legalismWhile it is easy to accuse someone of being a legalist just because they live a little differently than we do, we owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ to understand what legalism is and what it is not.

Legalism is serious theological heresy which comes in at least four distinct forms. Some are soul-damning, all are dangerous, and identifying them is extremely important.

During midweek study in April 2014, Pastor McShaffrey endeavored to classify the different kinds of legalists which are commonly found in the church so that we might avoid legalism ourselves and that we might also reach out to those who are deceived.


1. The Justification Legalist

Scripture: Luke 18:18-23

Definition: A person who thinks that they can obtain God’s favor by performing good works.

Proponents: Nearly every religion in the world preaches a “Do _____ to be saved” message.

Danger: Those who trust in their own personal merit will be cast into Hell on judgment day.

Solution: Trusting in the perfect obedience of Christ as our only righteousness before God.

2. The Assurance Legalist

Scripture: Galatians 3:3

Definition: A person who thinks that salvation begins with grace, but is completed by works.

Proponents: Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Arminians  say, “Do _____ to keep your salvation.”

Danger: People on this kind of “spiritual treadmill” never find assurance, peace, joy, or hope.

Solution: Trusting Jesus as BOTH the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2, Phil 1:6).

3. The Sanctification Legalist

Scripture: Matthew 15:1-9

Definition: A person who supplements the commands of God with man-made regulations.

Proponents: Almost all denominations say of some tradition, “Do ____ to become more holy.”

Danger: God forbids adding to his perfect law (Deut.  4:2, 12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:19).

Solution: Trusting the sufficiency of God’s holy word to sanctify the Christian.

4. The Experiential Legalist

Scripture: Romans 14:17

Definition: A person who over-emphasizes the “eating and drinking” aspects of Christian living.

Proponents: All conservative Christians run the risk of adopting the “Just do it!” mentality.

Danger: People who dwell only on obedience will lose their peace and joy in the Spirit.

Solution Trusting the Lord to lead us in spiritual paths of joyful righteousness.