Grace Abounds


Legalism.  I know it too well.  Clean up the outside and tell everyone else how to “be clean” as well.

Yep.  That was my life, for most of my life.  I’m learning.  I’m stretching.  I’m realizing He is the One who does the cleansing.  I have nothing good in me…I can do nothing without Him (John 15:5).

God made you alive with Christ, and He forgave all your sins.  He canceled the debt, which listed the rules we failed to follow.  ~Colossians 2:13-14

From He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado (What?!  Who else did you expect?)

All the world religions can be placed in one of two camps: legalism or grace.  Humankind does it or God does it.  Salvation as a wage based on deeds done — or salvation as a gift based on Christ’s death.

A legalist believes the supreme force behind salvation is you.  If you look right, speak right, and belong to the right segment of the right group, you will be saved.  The brunt of responsibility doesn’t lie within God; it lies within you.

The result?  The outside sparkles.  The talk is good and the step is true.  But look closely.  Listen carefully.  Something is missing.  What is it?  Joy.  What’s there?  Fear.  (That you won’t do enough.)  Arrogance.  ( That you have done enough.)  Failure.  (That you have made a mistake.) . . .

Spiritual life is not a human endeavor.  It is rooted in and orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.  Every spiritual achievement is created and energized by God.

As a child I was quite fearful of losing my salvation. We had lots of rules. We were known for our “holy lifestyle.” “Gosh”…”golly-gee”…these were curse words.  So just imagine what I would think if I had gone so far as to say, “dang it!” *gasp!* Which I did do…one day…while playing tetherball.

I was certain I had lost Jesus at that point. You see, He would not dwell in a heart that bore such evil.

I felt overwhelming shame and fear.  I understood I needed to run home and bow down by my bedside and repent. Get it all out. Every evil. And ask Him to return, to come back into my heart, to abide with me again.

Yep. And that’s exactly what I did.

Also, I was quite vocal about letting everyone know if they were following the rules of Christianity correctly. Yep, I did. You can just imagine how many friends I had. The term “goody-goody” fit perfectly and I heard it all day, every day, for twelve years of schooling.

That’s my background.  That was my culture.

I’m SO thankful to be past that bondage.  I know Jesus died for me while I was a sinner (Romans 5).   I know He understands I am but dust (Psalm 103:14).  Does that give me a pass to sin more, so grace may abound?  May it never be (Romans 6).  But it does help me to know, I can’t make myself holy.

He does the work.  It is His Spirit in me that moves me closer and closer to His image.  Some day, in heaven, I will be like Him (1John 3:2).  WOW.

Until then, death to self, but alive in Christ through faith, by grace which abounds.


45 responses »

  1. Michelle – I know exactly what you mean. Legalism is my stumbling point too. Well, one of them. I am earnestly desiring to know how God sees things, and correct this in myself. I want to get past the outer courts, into the holy place, as the song says. My eyes aren’t good enough. I want to see with His eyes. He loved me – loves me – when there is nothing remarkable in me save for His amazing grace. Can I see others this way? Love others this way? I desire it.

  2. I’m glad someone understands me, Annie. Sometimes I feel I was raised in such a counter-culture no one has a clue what struggles I face. I do not want judgmentalism to have rule over my life ever. again. How about, I’ll pray for you and you pray for me in this?

    To see others through His eyes…that’s key.

  3. I appreciated this post because I have to tell you… since reading blogs I have been reading the term “legalism” over and over and not understanding what it meant. You explained it and the differences so clearly. There was an element of fear in my religious upbringing but it was a footnote, really. The more I learn of others’ experiences the more I am grateful for the teaching I received.

    “Salvation as a wage based on deeds done — or salvation as a gift based on Christ’s death.” So clear. thank you.

  4. Thanks, Sara. Yeah, we do tend to use a bunch of terms that aren’t always familiar. I’m glad it’s clearer now. You know, even though we had lots of rules in my church, it was a good upbringing. I did learn that if you stay on the straight and narrow, you don’t have nearly as many regrets. 😉

    Perfect, Annie! 🙂

  5. I love Max! and I love this particular book…

    Grace, not earned not deserved…a gift from our Father, and like you I know my capabilities, and there is no good thing in me…except for Jesus…

    love you princess

  6. I can so much relate to growing up like this. If a movie had a swear word in it my dad would jump out of his chair, yell, and stomp out of the room. I couldn’t live up to the rules. I prayed the salvation prayer over and over.

