By Jennifer Heeren, Crosswalk.com
Galatians 5 doesn’t mince words when it comes to legalism. It happens when we get so tied to the letter of the law that we forget to incorporate God’s love, mercy, and grace. It’s far too easy to let legalistic thoughts slip into my mind. Even a tiny little bit of that destructive yeast can spread through the entire batch of dough.
I must work very hard not to let legalism infiltrate my thinking. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were ruled by the law and Jesus didn’t like it one bit. He agreed that they knew the law well enough to teach it but they didn’t always practice what they preached. They oppressed their listeners with unbearable burdens and did nothing to ease those burdens. Legalism can lead to only doing good things for show (Matthew 23:1-5). I must refuse to give in to it! Compassion must be added in to the equation. Prayer and the Holy Spirit’s power also need to be mixed in. This is how burdens get relieved. When I add those things to the law, I am preserving the Truth of the Gospel.
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1. Looking Down on Someone
When someone I know does something wrong, is my first response to judge and look down on them? This might come in the form of disgust or pity, neither of which is helpful. I need to find out why they did it before I begin any judgment of their actions.
Hearing them out doesn’t give them an excuse for their wrongdoing, but it might help them (and me) to see the root of the problem, not just the outward symptoms.
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2. Praising Only Outward Deeds
When someone does something right, is my first response to laud them with praise? Doing the right thing is, of course, a good thing and should be complimented. But checking for the why is important in this case as well.
Good deeds can be done for a variety of reasons, many of which may not be altruistic. Good deeds done for selfish reasons have their own reward; they don’t really need to be covered in praise.
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3. "Should" is an Everyday Word for You
Do I constantly think that I should do such and such? Maybe I should do certain things, but doing them with that mindset makes the task seem like drudgery. Obedience should have a little obligation in it, but it’s more about what I do because I care.
Doing things only because I should can even usher contempt into my brain. Doing things because I love God and other people will infuse joy into the task. I desire to do good things out of love, not obligation.
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4. Reading the Bible for a Check Mark
Have I ever finished reading a bible passage in the morning and felt like I just checked a “finished” box? Reading the Bible regularly is a wonderful thing to do, but when you do it because you should, you’re missing something.
God has given us the gift of His Word so that we can improve our thinking and our lives. I get to read my Bible. I get to know God better through it.
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5. Judging before Listening
I judge someone for something I think they did. For one thing, I may not have all the facts so I’m forming my opinion too soon. I may have only heard one side of the story. Judging by only one side of the story equals accepting gossip at face value.
In modern times, accusations are looked upon as facts. Accusations may be true, but that isn’t all that it takes to convict somebody. You need to mix in all known facts, other sides of the story, and a lot of wisdom before you get justice. Before judging a person or situation I can, at least, hear both sides prior to forming an opinion.
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6. Thinking You're Okay Compared to Others
Do I ever think I’m okay because I haven’t committed “those big sins” that other people are doing? Jesus looked to the heart at all times. He didn’t just look at murderers. He looked at all of the anger that either comes out of my mouth or is stored inside of my head. It’s all sin.
Allowing the “small” things is how the “bigger” things take root and grow out of control. Jesus wants us to be free of all sin, including the ones I don’t act upon.
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7. Thinking Blessings are a Reward Only or Forgiveness isn't Deserved
God may have blessed someone because of something they did. They might be reaping what they sowed, but sometimes God also gives us things we don’t deserve; actually, everything He gives us, we don’t deserve.
Have I ever thought that someone doesn’t deserve to be forgiven? If a person truly repents of sin, any sin, they will be forgiven by God. Forgiveness is a gift. When people ask for it earnestly, God gives lavishly; therefore, if God doesn’t hold it against them, why should I?
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8. Thinking Someone Else Gets All the Breaks
Do I ever think that another Christian needs to do something in the exact same way I did it? Or do I think that the timing of blessings and the waiting periods of life should look the same for other Christians as it did for me?
God works differently with each of His children. There is no cookie-cutter plan that all Christians must do and go through. My desire is to follow God as closely as I can and pray that they do the same. We’re on parallel paths, but we’re not on the same path.
9. Feeling the Need to Out Someone's Sin Publicly
Outing someone else’s sin publicly is probably more about me than them. Secretly, I feel better because they are taken down a notch. Sometimes sin does need to be pointed out because I tend to either not see or justify them. But it needs to be addressed by a friend or loved one, not by a stranger.
It seems as if people’s sins get addressed on social media more by acquaintances and strangers. This is not God’s way. My sin should be addressed by people that really care for me, one-on-one, as much as possible—not in a public arena.
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10. Planning Your Schedule to a T
Is my daily schedule a tightly run ship? Planning is a good thing; it gives my goals structure so that I can really live them out. An extremely tight schedule, however, leaves no room for any surprises at all. When my schedule is that tight, I view surprises as hindrances and annoyances. Sometimes surprises are very pleasant, such as a friend I haven’t seen in a while stopping by to talk. Some surprises are also God-appointed opportunities to help someone, such as passing a good Samaritan that is injured and desperately needing help.
What really counts is faith expressing itself in deeds of love. The more time I spend doing good things, the less there will be for my opinionated flesh to emerge. There is no law against the Holy Spirit’s works of love, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. I want to spend my life reaching toward these heavenly goals.
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Jennifer Heeren loves to write and wants to live in such a way that people are encouraged by her writing and her attitude. She loves to write devotional articles and stories that bring people hope and encouragement. Her cup is always at least half-full, even when circumstances aren’t ideal. She regularly contributes to Crosswalk.com. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. Visit her at www.jenniferheeren.com.