What’s The Biggest Problem with Legalism? You. And Me.

I once belonged to a prayer group that prized ecumenical unity. We came from a wide variety of Christian traditions. We sang, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” Then we split down the middle due to ruptured relationships among our leaders.

We formerly prided ourselves on our exceptional unity; then our leaders attacked each other. We were embarrassed and a bit humiliated. Our highly prized treasure—good relationships in the midst of very strong differences—had slipped from our grasp.

Here lies Sam WilliamsonA fellow member heard of a Christian leader in a neighboring city who had committed adultery and raided the group’s bank accounts. Sitting next to me in a prayer meeting, my friend shared the story and then whispered, “At least we’re not that bad.”

“Great!” I thought, “that’s just what I want chiseled on my tombstone:”

Here Lies Sam Williamson

At least he wasn’t as bad as them

Most of Us Read The Bible The Wrong Way

Have you ever been in a relationship in which everything you say is misunderstood? It’s as though the other person has a built in bias to misinterpret you:

  • You say their new tie is attractive. They wonder if you are buttering them up in order to borrow fifty bucks.
  • You privately mention that their plaid, pink tie clashes (in the tiniest way) with their striped, orange shirt. They think you are a critical jerk.
  • You say nothing at all about their new tie. They figure you are a self-obsessed narcissist who never notices anything about anyone else.

A built-in-bias prevents them from hearing what you have to say because their hearing is filtered through their agenda. They only hear what they want to hear.

Well, we are that biased, agenda-driven person, only we misinterpret what God says. We read scripture through the lens of our purposes, and we overlook his purpose.

We are missing the boat to a rich life with God, and boarding a dinghy to relational hell.

The Problem with Legalism Part 1: Enoughism

The tag “Legalism” has become a common—and unfortunately appropriate— indictment against religion, churches, and Christians. We wantonly toss the term around; yet I believe we fail to fully understand it. As we accuse others of Pharisaism, I wonder if we are being a bit Pharisaic ourselves.

One of the problems with legalism is the belief that we know what is needed, and that we’ve done enough. The problem with legalism is Enoughism.

Let’s listen to this story of a young Pharisee and see if we can spot ourselves.

And let’s try to find out how to overcome it.


Video length: 3 minutes 54 seconds