Monday, July 21, 2008

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

Posting these confessions on this blog likely isn't the best way to generate discussion but I'd like to know if there are any other pilgrims out there who are battling legalism. Let me know your thoughts after reading my "confessions". Thanks!

“My name is David and I’m a Recovering Legalist.”

Thus began another LA Legalists Anonymous meeting with myself and God. Just the two of us. My detractors never attend but I meet them regularly in my day to day routines. Most of them tend to infuriate me so it’s better that we’re not all in the same room together. Besides, they no longer battle legalism. They’re free now. They’ve graduated.

For half a century I’ve battled this addiction with seemingly few results. Like most addicts I find myself scrambling to justify my problem. Defending legalism is like trying to harness a hurricane or tame a tsunami. It’s impossible yet I won’t give in. I’m riding this ridiculous hobby horse that keeps trying to buck me off.

My greatest difficulty rears its ugly head when I attempt to biblically prove my stubbornness. All manner of misinterpretation and juggling of the biblical text takes over. I’m right and I’m going to prove it, so help me God. But what if God doesn’t want to enable my addiction? Even though I think He and I are co-leaders of a crusade I know in my heart that He’s often positioning Himself with my opponents and not with me. That hurts.

Every so often my most raucous rival will join the fray and a debating debacle is launched. Who’s going to come out victorious this time? Me, of course, because I’m right and I’ve got all the proof I need or so I think.

My rivals? The emancipated, once-bound converts who have traded their former legalism for liberty, of course. These crusaders fearlessly flaunt their new found freedom quoting the same scriptures that I’ve employed for decades. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

I’ll never forget a mid-week Bible study with some of these friends who had suddenly been loosed from their chafing chains. Rather than simply enjoying their new-found freedom and using it to enhance their Christian walk, they took great delight in dissing the poor saints who were still bound with the yokes of traditionalism, fundamentalism and legalism.

Suddenly all the long-standing taboos were dropped. Alcohol was no longer frowned upon and “moderation “ became the buzz word. Dancing no longer “led to sex” but was tolerated and even encouraged. Frequenting the movies was now acceptable and we weren’t sent on the crazy guilt trips that so often plagued us as kids. “What if the rapture takes place while you’re in the theatre?” “Would you want Jesus to find you there?” “The movies are so loud you might not hear the trumpet.”

Now, over 50 years later, I’m grappling with the same problems although I sense I’m in the minority now. To voice my disapproval of these vices dates me and entrenches me firmly in the old-fashioned camp. It seems that most Christians feel I need to be liberated – set free.

Is there a balance between legalism and liberty? Of course there is! My problem is in suggesting that everyone should find the same middle ground as I seek to discover. Friends who agree with my warped view become friends for life. Others continue to be suspect.

I need to be constantly reminded of the apostle Paul’s words when he wrote the Corinthian believers. The Amplified Bible renders it this way, “All things are legitimate [permissible--and we are free to do anything we please], but not all things are helpful (expedient, profitable, and wholesome). All things are legitimate, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].”

So I continue to struggle, seeking to keep my legalistic tendencies to myself without imposing my rules of conduct on others. When asked recently to join other Christian men for an evening of “wings and beer” the sounds of battle began to rumble within. Fortunately I was busy doing “profitable” things that evening and my legalism could again be masked and my absence excused. How long will the war continue?

“Help! My name is David and I’m still a legalist…but I’m getting better…I think…I pray.”


  1. Hi David,
    Phil 2:12-13 always comes to mind when I hear these things. With all the problems society has with alcohol, do Christian men really need to have an evening of "wings and beer"?
    Romans 14:13 compels us not to judge one another or put a stumbling block before our brothers.
    We may have the freedom to do these things, but we must be very careful how we do them...We have a responsibility to the people who are watching...
    As a recovering legalist myself, I believe we need'nt throw out all the old ways. I also believe we need balance and proper motives of the heart in everything we do...that's my two cents worth anyway....
    Thanks for the post!

  2. I definitely agree with Cliff here. It's not that certain things like a drink of alcohol are always wrong, but we do need to think about these things (things people do in 'freedom') in context, as taking them out of context (as has been demonstrated with so many Bible verses) can mislead, or result in misunderstandings.
    And there are certainly a number of things people do that have absolutely no benefit - although they aren't necessarily wrong - and of course, we musn't pursue these pastimes and neglect our responsibilities to be encourages and supporters and servants of our fellow man, and furthering His kingdom.
    God bless you in your struggle!

  3. yes yes and yes i understand what you are experiencing!!!!! and it is a continual struggle in my mind and heart as to how to respond. how to look at the situation. i also was taught dancing was like having sex standing up. but i have gone to some of my neices and nephews weddings and they have had fun dancing. nothing sexual. though i didn't dance and i don't judge, there's this thing going on in my heart that i used to dance and it was not this fun thing but God delivered me from that. and drinking the same thing. i was in to all that and the Lord delivered me why would i want to go back to it? why is it so acceptable now. the Lord says come out from among them and be seperate. use your liberty as an opportunity to serve not for the flesh. and i don't want to judge my dear brothers and sisters in Christ and draw away from them. i have learned these last few years to pray continually about "Lord what would you have me do?"
    i don't know if this all makes sense but i do understand some of what you are experiencing.
    Lord Bless