Legalism is a damaging man-made religion that draws us away from relying on Jesus’ work to relying on our own work. It is defined as an excessive and improper use of the Law, which occurs when we use the Law either to attain or maintain our salvation.
Using the Law to attain or maintain our salvation is not wise, nor good because all those who rely on the works of the law for salvation are under a curse and must keep all of them (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). Of course, that is not something we can do because none of us are, nor will we ever be perfect.
While we may know the dangers of legalism, we may still find ourselves slipping into legalistic tendencies from time to time, which means it’s important we are aware of the signs that point to legalistic living.
10 Signs We Are Living As A Legalist
(1) We misuse the Spiritual Disciplines – This occurs when we base our worth, as well as God’s love and acceptance of us on whether we have read the Bible, prayed, attended church, or witnessed to X number of people in any given day or week.1
(2) We judge or criticize other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct we deem necessary to be a good Christian – Codes of conduct may include dress, appearance, type of entertainment, how we use our money, food and drink we partake of, etc.
(3) We live by certain codes of conduct because we believe they provide us with God’s approval or acceptance.
(4) We live in constant condemnation or criticism of our own mistakes – As a result, we live with an irresolvable guilt that we can’t shake because we believe we must be perfect to continue our relationship with God.
(5) We struggle to or never confess our sins to God or others – This occurs because our identity is wrapped up in our own manufactured righteousness. Admitting we are not as righteous as what we are working to be, undercuts all our efforts, so we remain silent in regard to our sin hoping they will go away on their own.
(6) We are easily angered, become defensive, or are devastated when others criticize us – This occurs because our identity is wrapped up in producing a righteous persona for others and God to see.2
(7) We volunteer because we believe it earns us greater favor with God, not because we love others and want to serve them.
(8) We separate ourselves from anything worldly, including friends, co-workers, and neighbors.1
(9) We blame others for our wrong attitude, thoughts, or actions – If others caused us to do it, we can’t be held responsible, which means we are still righteous and acceptable to others and God.2
(10) We are an obsessive rule follower – Following rules is not always a bad thing, it could show submission to authority and a desire to please God. But being obsessive about following rules could be a sign you are living as a legalist.
Question for Reflection
- Does any of these signs resonate with you?