Legalism takes many forms. I recently wrote about obsessions/preoccupations. Like addictions, anytime we overdo something, if not dealt with well, even if we try to give up our legalism concerning one thing, we will often become legalistic about something else.
It’s as if we have a gap that needs to be filled. Until we deal with the core reasons why the gap exists and why we tend to fill it with legalism or an addiction or something else, we will continue to make unhealthy choices that impact our own life and those around us. We might make a healthier choice than before, but healthier can still be unhealthy or destructive.
The church is perhaps one of the most targeted by claims of legalism. And you will certainly find legalistic people within the church. But I often experience reflective, growing, flexible people in the church, too. And I’ve experienced legalistic people outside the church – people who assume or demand structure around their routines, people’s beliefs, or the way things “should be.” I’ve seen people who were once legalistic in faith shift their legalism to other areas when they decide their faith is not what they want it to be. They become legalistic in their decisions about relationships, everyday habits, and new beliefs. They might even judge people who are legalistic in the same areas they once were while rationalizing their new focus of legalism is not only acceptable but the way the world should be. People can become legalistic about their own correctness and refusal to be wrong.
Legalism and discipline differ. Legalism is excessive and imposes choice and influence. It is static even if the focus changes. Discipline is a process that corrects and molds. It changes.
Take inventory today. Be willing to listen and invite change. You are making choices that impact your heart and soul. Your life overflows onto others. Choose well.