rebelling against low expectations

Are You Being Legalistic Or Lazy?


I watched from the back of the room as people sat, knelt, stood, sang and prayed at all the right times. From my vantage point, it looked like a performance. “These people are so legalistic,” I thought to myself. Suddenly I felt a stab of conviction. I could not see the hearts of these people. How could I tell whether they were just going through the motions or truly worshiping the Lord?

Legalism—it’s a term that is frequently tossed around today. It is a label that many of us are eager to slap onto certain activities. But do we actually understand what legalism is?

Legalism is doing something in order to gain or retain your salvation through it. It is an issue of the heart and motives. No activity is, in and of itself, legalistic, but any activity can become legalistic if it is performed out of the desire to earn salvation.

Diligent Love Is Not Legalism

Christians today are very quick to cry “legalism!” about anything that requires discipline. Very few of us devote much time to spiritual disciplines, and those who do are often labeled as legalists because of their peculiar devotion.

While it is certainly true that a person could practice the spiritual disciplines in order to earn salvation, it is equally true that a person might practice those same disciplines simply because they love God.

After all, a good marriage is one in which the husband and wife spend time together. They talk and hang out simply because they love each other. That is not legalism.

We are the bride of Christ. The spiritual disciplines are merely time spent with God because we love him. That is not legalism.

Mis-Labeling To justify Laziness

Although many Christians may be too quick to label things as legalistic simply because they do not understand what legalism is, there may be more to it than that. Fear of legalism has become an excuse for laziness in our culture. We use a legitimate concern in an improper context to illegitimately justify our neglect of God’s commands.

Too often, when we see believers who are consistent in their study of Scripture and prayer life, instead of being challenged by their example, we label them as legalists. Every believer should spend time in prayer and Bible reading, not because this is what saves us, but because we love the One who saved us.

We know this, but we have so many other things demanding our time and attention. It is far easier to label people and activities as legalistic than it is to admit that our own priorities are out of order, to repent of our neglect, and to change our attitude and actions.

While the enemy of our souls certainly uses legalism to draw people away from Christ, he also uses laziness and passivity toward spiritual things. Legalism is dangerous, but so is a lack of Christian discipline.Legalism is dangerous, but so is a lack of Christian discipline. Share on X

Love That says yes

Elisabeth Elliot said, “Discipline is the wholehearted yes to the call of God.”

Every believer should be cultivating a vibrant walk with Christ through the spiritual disciplines.

If you spend enough time looking at the cross, where the Son of God suffered in order to bring you to himself, legalism will not be a consideration in your Christian life. Your heart will be so filled with love for the One who went through so much agony on your behalf that you will not be able to help but spend time with him.

Cast aside legalism. Cast aside laziness. Stare at the cross, fall in love with your Savior, and answer his call to spend time with him.

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About the author

Kaitlyn Donihue

Kaitlyn Donihue is a writer, musician, book-worm, and lover of Jesus. She is passionate about Him and desires that her life would point others to Him. One day she hopes to serve the Lord in ministry to troubled teens. Currently, she lives with her family in southern Michigan. You can find her blog at

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By Kaitlyn Donihue
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →