Why Striving is NOT Legalism

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What God really cares about is not so much how you look, but where you’re looking.

It’s easy to poke fun at dudes who read their Bibles on a calendar, wake up at dawn to pray for three hours, and serve on the worship-rap-dance-drama-origami team. That dude attends church nine times per week, drops off food to the homeless from his jetpack, never gets near alcohol (even the rubbing kind), reads the Bible from the original Dead Sea scrolls, and lives in the last known Qumran community that serves lepers and fasts half the year.

Someone yells “legalism.”

When we hear about guys doing whatever it takes to quit their sin addiction, like Twelve Step Plans and cognitive behavioral therapy and throwing away their laptops, we think that’s External Conformity.

We call it “Religion.”

We throw around the word “Legalist” because, just maybe, it relieves our anxiety about being lukewarm. Because maybe that really soothes our conscience about being passive on our own struggles.

The truth is: Compare two guys who are both doing all these things, and one of them could be a legalist while the other is not.

What’s the difference?

Simply: One loves Jesus Christ. The other loves himself.

One relies on Christ. The other is self-reliant.

Legalism is a state of the heart and not your hands. It’s about self-righteousness versus Christ-righteousness. One has it going on with the Lord; the other is basically in love with his own reflection.

Striving is okay.

Putting effort into opening your Bible does not automatically equate to dismissing Jesus at the door. If you’re the kind of person who needs a scheduled prayer time in the morning, that doesn’t mean you’re defying the grace of God. He is not offended that you’re using some of your willpower. He’s also cool with you reading your Bible while you eat, on the way to work, or even in your — gasp! — least awake part of the day.

God is not put off by any of that. Because ultimately the power to chase after God comes from God Himself.

JS Park Former atheist/agnostic, fifth degree black belt, recovered porn addict, and youth pastor in Tampa, FL. B.A. in Psychology from USF and a MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Have a German shepherd named Rosco, can eat five lbs. of steak in one sitting, and gave away half my salary this year to fight human trafficking. I blog regularly on my main site and my Tumblr for struggling Christians.

More from JS Park or visit JS at http://jsparkblog.com/

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  • Peter Mahoney

    I have certainly noticed an uptick of believers who draw either the “legalism” or “don’t judge me” cards in contexts where there really isn’t a genuine biblical reason for it. I had a guy try to convince me that swearing (cussing) was OK and that to refrain from doing so was “legalism”… dude called me a legalist… for not swearing… LOL!!!

    Maybe the time has come for these terms/phrases to be biblically understood and not used as a means to justify behavior that is driven by selfishness… not to earn favor or merit with God… but because of the favor, grace, love, mercy He has bestowed on Christ-Followers. Let our lives be lived in response to the Gospel… let us walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called!!!

    Bless you JS… thank you!!!

  • SoulSpartan

    Thanks so much for this article, man. The Holy Spirit is using it to encourage me, to help me to trust Him as He teaches me how to strive in a holy way. :)