hamm on Tue, April 06, 2010

      I’m very legalistic about not being legalistic…

      Seriously… It’s a hot button issue with me, but because of what it’s done to others. I haven’t been hurt by it so much personally, actually.

    3. CS on Tue, April 06, 2010

      It’s funny, but most of my experiences with legalism come from places where the Law is eschewed.  It seems that the churches I’ve seen that never describe sin properly are the one that hook up burdens of things like social work as being requisites for salvation.  It’s amazing how with no Law, the most legalism abounds.


    4. Leonard on Tue, April 06, 2010

      What?  I am not sure what you are saying CS.  Can you elaborate?

    5. Mark on Wed, April 07, 2010

      legalism is what taught me to hate Yoga and the people who practice it.

    6. Lori on Wed, April 07, 2010

      After making a typical teenage mistake, my pastor told my parents and I that, “God will never be able to use you like he could have before this.”  That comment devastated me, caused me to question my salvation, repentance, God’s forgiveness and sovereignty.  I also denied and ignored for a number of years my calling into ministry because of this.

      I’ve since overcome all of the legalism that was in the church I was raised in and have been faithfully serving the Lord for almost 20 years.  I have seen the devastating consequences of both legalistic and “free for all” types of churches in the lives of people.  There is so much more freedom in simply obey God’s word.

    7. Rob on Wed, April 07, 2010

      I think our churches have a new form of legalism, it’s liberalism.  If you’ll not liberal about everything then you’re cast to the side as a freak. 

      I still abstain from alot of stuff, but I find that it’s good for my spiritual walk.  I don’t impose my rules on others, but I have personal standards that i live by. 

      Also, I’ve seen the damaging effects of those that have lived a more liberal Christian life.

    8. Reformed Theology on Wed, April 07, 2010

      It is crazy that some people think God will love them more or they are super special if they do more stuff.  It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started to understand freedom in Christ.
      I’m thankful that God gives grace despite my actions not because of them.

    9. Leonard on Wed, April 07, 2010

      Lori, I am so glad you are serving today.  That is a tough mountain to climb.

    10. Jerry on Wed, April 07, 2010

      Legalism is a spear with barbed points on both ends. It skewers the target and the thrower alike. Though the target is more likely to get free of the spear after the initial pain it causes, the one who throws it rarely gets free because injury is not realized. They wind up with a myriad of spears sticking out of them and they don�t even know it. Give grace that you may receive grace. Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Judge and you will be judged.

    11. CS on Wed, April 07, 2010


      “What?  I am not sure what you are saying CS.  Can you elaborate? “

      When the Law is preached, Grace abounds and people find the easy load that Christ provides.  When the Law is not preached, legalism abounds and people find a burdensome yoke of trying to work their way to salvation.

      Consider Jim Wallis, for instance.  He believes that the Gospel is about redistribution of wealth and social justice.  Consequently, he evaluates people by how much they help with the poor (Matthew 25).  Because his Gospel is devoid of the Law, his legalistic take is that a person’s salvation is tied directly to how much they engage in charity. 


    12. Leonard on Wed, April 07, 2010

      Okay, I get you.  Even though this is really kind of the opposite of what Christ experienced on earth.  When the law was preached, it was then added to and thus legalism.  This is also what the Galatians experienced and in fact it was much of what the NT church dealt with concerning the law. 

      I actually have seen what you are referring to but I am not sure I agree with your assessment of it.  I would even suggest that your assessment is the way legalism would assess this kind of post.

      My list might be a bit different than the one presented.

      Becoming a legalist…

      Rename critical as discerning
      Nitpick every phrase and word, finding the worst possible meaning or the most suspicious meaning in peoples phrases. 
      Think your own opinions are truth
      Lack a giant amount of self awareness… this helps justify all the judgement of others…
      Only learn things that strengthen your power… 
      Be extreeme… Ken Silva, Ingrid and many others… 
      Don’t engage openly… rather form your arguments while others are speaking.

      These are just a few…

    13. CS on Wed, April 07, 2010


      “Okay, I get you.  Even though this is really kind of the opposite of what Christ experienced on earth.  When the law was preached, it was then added to and thus legalism.  This is also what the Galatians experienced and in fact it was much of what the NT church dealt with concerning the law.”

      You’re right.  Much of this new sort of legalism is antinomian in nature, rather than hypernomian.  The list of things that I would attribute to this sort of new legalism would include:

      -Eschewing discernment.  Any examination of anything is judgmental and therefore bad.
      -Using Scripture to fit the needs of what is desired, even if it takes words, verses, and chapters out of context.
      -Thinking that feelings and experiences are truth.
      -Lacking a giant amount of biblical hermeneutics.
      -Only learning things that reinforce one’s beliefs.
      -Being extreme… Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, Doug Pagitt and many others…
      -Never having any guards up.  After all, if they call themselves, “Christian,” they must be of the fold, right?


    14. sarcasm on Wed, April 07, 2010

      Passive aggression anyone???  wink

    15. Leonard on Wed, April 07, 2010

      CS, the liberalism and enlightenment you describe is of huge danger to the church.  I am in 100% agreement that what you describe is happening, I just would never call it “new legalism” 

      I see it as hyper liberalism.  Once one has become enlightened so to speak, they cannot be reasoned with or enter into honest discussion. 

      The results are often the same as legalism, but IMO they are are not the same thing.

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