L is for Legalism

no heart72He deliberately provokes them. He brazenly heals people on the Sabbath just to hear church leadership scream about violating Sabbath Laws. There is nothing discreet about his actions when it comes to making a point. And, many times, that point is to openly defy the legalistic religious culture.

And it causes us to stop and ask, What’s the big deal? It’s not like legalism is as bad as murder. Why get so upset about it? After all, aren’t those traditions and customs there to help people *get holy*?

Jesus makes it a point to spend time with those considered unholy and unclean, and he deliberately ignores elaborate religious traditions and customs. His actions don’t seem to fit with the stereotypical religious mindset.

And there it is. The mindset.

Traditions, customs and rules are not the culprit. There’s nothing wrong with those things in a healthy, spiritual life. Traditions and custom are what enriches our faith and helps us understand the divine. And like it or not, some man-made rules within a religion are necessary just as federal or state laws are there to keep everyone from running amuck.

So what did JC have against the religious leaders of his day? On the surface, it appears he’s overreacting and needs to just chill and be more tolerant. After all, isn’t Jesus’ message that of love and peace and turning the other cheek?

But God is never tolerant of prideful people. In fact, pride is right up there at the top of his list of no-no’s. Why? Pride displaces God in the heart and mind of a person and puts themselves front and center. And the truth is, the root of all legalism is pride. Legalism is trying to impress God or each other by following or doing certain behaviors (or not doing them). Legalism is a direct reflection of the condition of our hearts before God. From their elaborate rules and rituals, Legalists pat themselves on the back when they follow them and question those that don’t. A Legalists’ motivation is how they appear outwardly, never looking inwardly at the real reason for why they are doing what they do.

Legalism shifts the focus from a heart-centered motivation to man-centered motivation. It’s using God’s words to enforce our will. When we’re so concerned about keeping up appearances and dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s, it’s hard to focus on what’s really important to God…which is the condition of our hearts towards showing and sharing His grace, salvation and truth. Legalism is only focused on fixing the outer person so we appear better….to another person.

If we focus on the internal condition of our hearts before God and ditch the self glory, the external will be exactly what it needs to be in the eyes of God.

Walk with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. ~Col. 4:5, 6

And grace is always what transforms sinners into saints.

Linking up with ABC Wednesday

6 thoughts on “L is for Legalism

  1. You nailed it, Lisa…

    “Legalism shifts the focus from a heart-centered moti­va­tion to man-centered moti­va­tion. It’s using God’s words to enforce our will.”


    Well expressed post, my friend! Thank you!


  2. People are more important that rules and laws.Helping people is the most important rule for humanity.
    Jesus said: Man is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath is made for man.
    Thanks for this excellent post, Lisa
    Wil, ABCW Team


  3. Legalism covers a multitude of sins in my country. We’ve just had a law passed allowing the marriage of Homosexuals, Lesbians, Transgender people and so on.
    Whilst I have no particular feelings about a person’s sexuality, I don’t know why it should be ‘legalised’, just to suit a certain category,
    So many ideals and life styles are twisted into ‘Legalism’ just to suit the needs of those who deem themselves ‘different’ so therefore must be accepted in the status quo.
    Sodomy is decried in the Bible, yet in the UK we have priests that are openly Homosexual or Lesbian.
    Notice I don’t use the word ‘Gay’ that word has a different connotation for me as in being happy and carefree.
    In the Christian and other God fearing /loving religions the commonly held belief is that the sanctity of Marriage is a celebration, in the eyes of God, held between a man and a woman, who love each other, with the emphasis upon the procreation of children and of course being faithful to each other.
    The point I make is that how can a Christian Priest endorse the sanctity of marriage but sinning in the eyes of God ?
    I don’t doubt there will be a campaign soon to LEGALISE same sex marriage in Church.
    When people want their own way, whether it be right or wrong , they push and push until they get it.
    God gave us simple ideals to abide by, for a decent
    and happy lifestyle, they were ‘The Ten Commandments’, a simple but true ethos.
    God’s words were never ‘Legalised’, but a plea to go to him and he would give us everlasting peace.
    Best wishes,


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