A Legalism Reality Check

By Ricky Smith

Every summer as a middle school student, I would attend a week-long “camp meeting” in North Georgia. This experience was rewarding and I have many fond memories of the time. At the same time, this was the moment in my life where I came face to face with legalism. I remember well the worship service that was very expressive. Keep in mind that this church tradition was more Pentecostal in its worship while very Baptist in its teaching. You might call it “Bapti-Costal”. This means that it was not uncommon for people to jump from pew to pew or even run laps around the church as a form of expressing joy in Christ. I will withhold comments on whether or not I feel this is appropriate, as this blog is not intended to elevate one worship expression as better than another. That being said, I do appreciate the more reflective worship expressions of our church rather than highly emotional responses. Anyway, back to my story…

legal tent

One evening, everyone was “wide open” in their worship, and I stood at my pew and sang the song being played. A man near me came by and asked me if I was saved. “Sure, I am,” I replied. His response was, “Well, then, why aren’t you running around?” That was the moment. I stared legalism in the face, and the sincerity of my salvation was called into question because I didn’t respond how someone else thought I should.

Paul warns of a similar situation in Philippians 3:1-6. Our position, ethnicity, zeal, or conduct do not define our worth and worship. Our ability to keep the rules does not determine our value to God. The hope of the Gospel in the complete work of Jesus Christ is what defines us and gives us worth.

Beware of your religious actions becoming what defines you rather than a humble act of worship to become more like Christ. Our actions matter, and they are worshipful, but legalism is a real trap that distorts the Gospel. Because of my early life experiences, legalism is something that I don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.