Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Binding Stronghold of Legalism

"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, 
This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Mark 7:6,7

Post #1 in the Legalism Series.

First of all, let me say that I still have lots of ideas floating around in my head for 
the continuation of THE TITUS 2 SERIES posts.
I feel that if God were finished with that, He would not continue to inspire thoughts along that line, 
and I will continue writing and posting those inspirations in the future, as He wills and leads.

But, for today, I feel He wants me to open up on an undesirable subject
that has deeply and detrimentally affected my life and the life of my family.
The pain of it all is still somewhat keen and the memories of what
we have been through are still quite raw, in many ways.
A lot of healing has transpired, but some of the wounds are still scabbing over.
I don't know that I will ever feel capable of disclosing the exact particulars
and/or the intimate details of our journey.
Maybe one day I will.
Somehow, I have a hunch that one day, God may even inspire me to write a book about it all
to help others who may be walking the same path we have walked.
I do know that God never wastes an experience.
He never allows us to enter the crucible of pain without having a Divine purpose for it,
and often, that very purpose is for the very benefit of those who come after us.
But, enough distance has been placed between us and our ordeal that I feel it is the right time to share at least a small portion of our testimony of God's deliverance from the ugly, powerful stronghold of legalism.

I think in order to understand where I am coming from,
even in the most general, non-personal sense,
we need to first figure out exactly what legalism is...
to explore its nature and unearth its characteristics.
I will try, by God's grace, to define and address those particulars in this post.

With that being said, however, I don't think you can ever really, really understand legalism,
unless you have lived it...breathed it....and anguished over and through it.
I don't think you can ever really, really relate to the strength of its power,
unless you have succumbed to it, allowed it to become your master,
 been delivered from it, then stepped away from it far enough to see it for what it really is..

If you are not familiar with legalism,
if you have never walked its path or been captured in its clutches,
I would encourage you to bow your head and thank the God Who spared you the grief.

If you were once enslaved, but have been marvelously delivered and set free,
I would encourage you to glorify His holy name from the depths of your soul.

If you are there now....bound, sad, tormented, and miserable,
let me just tell you, there is hope for you, my friend.

It is my sincere hope that if there is anyone reading my words who is now struggling with this powerful force,
you will somehow take cheer and find hope in knowing someone once stood where you now stand,
and stands there no longer, thanks entirely to the liberating and delivering power of the precious Holy Spirit.
If God can deliver us, He can set anyone free.
Believe me.
Tears fill my eyes and praise rises from deep within, as I stop and consider
where God has brought us from and where we are today.
Of the glorious freedom and liberty He has miraculously brought into our lives.
I could never tell it all or put it into words, but it is true.
It is reality.
I have seen His mighty, delivering hand reach down and pull us out of some very miry clay,
and I have watched Him set our feet upon the Rock and establish our goings.  (Psalm 40:1,2)

So, what exactly is legalism?

Our Scripture today includes the most definitive choice of words ever spoken to describe legalism.
How powerful that these words were uttered by none other than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

"Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

There is no earthly way legalism could better be described.

This is powerful red letters in my Bible.

Having been under the influence of the mindset and spirit of legalism for many years,
I feel led to share eleven key elements I have personally learned and experienced 
through a school-of-hard-knocks education.

I will warn you ahead of time...
sadly, the eleven things I mention are not anywhere near as pretty as these beautiful mountains.  :)

#1.  Legalism reverts us back to the Old Testament dispensation.
The demands of legalism mimic the requirements that were in place under the Mosaic law.
Jesus didn't come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.
When He came on the scene, grace appeared!
The demands for earning favor with God were nailed to an old, rugged cross.
Legalism doesn't recognize grace or acknowledge that it exists.
In fact, it works in total opposition to grace.
Those who are held captive within its clutches never even see the light of grace
because all focus is placed on outward works and their eyes are blinded to the Way, the Truth, and the Life
and how He wants us to be on the inside.

