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Spirit of Legalism or Consistent Spiritual Habits? Not the Same!

spiritual habits

I believe many followers of Jesus mistakenly lump a commitment to consistent spiritual habits into the pejorative pool of a spirit of legalism.

Unfortunately, dismissing these proven habits as “legalistic” causes these believers to unwittingly miss out on significant spiritual growth. I believe a right-sized understanding of legalism, accompanied by a proper motivation to embrace the habits for spiritual growth, can produce a harvest of spiritual revitalization.

Spirit of Legalism or Consistent Spiritual Habits?

I remember my final month of seminary like it was yesterday. A professor asked us, “What issues do you think the American church will be facing in 20 years?” That was 19 years ago.

Legalism, the belief that salvation and spiritual growth are obtained primarily from a strict adherence to God’s rules, had been the prevailing message in much of the evangelical and conservative churches for years. That message was changing rapidly as a substantive “grace-awakening” was happening on our seminary campus. I needed that awakening. I still do!

That said, there was a dark undercurrent developing in this change of tide. The grace awakening sparked a growing disdain for legalism, especially for those who were previously trapped in it. To be clear, I believe a measure of this disdain was righteous. Jesus dramatically confronted the legalism of the religious leaders of His day. Legalism is a lifeless counterfeit of the gospel and needs to be avoided.

The undercurrent was the intense emotional swing away from anything that smacked of legalism, which included any consistent effort to develop spiritually. My answer to the professor was, “I believe the church, 20 years from now, will be so ‘legalism-avoidant’ that the mainstream will pull away from engaging godly habits that lead to godly growth.”

Unfortunately, I became what I feared would happen to the church. I read the Bible, but I was not consistent. I prayed throughout the day but never had a focused time to pray intentionally about my life, family and ministry. I never journaled, so I had limited guidance from God’s Spirit on a daily basis. I was in a spiritual desert. I am pretty sure I wasn’t alone in that desert.

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Brian Phipps serves as the Next Steps pastor at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, KS, bringing strong leadership and investments in championing the spiritual growth of that congregation. Brian is experienced as a church planter, senior pastor, and discipleship and small groups pastor. He received his B.A. in religion from the University of South Carolina, and a Masters of Divinity and M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He and his wife, Carol, have been married since 1994 and have three amazing kids, Hannah, Sammy, and Caleb. Brian loves to hang out with his family and friends, play golf, fish, and play Texas Hold-Em’, and he enjoys classic rock. Brian’s passion is to empower every Christ follower to discover, develop, and optimize their character and calling in order to make the biggest IMPACT on the world for Christ.