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How to Spot a Legalist

Legalists are tricky creatures.

They slither in the side doors of churches, sign up to lead Bible studies, and fill the minds of once joyous believers with rules and requirements of what it “really means” to become a Christian.

Ask them how a person is saved and they’ll say, “By grace of course,” and then they’ll roll out a scroll across the floor full of checklists to prove your salvation, and prerequisites you must abide by in order to receive this “free gift” of grace.

The Apostle Paul had strong words for the legalists of his time. These legalistic Judaizers wanted the Gentiles to accept God’s grace through faith, but be required to get circumcised and to keep the law of Moses as well. Paul had strong words about them in Galatians 5:12, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”


Today, nobody (as far as I know) is seeking to add circumcision to the free gift of God’s grace as a requirement for salvation. No, currently, a far more subtle and sinister movement is creeping into the church.

21st Century Pharisees have replaced circumcision and keeping of the law with a more accepted evangelicalized list of dos and don’ts.

These pious sounding party poopers are getting Christians to doubt their salvation, get discouraged in their salvation, and trying to prove, keep and/or earn their salvation. They are robbing believers of the joy that was once theirs in Christ and replacing it with the heavy yoke of legalism (Acts 15:5-11).

With this in mind, here are 10 ways to spot a legalist in your church:

1. They cheapen grace by focusing on what we must do rather than on what Christ has done.

2. They’ll say nonsensical things like, “Salvation is free, but it will cost you everything you have.”

3. They are “fruit inspectors” and hypothesize how much spiritual fruit a person must produce in order to truly be saved.

4. They focus on things like turning, trying and crying instead of faith alone in Christ alone for salvation.