#2.  Legalism perpetuates the Pharisee spirit.
While I realize history bears out that the sect of the Pharisees disbanded many years ago,
the sad truth is this...
 as long as legalism thrives, the sect of Phariseeism will never die.
It fosters the attitude of spiritual pride, screaming,
"Look at me!  See how self-sacrificing I am!
Watch me look holier than everyone else!
See how pious I much better than all these sinners!
I am so much more righteous than those in other denominations.
Why, the ones in my "group" are the only ones who even have hopes of making it to Heaven.
We are it, and there are no others.
 We are so much more virtuous than everyone else,
so if you aren't in our circles, you're on the outside and out of God's favor."

#3. Legalism is a hard taskmaster.
When the soul is weary, the body is exhausted, 
and the mind is overwrought,
legalism cracks its merciless whip harder than ever.
It is relentless.
Unreasonable beyond belief.
It demands the impossible and expects the unattainable.
It requires more than you will ever be able to give,
and it gives nothing in return.
It is completely and entirely void of the love of God.
Legalism marches to its own drum beat,
and labels its own traditions and rules as Biblical doctrines,
when in fact they have no Biblical foundation or backing, 
but are based solely upon the opinions and views of men.
"Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Mark 7:7

"And He said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers!
for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne,
and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers
Luke 11:46

"For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men,
as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
And He said unto them,
Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered:
and many such like things do ye.
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him:
but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man
Mark 7:8-9,13,15

#4.  Legalism is a loathsome ball and chain.
No matter where you go or what you do, it tags along,
as the most devoted, albeit uninvited and certainly unwanted, companion.
It never sleeps.
It is ever present, ever on the job, ever reliable, and ever unchangeable.
It drags you down, impedes your progress, and pulls you back.
It is a heavy load to carry and lug around.

#5.  Legalism distorts true Christianity.
It turns what is the best news ever into the ultimate drudgery.
It twists the freeing power of the Resurrection into the most binding misery.
It perverts the pure vision of who Jesus is and what He came to do into something to fear...and dread.
How warped can this be?
Any effort made to leave a legalistic system is met with accusations of leaving Christianity itself.
You will be met with scathing charges of having left "the truth", 
when, in reality, you have never been closer to Jesus Christ, Who is the way, the truth, and the life,
and your accusers show none of His attributes at all.
It becomes extremely difficult to distinguish between God's approval 
and the approval of the legalistic hierarchy.
If you leave, you can expect a cult-like rebuke with ex-communication from the very ones who professed love for...and fellowship in the past.
After coming out of legalism, it is nearly impossible to fully comprehend 
and absorb the reality and true meaning of grace.
Legalism's scales are unjust and unbalanced.
It thrives on extremism, fanaticism, and dogma that is beyond anything mandated or required in God's Word.

"Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples,
Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; 
but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; 
but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men:
they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren."
Matthew 23:1-8

The spirit of legalism swells with pride as it goes over and beyond Biblical commands
and demands the same of everyone else...even though its extremism has no Scriptural backing.

#6.  Legalism is deceptive.
It looks like the real thing, until it is more thoroughly investigated.
It mimics what is true, on the surface.
The only force that will reveal the counterfeit of its true identity is Holy Spirit discernment.
Only after true, thorough deliverance can we look back and realize 
the magnitude and mastery of its deceptive efficiency and effectiveness.

#7.  Legalism is insatiable.
It cannot be satisfied....
no matter how many hoops you jump through,
how many sacrifices you make,
or how many rituals you adhere to.
It keeps demanding more...and more....and more....
until you are completely defeated and without hope.
The more you give in to it, the more territory it will claim.
Trying to satisfy a legalistic spirit of man-rule will leave you frustrated to the point of complete despair,
because regardless of what you do, it is never, ever enough.

#8.  Legalism is a binding yoke.
It gives no chance of room to breathe.
It is like a spider, clutching mercilessly to its prey,
encircling round and round, loop after loop after loop...
until the victim loses every ounce of fight and its very life is squeezed and snuffed out.
It never releases its grasp until it feels its sufferer relent in complete submission and obeisance.

#9.  Legalism is a powerful stronghold.
Unless you are miraculously delivered through a Divine-intervention miracle, 
legalism is a formidable, invincible force with which to reckon.
There is no human means of escape.
No human measures of relief.
No man-made antidote.
No mortal hope.
The only remedy that will pull the stronghold of legalism down is for the light of the Holy Spirit
to enter the darkened, benighted, hopeless, maximum-security cell of bondage,
and to shine the glorious hope of grace into its blackened night.
This, and only this, is stronger, more powerful, and capable of destroying and tearing this stronghold down.

