Posted by: Heather | November 19, 2009

relationship vs. legalism (repost)

(Original post date: January 18, 2009)


I have been thinking about the differences between legalism vs relationship with God.

Often times when someone makes a sacrifice for God in their own life, others will cry “legalism”

I would suggest that if I make a sacrifice, and then you feel you must follow suit because I did it, then for you it may be legalism. However, for me it may not be.

If I try to force my sacrifice on you, then I am perhaps being legalistic toward you. However, I may be truly convinced that I must make the sacrifice. Romans 14 says that I must be convinced in my own mind, and then later says that the man is blessed who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

Those were some random thoughts, but the thing that really got my attention was what I will call “self denial”

Both the legalistic and the one with a relationship will have a form of self denial. But the person with a relationship denies their own self for the joy of doing so. The legalistic does not have the joy.

The depth of self denial is drastically different as well. Consider the difference between the Pharisees and the Disciples. The Pharisees were known for their legalities. They fasted and gave large sums of money because it was required. The Disciples on the other hand (who became Apostles) gave their lives. Some literally to martyrdom, others in hardship of life. They did not do so because of any requirement, but out of a desire to do what their beloved master wanted. They willingly went through extreme hardship that made any of the Pharisees’ hardships pale in comparison. But they did it for the love of their Lord rather than for devotion to a code.

An every day example we all have seen is the difference between a babysitter and a mother. Even a good babysitter works off of the list on the refrigerator. But who has not seen a mother go for days on end without proper sleep because their child is sick. There is no written code on the refrigerator requiring such devotion. They do it because of who and what they are. It is called being a mother.

I think being a child of God is the same way. As a child of God, there are times when I realize that doing something I once enjoyed grieves the Father. I willingly give it up because I love Him. He may not have asked you to give it up. If you are doing it (or feel pressure to do it) for me and not for him, then the reason is wrong, and it becomes a form of legalism.

Just some thoughts.




  1. I agree. The attitude of the heart makes the difference between these two.

  2. Good thoughts. I’d not thought much about both attitudes involving self-denial. Or at least the denial of something one really likes and wants.

    Perhaps the difference in attitude is that one has denied “self” as supreme and is accepting of the desires God chooses to implant, The one who lacks joy still has “self’ seated on the throne as the ultimate determiner of what is good and bad. That person has no joy because his/her desires are still at odds with what they think God wants. Or perhaps they only fear certain desires are inherently sinful, so they forbid themselves all manner of things in hopes of appeasing God’s displeasure at their unwillingness to bend the knee to Him.

    Love you 🙂

    Wonder if there’s a way to fix the author line so it reads “Simple Guy”?

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