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8 Signs You Love Legalism More Than Jesus

legalism in the church

Growing up, Sunday mornings were dreadful. Most everyone wore suits. The preacher yelled, especially when it seemed like he had nothing to say. And the same old guy prayed marathon prayers using a host of words with more syllables than his age. Since I was too young to understand churchy vernacular, I timed his prayers instead. Sorry, God. It helped pass the time.

Maybe it’s not fair, but years of Sunday sermons painted a God who was, at least in my mind, agitated, skeptical and shallow.

After graduation, I entered a new season, away from parents and Sunday suits. By this time, I was convinced I couldn’t earn God’s love. Besides that, I hadn’t been baptized, and in my fellowship, the road to heaven passes through a small pool of water.

So, I began my new season without God (thankfully He never left me).

Behind my earliest picture of God and my eventual (though temporary) divorce was legalism. I breathed its toxic fumes from a young age. Breathe in…”Frank, if you don’t give your life to God, you’ll go to hell. Do you want that?” Breathe out…God is an angry master. Breathe in…”Frank, are you really going to a church outside of the Church of Christ? Do you know what they teach?” Breathe out…I’m right, everyone else is wrong.

For years, legalism distorted my perspective and desire to follow Jesus.

What is legalism? In short, legalism is adding anything to the gospel. Legalism takes the words “Follow me” and adds stipulations, clauses and barriers. It’s a facade, and, over time, you believe its lies. The ultimate lie being the simplicity of the gospel isn’t good enough.

Legalism shifts the end goal from Jesus to something else. Legalism doesn’t care where you focus—anything but the risen Savior will do. And it inevitably turns God into an agitated old man, skeptical about anything that breathes.

If you’re exhausted with legalism’s demands, you can break free. It won’t be easy or quick. I’m still fighting for freedom. But you can break the chains, and it starts with recognizing you’re enslaved.

Here are eight signs you’re trapped in legalism.

1) You believe God loves you. But you don’t believe He LIKES you. 

If you painted God’s face right now, what would it look like? Is he smiling? Is he frustrated? For most of my life, I pictured God with a “Lee Trevino in Happy Gilmore” face. It was a slow, disapproving, puzzled head shake.

Don’t get me wrong. I believed God loved me. But I didn’t believe he LIKED me.

And we all know loving someone and liking them are two different things. When you like someone, you enjoy their presence. You welcome their company. You ask them over to watch the Super Bowl or go to the movies. You take selfies with them.