#10.  Legalism is a sneaky thief.
It creeps in subtly, cleverly, unnoticed,
and it saps every ounce of joy from living.
It steals inner peace.
It robs happiness and slips in a deep, aching sadness as a replacement. 

#11.  Legalism's strength increases over time.
Back to the spider analogy, 
the longer the prey stays in the spider's clutches,
the greater the intensity of power the spider holds over its victim,
and the less its chance to escape.
 If you give legalism an inch, it will become the ruler of your life.
It will become your god.
You will find that you are worshiping a legalistic set of rules,
instead of God Himself.
"Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator,
who is blessed for ever. Amen."
Romans 1:25

Legalism self-exalts and sets itself up above everything else in your life, becoming an idol in the process,
and, like a snowball, it gains momentum as it rolls downhill, pulling its victims miserably and powerlessly along in its clutches.
****************************************************** I will never forget the day I was first made aware that my "worship" had crossed the line into legalism.
I honestly did not know.
I sincerely thought I was doing the right thing, until I heard my sister's voice on the other end of the phone.
She was worried about me.
Her concern was genuine.
Her words cut right through...straight to my tormented heart.
I will never forget the timeliness and accuracy and wisdom of her words.

"Cheryl, you used to enjoy your spirituality."


As I pondered the depths and gravity of what she had just said,
my eyes began to slowly come open to just how far I had drifted from God.
How distant I felt from Him.
How void of joy my salvation had become.
How sad and miserable and oppressed my state of mind and spirit.

The first step to obtaining help is to come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that help is needed.

Looking back, this realization came to me 
the moment I heard my sister's words.
As I absorbed them,
illuminating, exposing light began to shine,
and I knew something had to change.
I could not go one step further.
I had reached the end of my endurance,
and I wanted help.
I was finally ready.
God knew, at that moment, that I was willing...
to allow Him to work and move on our behalf and to begin our emancipation from the throes of bondage,
no matter how painful the process.

And, it has been painful.
I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and yet, I would wish it on anyone who is where we were.
Because the freedom and JOY in standing fully set free and delivered is worth it all....
every hurt,
every broken relationship,
every slanderous comment,
every ounce of being shunned,
and every part of being ex-communicated.

God has turned our tears into laughter and great joy.

Glory to God, we have been set free...
free to worship Him...wherever He leads,
free to work for Him...however He directs,
free to serve Him...whenever He calls.
And, at the end of the day, 
nothing could be sweeter. 

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
2 Corinthians 3:17

If you stand where we once stood, remember this, my friend... 
God is with you.
It is not His will that you remain enslaved.
He wants to set you free.
Trust Him and His escape route.
If you follow Him, you will walk away...delivered and set free.
God will strengthen you and give you grace to stand.
He will not leave you, nor forsake you.

"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." 
Deuteronomy 33:27


  1. This is a powerful list, Cheryl. #7 struck me in particular. Whenever I've seen instances of legalism in the church, it always wants more.

    1. So happy and thankful you stopped by, Lisa! Yes, you are so is a spirit that cannot be satisfied, no matter what or how much we do. So thankful for you and praying for you often. Many blessings to you. :)

  2. This is a great post but perhaps only understood by those of us who have been through it. Will you be doing a follow up post about the nitty gritty details of how legalism manifests itself? It might help others to see the warning signs...being hung up about clothing styles, feeling superior when wearing them, being regimented about bible study time, prayer time, wanting to distance oneself from less "godly" friends or family members, etc.

    Legalism is a slippery slope to misery, and so subtle....ugh. I praise the Lord for His unconditional love and for rescuing me from my legalist ways! Love your blog posts, so full of wisdom! xx

    1. Bless your dear heart, Tina! My heart goes out to you, because I can discern and feel that you have walked a very hard road with this. You are right...this post will only be understood by those who have LIVED through this and felt its sting. Honestly, there is SO much I WANT to say about it all, but I am very hesitant and just wanting to make sure I am writing this for the right reasons. I don't want to write out of a fleshly, carnal need, but always because Jesus is leading me to write. I anguished much before hitting that "publish" button, and even after it was out there, I sought the Lord desperately to know if my motives were pure. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciated your kind words and loving spirit. Thank you for encouraging me and being such a blessing. I hope you will come back often...I may delve into this subject deeper, as the Lord leads. It weighs heavily upon my heart, so I have a feeling He is not finished with me writing about it. :) Much love and many blessings to you.