    In High School I began to rebel because I just wanted to fit in a little (my sister was the goody-goody) but I still felt every failure, and repented all the time for everything. When I hit college I more openly rebelled. I watched the Wizard of Oz! Then Star Wars. Then everything else I could get my hands on. 🙂 It went downhill from there. But I digress.

    It has taken years to BEGIN to move past legalism and to understand even a small bit about Grace.

    One of my constant prayers is to be able to see others through His eyes… and to see myself as one who is loved without earning it.

  7. Amen, Darla, I never understood grace. I kept hearing it, but it didn’t make sense along with all the rules that had to be kept. I’m so glad the Lord helps us slow learners (me, not you). 😉

    Hey, Heidi! Wow…the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars! For some reason those were OK in our house. Now, don’t talk to my kids. They just may have some stories to share. 😳 I really love Chuck Swindoll’s book, The Grace Awakening. It helped me lots.

    Well, Nor, I didn’t have you pegged as a scaredy-cat! 😆
    No, I’m teasing, you are a wise man, knowing when and where to “get into it.” 😉

  8. I just had a discussion like this today with a co worker…

    Your salvation is not anything you can do..It is not a list of stuff you do… It is all Christ, it is all Him. Not you and Him… Just him. No set of rules to follow…Just you believing in his forgiving Grace.

    Of course don’t let Snot drag you down a slippery slope. Right Nor? 😉

  9. Yeah, The Wizard of Oz had magic in it and witches. Star Wars had Eastern Religion. It was way over the top. But they really thought they were doing the right thing. Nothing Halloween, witches, magic (no smurfs), other religions, sex, profanity. Playing cards was ok as long as it wasn’t a certain brand. Nothing with any symbols that might be demonic, or other languages because it might be some kind of evil inscription.

    My husband had the opposite upbringing. Not religious at all (lapsed Catholics) and in fact I would call his upbringing “sac-religious.” His parents still are not saved and they really don’t understand when we do “ban” something. We do have to be careful, because his cousin was babysat by them and when she was very young she was watching things like poltergeist with my FIL. So… while we aren’t overly strict, we do put our feet down at scary/horror movies, or inappropriate ratings.

    Parenthood isn’t easy. My parent’s made lots of mistakes. I tell my kids that I”ll make mistakes, but I am trying to be the best mom I know how to be. And we apologize when we know we’ve gotten it wrong.

  10. Hey, Carl. Good to see you here during the week. 😉

    I hope I didn’t come across as saying I don’t think there is a lifestyle of holiness for the believer. I DO feel we are to be walking a narrow path that actually narrows as we go. I’m just not going to tell others what that needs to look like, unless it’s based upon a clear scriptural teaching. But to get the righteousness and then holiness before Jesus, well that’s just backwards and IMPOSSIBLE. Does that make sense?
    I do have a list that I feel the Lord has placed upon my heart, I’m just not gonna share it, unless I have strong biblical support for it.

    So, Heidi, that’s quite interesting to me. You see, my parents weren’t so concerned about the whole witchcraft, eastern religion thing. Actually, they were more free than most of the church family. But I still heard the teaching that we shouldn’t go to movies, dance, smoke, drink, chew,…even cards and mixed swimming were looked down upon.

    Now, me? I’m the rigid one when it comes to witchcraft and eastern religions. But that’s based upon my own experience with the occult…yep, it scared the bejeebers out of me! (still can’t say bejeezus)

    I agree, parenting is the hardest task I’ve ever been given. I apologize LOTS!

  11. I know that they were very careful about occult type things. But they ministered to people involved in those types of things, which is why they were very serious about it. We live fairly close to a large Spiritualism community, and it is very easy for people to get involved. It makes it extra important for me to teach my children not to dabble in certain activities.

    I’m sure you and I could have a great conversation about all of this! But I’ll stop myself now. Goodnight!

