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Are You a Legalist?

by | Tue, Oct 19 2021

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Have you ever wondered why that Christian who does not pray, read the Bible or serve as much as you gets all the favour?

When you read the title of this article, do you think that this topic is for others?

If you said yes to either of the questions above, you may be a legalist!

What is Legalism?

Legalism is esteeming the law above grace. It places its confidence in own works, rather than the finished work of Christ. It focuses on practice rather than the person of Jesus. It looks to religious activity rather than in God Himself.

It’s like thinking because you go to church all your life, you will be saved. That is putting your confidence in actions, in outward appearances, not inward heart transformations.

Traits of a Legalist

A legalist constantly compares themselves with others. Legalists will think better of themselves when they pray more or know their Bible more, or serve more. It’s like the Pharisees saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:11-12

A legalist will check to see they are getting their fair share of rewards for the work they have done. They believe the amount of blessings they, and others get from God should be correspondent to the level of obedience. A classic example is the prodigal son’s brother (Luke 15:11-32) who expected to get more from the father because of his greater obedience.

They put on the heavy yoke of man, the yoke of religion unto themselves and others. Consequently, they lack joy.

No wonder Jesus was adamantly against legalism! He called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34).

Doesn’t sound like you? Think again. Legalism is so well disguised, it’s rampant in church today. Jesus does not want you to be a bond to religious slavery. Take the quiz below.

Are you a Legalist?

1. Do you keep records of your service to God?

2. Do you feel that God is never happy with you, that you have to do more for God?

3. Are you critical or concerned about people who don’t have the same disciplines or convictions?

4. Do you apply the ‘convicting’ sermons you hear to someone else?
When you are self-righteous, conviction doesn’t apply to you.

5. Are you critical or concerned about people who don’t have the same disciplines or convictions? Do you think that people should believe, act, or even dress like you do, especially when they are in church?

6. Do you often get into arguments about the Bible?

7. Do you have a hard time forgiving the failures of others?

8. Do you use the Bible to tell God what He can do, or cannot do?

9. Is it important to you that people see how much you do for the church?

10. Do you question a person’s salvation because of the presence of an ongoing sin in a person’s life, or think they may lose their salvation because of it?

11. Do you tithe down to the last cent but struggle with generosity?

12. Do you believe our standing with God is based on how well disciplined we are as a Christian, such as in keeping the Ten Commandments?

Solution to Legalism

Did you tick yes to most of the questions? So you are a legalist? Now what?

Central to the heart of a legalist is an orphan heart. An orphan will always need to compare, strive and compete for attention and love. But you and I, when we believe in Jesus, are adopted as sons and daughters of God. By the Spirit we cry out “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) We are no longer orphans! But like the prodigal son, we may not have fully grasped our position. The invitation of the Father is the same to us as to the prodigal son – to boldly come to Him, to simply receive. Come, rest in His love. There’s more than enough for everyone.

Central to the heart of the issue is also the gospel. Jesus came to save all sinners. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It is not by works that we are saved, but by grace through faith, so we may not boast. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In light of the gospel, who are we to say we are better than anyone else? And how can we not once again, be humbled by God’s immense, overflowing love for each one of us?


Some parts of this article first appeared in and

About the author: Kristine Lee a.k.a. Jin Pyn Lee is an author, writer, aspiring filmmaker, dreamer, motorcycle rider and fulltime Christian. That just means she shares the love of her life Jesus wherever and whenever. In her eulogy, she would simply like to be known as someone God loves. Connect with Kristine on