Before you call me legalistic… do you even know what it means?

Grunge-Under-Construction-SignboardThe word ‘legalism’ seems to get thrown around in the church with alarming frequency. Having been a “good Christian girl” (heavy on the inverted commas there) all my life, I’ve certainly come under the heavy fire of legalist accusation in my time.

What really distresses me about the over-use of this word, is how drastically wrong we’ve got it. See, the majority of the time, all you’ve got to do to be called legalistic is stick your neck out as someone who actually tries to live by the teachings of the Bible.

It doesn’t take much digging to see that much of our Church culture has redefined legalism this way: “You choose to adhere more closely to what the Bible says than I do, therefore, you probably think you’re more righteous than me, therefore, you must be legalistic.”

There are plenty of issues with that way of thinking, but one of the scariest is how it’s labelled. Because legalism is actually a really big deal.

The dictionary defines it, in a theological sense, as ‘the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.’

To accuse someone of legalism is to accuse them of trying to earn their salvation apart from grace.

I’d say that’s just about the heaviest charge you can lay against a Christian, because, if it’s true, it mean’s they’re probably not a Christian at all.

So, before we throw the word around based on preferences, we should probably know what it means.

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7 comments on “Before you call me legalistic… do you even know what it means?

  1. vonhonnauldt says:

    Excellent comments. I’ve also heard legalism defined as “my list and your life,” meaning that something other than Scripture is to be our guidance, both for belief and for behavior..

    • sarsrose says:

      Thanks. Yes, there are probably two types of legalism. Ultimate legalism in which a person believes they must earn their salvation, and then ‘practical’ legalism in which someone doesn’t actually believe it, but lives as though they do. I know I certainly struggle with the latter some times!

  2. Wow! You just hit the bullseye! I would love a part 2 on this.

  3. Good post. Also the term “judging” I think is also misused.

    • sarsrose says:

      Yes that’s so true Stephen. Will have to consider writing one about that. How’s your new blog going? Sadly haven’t made it over there much as I’ve been so flat out with various things. Will check it out now though. 🙂

      • Thanks for looking at my new blog. It’s going kind of slow. It doesn’t appear that Google has picked it up yet, but I’m sure it will do better in time. I have plenty I plan on writing about though. That won’t be a problem. Thanks for asking.

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