  12. Wow, love the conversation! I can identify with a lot from you guys (Michelle and Heidi) – my Mom especially ex-nayed EVERYTHING – with the exception of cards. And mixed swimming (?). She had a problem with legalism growing up, I think. She was gradually delivered from much of it, and when she went home, she was a champion. I remember when my brother started listening to Christian rock music. For awhile it was VERY frowned upon. Although all of us (being teens) thought she was off her rocker and going too far. She eventually changed her viewpoint on that. She discovered what real worship was. 🙂 So yeah – I identify. I do see so much strength about environment and influences – I’m hoping and praying for wisdom on how to have the one without the other. I do NOT want to raise legalistic kids. But I DO want them to live in the light and be able to identify light from darkness. I’m still praying on that one.

    Love you ladies!

  13. There’s this song by Fred Hammond that has a line called “Where sin abounds grace abounds so much more, covering me from the sun to the floor, and if I forget then the spirit of grace cries out peace and I remember, sweet peace” and that always stands out to me.

    I didn’t grow up in Christian legalism but I did grow under severe religious oppression as a Muslim. Wasting food was a sin. Not bringing someone water when they ask was a sin. Not fasting during Ramadan was a sin. The list goes on.

    I appreciate God’s grace so much. I believe in walking in righteousness but I don’t forget that I am not right on my own; that it’s not what I do but what God does through me and in me when I submit to His Will and Holy Spirit. I think sometimes we miss that very important detail and take on the responsibility [and burden] to be right on our own rather than depend on God to ‘make us right in Him.’

    Lucado’s book ‘In the Grip of Grace’ is awesome. One of my favorite books.

    Love you Sis.

  14. Your post and this whole conversation have helped me a great deal, Michelle. I’d love to comment at length, but my time is kinda limited just now.

    Having just had a big argument with my seven-year old son (sigh), Annie’s comment “I do NOT want to raise legalistic kids. But I DO want them to live in the light and be able to identify light from darkness.” was particularly meaningful to me. Balancing love and discipline can be so difficult sometimes. It’s a huge effort. And God puts in that effort for each one of us, all the time. Amazing!

  15. It’s such a sweet surrender when you finally realize there is nothing you can do to earn, keep, maintain your salvation. It is completely up to God’s mercy, and the finished work of the Savior.

    It’s the key to the abundant life Jesus promised us, and the cornerstone of our freedom in the Christ.

    I understand how hard it is to move past legalism, but once you do…aaaaahhhhhhhh.

  16. Good morning, Heidi. I can understand their concern with a large Spiritualism community close by. I was amazed when we lived in England how many Spiritualist churches were around, almost like Texas with a Baptist church on every corner. We need to teach our children so they will have a strong awareness of what is truly of the Lord vs. a counterfeit. Coffee and doughnuts over a long conversation sounds like heaven right now — hopefully the doughnuts in heaven won’t make us fat! We’ll get to have those conversations some day. 😉

    Hey, Annie! It sounds like you had a wonderful model through your mother, a woman desiring to please the Lord. I can say my parents were more open-minded than the church because they did see much of the rules as baggage. I’m glad for that. However, even in it’s smallest form, legalism binds. It’s taken many years for me to see past the view I was told was authentic Christianity. YOU, my dear, are going to be an amazing mother! 🙂

    Amen, Gch. “I believe in walking in righteousness but I don’t forget that I am not right on my own; that it’s not what I do but what God does through me” I heard Kay Arthur teach once, we can’t do what we do without His power within doing the work, otherwise it’s just us doing — nothing spiritual about that kind of doing. Just as Jesus said, and I’ll say again, “you can do nothing without Me.” I love you, Gch! 😀

    Hey, Alan. I’m glad to see you here…I know times are hard right now. I think raising kids is the hardest job we will ever be given. (Did I say that already? 😳 ) I do know from my own mistakes, and they’ve been many, that my kids might get tired of hearing it, but I still must remind them, it’s not about us, it’s all about Him. Now, I say that with much love and compassion poured on their tender souls. They are too precious of a gift to be careless/thoughtless in my teaching. If we hold Him up as the example, our children will see the true light.

    This has been such a fun conversation! So glad ALL Y’ALL have participated!! 😉

  17. Hey, Dan BadGuy! I didn’t see you there. Amen! Sweet surrender is definitely the term to express the awakening that happens. You’ve said, it’s “the cornerstone of our freedom in Christ.” And the long sigh of relief. Thanks for commenting. Love you, Dan! (I’m not crossing out that one, it’s true!) 😉

  18. um, it’s not Dan…



    I’m forever mixing up B4B and b4dguy…sorry.

    You changed your avatar and it brought to mind my crusty old soldier friend…

    Well, I love you too, BadGuy! Thanks for commenting.

  19. Such a great conversation here. I heard a saying once that went something like this: if the devil can’t push you into sin then he will pull you into self-righteous works. I think this applies to judgmental attitudes based on our own sense of righteousness. Dangerous ground indeed.

  20. Hey, Angie! Back to the grind, huh? Sounds like y’all had a wonderful vacation. Are you worn out?
    “Our own sense of righteousness…dangerous ground indeed” — and quite arrogant.

    Bad, it’s all good. 😉

  21. Michelle – THANKS for your warm encouragements. 🙂 That touched me.

    Alan – Your words blessed me as well. I know God gives much grace to the parent and the child … and in the end (Michelle’s right) it’s all about HIM.

  22. um. so is that Bad up there?

    im confused 😕

    ok. so i have seen a lot of legalism lately. i didnt grow up with it and have never been involved with it. and until recently, never truly understood it. but i do see it holds one in bonds. im seeing that now,

    and now i cant write anymore cuz im totally sidetracked by this stinkin election.


    love you sis!!!

  23. “if the devil can’t push you into sin then he will pull you into self-righteous works”

    That’s just brilliant, Angie. A great reminder of what to watch out for!

  24. Lots of comments and no time to read them all. I did catch the two sides of the coin called “fundamentalism”. It’s a shame that the term is pretty much in disfavor for the wrong reasons (fundamentalists perceived as legalistic – some are).

    Don’t know if anyone mentioned it, but wouldn’t ‘autonomous free will’ decisionism fall into the camp of legalism, since it places the final determinant in the chain of events that lead to salvation in our ‘hands’, and thus a work?

    I don’t think for a second that the Devil can, in and of himself, push us or pull us into anything. I only say that in light of James 1:14, not to be argumentative. I am also only speaking about that phrase on it’s own, not in it’s context in a comment above. And besides, self-righteous works born of legalism ARE sin and will be burned along with everything else that falls into the categories of wood, hay, and stubble.

  25. Your welcome, Annie. 🙂

    Hey, Tam! Growing up with it makes it harder to break, but I’ve seen it everywhere, not just one particular denomination. We do tend to want everyone to look and act like us, which usually places unrealistic burdens/rules on others. Oh, and it was Bad, I got confused. Love you, TammyJo!

    Good morning, Dan! Yeah, the point of fundamentalism vs. legalism really never took off. I, honestly, can see legalism throughout Christendom. It’s not just a plague of fundamentalism. Some are much more intolerant of fundamentalists than they would ever be of blatant licentiousness. Amen, concerning the self-righteous acts being burned up…that reality causes me MUCH pause. Thanks for commenting, Dan, love you!

  26. @Dan – to answer your question, no. Choice is not a work, and thus not a form of legalism.

    It’s somewhat ironic that fundamentalism is seen as legalism, because it began as a response to legalism. It’s really the opposite, at least in its origins.

    Legalism is a lie of Satan and I think it crosses all denominational/theological borders. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Subtle, pervasive, and insidiously damaging.

  27. I didn’t say it was, now did I, Bad? In case you flunked freshman English, ‘choice’ is just a noun. However the making of a choice/decision is a ‘work’, sweatless though it may be. And we have been through this before, now haven’t we?

    Could I have your reference for the description of fundamentalism/legalism – the document stating that fundamentalism began as a response to legalism? I’d like to research it a bit.

  28. I’ve recently discussed the difference between a fundamentalist and fundamentalism.

    Considering fundamentalism can be quite militant in its guise, doesn’t it refer to a movement that crosses the bounds of the five fundamentals of the faith?

    Just a precautionary note:
    If you two are going to have an exchange, please stay kind.
    No snarkiness here.

    Thanks. 😉

  29. I have no intention of starting an ‘exchange’. Concerning the origins of fundamentalism, I am afraid I cannot find his reference. Those that I have found all give a totally different reason, and are united in the reason for fundamentalism’s rise. Therefore the curiosity as to Bad’s source information. He was rather certain of it’s origin and just might be in error.

  30. Dan, I’ve always understood conservative Protestant theologians felt a need to determine the fundamentals of the Christian faith, having seen much “tearing down” of the Bible due to higher criticism. The five basic fundamentals were established:

    1) The inerrancy of the Bible in its original writings.
    2) The scripture is sufficient as the final authority for Christian doctrine.
    3) The virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
    4) The doctine of substitutionary atonement.
    5) The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and His imminent bodily return to earth.

