5 Signs You’re a Miserable Legalist

Legalism is the thief of joy. Instead of focusing on the finished work of Christ, the legalistic person is constantly focused on what he or she must do.

The result is a profound lack of joy.

I can’t help but think of the classic hymn “It Is Well With My Soul,” which says:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

This is not the experience of the legalistic Christian. They don’t experience the explosion of soul that comes with realizing that all their sins have been forgiven.

5. A Legalistic Person Feels Like God Is Never Happy With Them

Being legalistic is a strange thing. In some people, it manifests as feeling like they deserve something from God because of the good works they’ve done (see: Pharisees).

But in others (like myself), it shows up as if God is never happy with them. As if they can never do enough good deeds to make God love them. As if they have to earn God’s favor instead of receiving it freely through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Yes, you know that, technically, God accepts you because of Jesus’ death for you. But just because God accepts you doesn’t mean he has to be happy with you. You feel like you got into God’s kingdom through a technicality or loophole, and now he just tolerates you, like some sort of divine probation officer.

You always have this vague, nagging guilt that comes from feeling like you’re not doing enough for God. You’re not evangelizing or praying or reading your Bible enough. You should be fasting more and serving more. Remember that time you were able to rest in God’s presence? Oh wait, that never happened because you can’t rest, you need to do more.

Charles Spurgeon described you well when he said:

The poor sinner trying to be saved by law is like a blind horse going round and round a mill, and never getting a step further, but only being whipped continually. The faster he goes, the more work he does, the more he is tired.

The Solution to Legalism

So what should you do if you find yourself wallowing in the mire of legalism? How can you escape the misery of being legalistic? How can you break the insidious chains of legalism?

At the risk of oversimplifying, the solution is always and ever the gospel. To be free from the poison of legalism, you must drink deeply of the antidote of the gospel. And this deep drinking must happen on a constant basis, not just every once in a while.

In his book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges puts it like this:

If we are going to persevere as committed disciples of Jesus Christ over the course of our lives, we must always keep the gospel of God’s forgiveness through Christ before us.

Or as Robert Murray McCheyne put it, “For every look at yourself, take 10 looks at Christ.”

Are you legalistic? The solution is to constantly, consistently, relentlessly look to Christ and his finished work on your behalf. Only in Christ is there true freedom from the chains of legalism.

This article originally appeared here.

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Stephen is a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook . facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stephenaltrogge . twitter: https://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge