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8 Signs You Love Legalism More Than Jesus

Legalism pits you against your brother or sister. It makes righteousness a competition and heaven the prize. And it leads to an exhausting life, one where you ride an emotional roller coaster because your worth and acceptance are tied to other people.

5) You believe outsiders must behave before they belong.

This is a core requirement of legalism. There’s a particular standard, though relative and unwritten, outsiders must conform to before being accepted. Legalism says you worked hard to get to this point. You’ve been in the church game for a long time, and until others get on your level, they’re on the outside looking in.

If you don’t allow people in, whether it’s in your worship, your home or your life, you’re making a declaration over them Jesus never made. You’re declaring some sins are worse than others, and certain behaviors are too ugly or distasteful for God.

You’re also declaring yourself the standard for God’s acceptance. That’s not a weight you can bear. Eventually, it will crush you.

6) Your private life doesn’t match your public life.

Legalism loves an audience. To the world, you’re an amazing Christian. You know the words. The lingo comes second nature. But away from the crowds, you’re “slightly” less than amazing (and by “slightly” I mean you’re a different person).

This was me. In high school and college, I knew when to turn it on. When the world watched, I played the Christian game. I was the guy parents wanted their daughters to date.

Away from the crowds, however, I was different. The “lights off” Frank battled pornography, lust, envy and bitterness. He was self-centered and greedy. I knew God saw through my facade. But I was more concerned with putting on a show.

If this is you, understand a lesson I learned the hard way. Who you are in private will inevitably be revealed in public. Legalism won’t tell you this, but it’s true. What you do when the crowd leaves is who you are. And you can only put on makeup and costumes so long before life exposes what’s underneath.

If your private life doesn’t match your public life, it’s likely legalism has shifted your focus from God’s holiness to others’ acceptance. You won’t fool the world forever. And you’ll never fool God.

7) You believe in joy and peace, but you’ve never experienced them. 

Legalism allows you to see God, but it never allows you to swim in the ocean of his grace, joy and peace. Legalism doesn’t care if you worship God, read the Bible or pray. But it’s not cool with those things drawing you closer to God.

The church today is filled with men and women who are deeply spiritual, but incredibly distant from God.

I know this from experience. For several years after becoming a Christian, I read the Bible every day. Seriously, I didn’t miss a day. I also prayed every day. I had perfect church attendance. But I was light years from God.

If your spiritual activities aren’t bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, you’re likely on the road to spiritual legalism. When you’re in God’s presence, you WILL bear the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22).