    But from Webster’s we get:
    fundamentalism –
    1: a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b: the beliefs of this movement c: adherence to such beliefs
    2: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles Islamic fundamentalism political fundamentalism

    It’s the second definition that bothers me. That one leads to legalism, doesn’t it? That Christian fundamentalists are put into the same category as the fundamentalism we see in Islam, or fascism…I don’t get that! None of the fundamentals of the Christian faith will lead to fanaticism and persecution.

    But this is quite off topic from the original post…just a pet peeve of mine… 😳

    Carry on. 😉

  31. Looks like Webster correctly differentiates between the legalistic fundamentalism of Islam and Christian fundamentalism that is about core doctrines. Fundamentalists in the ‘good’ sense can be legalistic, but fundamentalism isn’t at fault. Does that make sense?

  32. Yes. Complete sense. I did not grow up in a denomination that would be considered “fundamentalist,” but we were definitely legalistic.

    I now consider myself a fundamentalist, based upon the five fundamentals, but I strongly want to give grace to all. Actually, I learned the most about grace from Chuck Swindoll, a well-known fundamentalist.


  33. Welcome back, DaRonn. 😉

    I find it terribly sad and a devastating witness to the crux of the Good News — we are saved by Christ alone and can now walk in newness of life — that we would bind people up with legalistic rules once more. As Paul declared, “Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1-5)

  34. I guess it comes down to what each of us think if when we hear the term ‘legalistic’. Rules and codes of behavior are quite acceptable, permissible, and at times necessary. To say that a person is saved/or not based on obeying the ‘rules’ (whatever they may be) is legalism.

    When acceptable rules of behavior are called being ‘legalistic’ because someone doesn’t particularly like them is a spurious charge. Satan tries to levy that charge on a regular basis, even through people who would scoff at pursuing holiness and sanctification, and even holding to a literal view of scripture.

    The door swings both ways on this one.

    It’s a good discussion.

  35. Dan – My source was a college class, way too long ago to remember sources or whether I even got the message correct. I believe it’s been discussed that fundamentalism came about because of the way the Bible was being torn down, which I believe at least included legalism, so maybe it wasn’t THE reason, but certainly part of the reason.

    To be more precise, “making a choice” is not a work. If you want to ascribe works to every verb – I think that would be an example of legalism. That IS in the Bible. You are right, we’ve been through this before and I’m afraid we will have to continue to disagree.

    I basically agree with your definition of legalism, the application (interpreting whether someone is engaging in legalistic behavior or thinking) will vary greatly.

    Pursuing holiness, sanctification, and holding to a literal view of scripture – in your view are acceptable rules. As long as you agree that one’s salvation isn’t tied to following these rules (or not following these rules) then I am fine with your opinion.

    But…hasn’t it been said that holding to a literal view of scripture is a salvation issue? That those that in your judgment don’t hold a literal view of God don’t really know God? If you don’t know God – isn’t that the same as saying you aren’t saved?

    If that’s true, then you are making obedience to a rule (correct view of scripture) a salvation issue, which by your definiton is legalism.

    I’m not saying you aren’t a Christian – that’s between you and God. What I am saying is your logic is inconsistent; as you said the door swings both ways, so what is true for the “one side” must be true for the other side as well.

    I hope that makes sense – I haven’t had my coffee yet.

  36. Thanks for your source. You are correct that it had to do with the authority of scripture being challenged, among other things. Having investigated several resources (a bit more recently) I did not find “legalism” a stated issue.

    “Pursuing holiness, sanctification, and holding to a literal view of scripture – in your view are acceptable rules.” I never said they were rules, but I won’t go there, or to your other obfuscations. I respect Michelle and her blog.

    I will say that I don’t think God is overly concerned with whether or not you and I agree on anything, but rather with His truth.

  37. OK…so…y’all will agree to disagree…

    and we’ll go back to the point, I believe we’ve ALL agreed upon:

    Legalism does not secure salvation — it is another gospel.

    Jesus paid the complete price for our sins.

    If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

    We trust in Him alone for our salvation.

    Grace abounds.

    We are to walk in newness of life, His life, which indwells us.


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