3 min read

Please Stop Calling Me A Legalist (Part 1)

I have been called a legalist many times in my life. What I have always hoped for is a person who, instead of simply labeling me and moving on, asked me about the convictions I have. If we did this more, I believe it would solve a lot of problems.
Please Stop Calling Me A Legalist (Part 1)

Let me say right off the bat that I realize these two posts are gonna get me in trouble.

This is a sore spot for many people, but nevertheless, I believe this is something that needs to be talked about. If you don’t agree, okay. Please know that these posts are not meant to stir up trouble, but hopefully it gets you thinking in a way that perhaps to haven’t yet. That’s what we Christians do for each other. Please read this post in the loving spirit in which it was written.

There are many things in our Christian life that are not law. There are things we do, think, or say that, while they may not be mandated by Scripture, are still important and sometimes vital to our lives as Christians. I believe we call these things secondary convictions. They are secondary because they are not mandated and usually fall within the realm of opinion and personal conviction. This, however, does not make them any less important. Just because a conviction does not have an explicit Bible verse to support it does not mean we should simply throw it out the window as useless or not worthy of consideration. These secondary convictions cover a wide range of choices or beliefs that can usually be narrowed down to either engaging or abstaining from one thing or another.

Convictions that fall into this category include abstaining from alcohol, not indulging in certain entertainment for one reason or another, church protocol, as well as a wide array of other things that, although there is no explicit Bible verse that speaks to them, are completely fine and good for someone to do or not do. There are some that lord these convictions over people and call them Biblical fact and that of course is wrong. We should never call something sin that the Scriptures do not. Our belief in Sola Scriptura mandates that we never take away or add anything to God’s Word. Never go beyond Scripture. It's deadly. However, there are Biblical principals that certain convictions can be derived from and this is very permissible.

The issue here is twofold. I will cover the first issue here and the rest will conclude in part two. First, I have a very big problem with people that use the term “legalist” as a conversation stopper. If they don’t agree with something or someone’s convictions doesn’t line up with theirs they spit out the “L-word” and the conversation is supposed to simply end at that point. I am very frustrated with Christians who resort to this behavior.

Is there legalistic behavior out there? Of course there is. Are people trying to justify themselves by the law (which is actually the correct definition of legalism), of course there are. But just because someone doesn’t think it’s wise for Christians to drink alcohol, or believes watching a movie with sexual content is not beneficial, or they simply do not want to eat the meat sacrificed to idols because it sears their conscience, this does not make them a legalist. It makes them a Christian that wants to keep certain parts of their conscience sensitive. This is not wrong. We all should be doing this and I have found that the Christians who are quick to call someone a legalist are the Christians that perhaps have seared their conscience in that specific area. Not always of course, but I know for a fact this is the case with many.

Most convictions these “legalists” have are rooted in solid, Biblical principals that we all have and all apply in different ways. They aren’t trying to justify themselves in God’s sight by their behavior. They are simply trying to live in a way that is as free of distractions and potential pitfalls as possible. There is nothing wrong with realizing your heart is an idol factory and putting up defenses because of it. This is a wise thing to do. Do not think for a second that you have control over your own heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Do not presume that you have the ability to know everything about yourself. Your heart is more deceitful than you have the ability to understand. Realizing this and fighting against it does not make you legalistic, it makes you a Christian that knows you are not enough. Christ ultimately gives us victory over sin, yet we have a responsibility to keep ourselves from idols. Encouraging each other in this is not wrong. The problem arises when pride gets hold and people begin to think they are above certain sins or they will never struggle with a particular issue. This is very dangerous and unwise thinking. The accusation of legalism is often thrown out when pride is high and people think themselves strong. Yet we know from 1 Corinthians 10:12 that,

"...anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

So now that I've thoroughly dug myself into a pit here, let’s continue this conversation on Monday with part two.