    2. Cheryl, you are truly a wise woman to seek the Lord's leading before posting. I'm sure He will use your blog in a mighty way! Thank you so much for your kind words here and on my own blog. You have such a kind heart. :). God bless you, love Tina xx

    3. Oh, Tina! Thank you so very much for your words. They are as me courage to continue to seek God and His Divine purpose and will. I don't want to just write or blog for the sake of writing or blogging...I want to edify and encourage and point everyone I can to the cross of Jesus Christ, which is our only hope. I desire your prayers, as I come to mind, that only God's words will flow through this blog. Lots of love to you, Cheryl

  3. What a powerful list!!!! So so so thankful we can be set free from legalism! #7 is good - Legalism can not be satisfied!!

    1. Oh, you are SO right!! It is true that it cannot be matter what we do or don't do, it is never enough. Thank you so much for stopping by. Praying for you, sweet friend. :)

  4. Oh, sweet friend, I have walked your walk and it's not an easy one. I have to bookmark this so I can refer back to it. Worshiping a set of rules instead of Jesus -- yes! I walk a fine line between honoring my parents and being entrapped in legalism. Anne Graham Lotz wrote a book, "Just Give Me Jesus." It's been a big help to me because I can "hear" her words and it's my heart cry--Just Give Me Jesus! ~Pamel

    1. Bless your dear heart, Pamela! I am so sorry to know that you have been through this pain. I absolutely understand walking that same fine line. Wish you and I could sit down and compare battle scars! We'd have quite a talk, wouldn't we?? I would love to read that book sometime. So happy you referred it. Have a wonderful day, dear friend. Lots of love to you. :)

  5. My dear sister in Christ, this was a truly powerful post. How easy it is for us to slip into legalism without even realizing it.
    God has been using you to share His word, and I think you should write that book. I would read it. Sending love and praying God blesses you mightily, Debby

    1. Oh, thank you so much, my dear friend! You are so right..we can get so caught up in it and become so deceived and not even know it. It was only really revealed to us AFTER we were delivered. Oh, is such an in-depth, complicated story, but I have a hunch that God will require me to write it all down one day. I SO appreciate your encouragement, and it means the world to me to know that you would read it. Love you!

  6. We too were in a legalistic church, but we didn't know it until after we left. It happened so slowly, that we never saw it until we were legalistic ourselves. Good post, Cheryl.

    1. Thank you, Sandra! I'm so happy you stopped by...I just sent you an email a few minutes ago. Praying for you, dear friend. :)

  7. I grew up with some legalistic thinking. I struggle with not being legalistic. When I think of becoming a stronger Christian, I invariably revert to legalistic thinking. I still have a list in my head of rights and wrongs. I struggle to not be judgemental, knowing full well the roots of my judgement are usually legalistic. Still, some things are sin, and calling it such is not legalism or condemnation, it is just sin.

    I pray someday that I will be able to walk completely free of legalistic thinking, but not ever conform to the pattern of this world by using grace to justify what God calls sin. Know what I mean? :)

    1. I do know exactly what you mean. It is VERY hard to ever find balance, when you have been under this domination for so many years. I struggle so much, and sometimes I wonder if I will ever look at things without having to make an effort to not view them from a legalistic mindset and perspective. I don't ever want to condone sin...I know what you mean. God is able to help us find balance. You may enjoy reading my follow-up to this post called, "The Greatest Post-Legalism Danger", where I address the issue of balance. God bless you for stopping by today!

  8. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog and commenting, Cheryl! I am very blessed by your blog as well, and by this post in particular.

    God bless you for your willing heart and candid devotionals!

    Your new friend,
    Beth (

    1. I am so thankful God allowed our paths to cross. It seems like we think alike!! It is always so good to meet those of like mind and kindred spirit. :) God bless you and your sweet family! Much love to you, dear, new friend!!

  9. This is a powerful reminder for me. I grew up in a legalistic setting. My husband and I removed ourselves and our very young family from it a little over five years ago. We went through a lot of hard stuff, but God is good and we can say we are emerging victorious and our future has never looked brighter. God is so good! Forever faithful to the faithful!

    1. Wow, Kaylene! So you know exactly where I am coming from. I am so grateful for your visit today and the sweet encouragement you left behind. God bless you and your family as you walk in obedience to Him! You are right...He is so good and so faithful!

  10. There are many forms of legalism, basically it is substituting God's law of Love for Man's rules. Thank you for sharing your lovely post with us here at “Tell Me a Story.” You have given us quite a study and worthy of consideration lest we fall into that pit ourselves.

    1. I loved your definition of it, a nutshell, you couldn't have stated it any more clearly. Oh, dear friend! I pray you never fall into this trap and have to deal with the grief and aftermath. It is nothing but a miracle that we are where we are today. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. Praise His name! Thank you for stopping here and leaving encouragement behind. God bless you.

  11. Legalism has a grip that grabs without us knowing it. Rules and standards are preached and taught and somewhere along the line Jesus comes up missing. This will be a good series Cheryl and I look forward to reading more as you share it.

    1. Thank you so much, Judith. I so appreciate you stopping by! You are a blessing to me! :)

  12. So true! With our sinful old nature it's way too easy to slip into the pattern of legalism someone else sets up for you. Thank God He frees us from all that you describe here! Thanks for sharing your insightful post. Blessings!

    1. I love the way you described it, "the pattern of legalism someone else sets up for you". That is such an accurate description! So happy for your visit today, Renee! Many blessings to you, too!

  13. Thanks for this powerful list. I especially like #6. Legalism is such a good counterfeit that many people don't recognize it as NOT being the true Gospel.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Tamara! So thankful for your visit today! God bless you and your family.

  14. Hi Cheryl,
    Thanks for linking up this series on legalism. I know it will be a blessing to many out there!

    1. Thank you so much for the link-up platform, JES. It is such a blessing to be able to share the burden God has laid upon my heart! So grateful for your visit here today. God bless you!

  15. This is such an amazing series and I was so glad when I clicked on the link from the Serving Joyfully link up that it was you writing it! I briefly struggled with legalism for just a short period of time when I was listening to false teaching. I didn't understand what I was doing until one day, I opened up my bible and came to a realization that I was turning away from the gospel of grace to a false gospel. It scared me to pieces and I was so thankful that God woke me up and snapped me out of it. It's only made me all the more thankful for the free gift of my salvation, but my heart aches to think of all of those in the church who are being led astray and struggling with this. The other night I was actually doing some research about this subject and just felt sick to my stomach over it. Before I went to bed that night, I read this verse that gave me great comfort: "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's." Thank you so much for sharing Cheryl, I look forward to reading more from this series :-)

    1. Bless your heart, Amber! It was so nice to see that you had visited me today! So grateful to you for stopping by. I am so sorry you went through a taste of this awful bondage, and I am thankful the dear Lord helped you get out before it was too strong. I LOVE the verse you shared. Thank you for your encouragement and comments....God bless you and keep you in His care. I am still praying for you and Jonathan and believing God to send you that sweet baby of your own. Love you!

  16. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl. Love your posts!!
    Much love,

    1. Thanks so much, Chris! Many blessings and much love to you, too. :)

  17. Thanks so much for sharing this post. SO true and so needed in our Christian circles today. So often what people have hang ups about in the church are based on preferences instead of scripture yet people mold those likes/dislikes into something that is not from God and isn't necessarily sinful. Thanks for linking up to What You Wish Wednesday. I look forward to more post in this series. Come back tomorrow.

    1. Thank you so much, Leslie! I am so thankful for your link-up and happy to meet you. :) You are so right, and Lord willing, I am planning to head over to your place for the next link-up. God bless you!

  18. Sadly, too true. This must have taken some time and effort to express yourself here so clearly.

  19. Thank you for sharing your testimony. It's given me a lot to think about.

    1. And thank you for stopping by here...your visit is so appreciated. :) God bless you in your walk with Him!