Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 3: Perpetuating Immaturity and Pride

As a new believer in Christ, my heart was on fire with love for the Lord and His Word. I had come out of such darkness and sin, and now my life had been radically turned around. My passions for the Lord that were strong and my heart burned with a single desire: to be pleasing to God.

I wanted to please the Lord with every fiber of my being, every action, every word, every thought, every motive. So, I started spending a lot of time studying Proverbs, the Gospels and the Epistles searching for every verse I could find that spelled out specific things I should be doing in my life. I truly wanted to live my life in total obedience to the Lord, so I wanted to know every area of my life I needed to conform to His will.

I believe that this is the desire of every Christian legalist – to be pleasing to God. In the quest to conform every imaginable aspect of one’s life to God’s will, you begin looking for standards to apply to your life to ensure your godliness. You begin adding rules to keep in order to stay out of sin. Initially, this is a commendable approach, but only because you are still an immature believer.

Parents give children rules because children are immature. They are not filled with wisdom enough to reason through decisions, even through right and wrong. They have to be told what is right and what is wrong at every step. Everything must be defined carefully. Rules must be spelled out clearly and enforced consistently, else they will fail to learn wisdom and obedience.

But as a child matures, the need for specific rules diminishes as wisdom increases. To maintain childhood rules on a mature adult is not only silly but counterproductive to maturity and wise living.

Legalism fails to see this – or at least admit it. Instead of decreasing the number of rules and strict standards as one grows in the Lord, legalists tend to collect more and more of them. Their reasoning is, “If my standards kept me godly when I was younger in the Lord, then more of them will make me even more godly now. The more strict I am in my standards the more godly I will be.”

So the quest for more standards and rules is the plight of the legalist. Since for them godliness is primarily measured by external obedience, then even more strict external obedience must be attained. It’s only logical.

The problem is, it isn’t Biblical. It only perpetuates immaturity in the Lord. The need to be told every single move, and have every single detailed decision in your life pre-made for you by a list of comprehensive rules is the mark of a child, not a mature adult in the Lord, because it eliminates the need for wisdom.

The Scriptures call us to increase in wisdom and inner holiness, not to become collectors of rules and regulations. That only leads to becoming a Pharisee – proud of our accomplishments in keeping the rules so well. The more the better! And the more the prouder.

Legalists have a hard time admitting it, but the better (and stricter) they get at rule keeping, the worse they become about looking down on and talking bad about others who don’t measure up to themselves.

Scripture makes abundantly clear that the key qualities of maturity is humility and love. Legalism actually serves to undermine those chief markers of wisdom and maturity in Christ, and perpetuate spiritual immaturity and pride.

Love, not law is the zenith of Christian maturity. Peter makes clear that maturity is a move beyond the heavy emphasis on specific ethics to a mastery of the ethic that governs all others – love:

2 Pet. 1:5-7 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

For the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2


6 Responses to Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 3: Perpetuating Immaturity and Pride

  1. newcolors says:

    I appreciate your thoughts….if you would permit I would like to challenge you a bit on a few things. If not, hit delete and I will understand. May God bless you as you study his Word.

    You said “Love , not law is the zenith of Christian maturity.” Question…”How do you define love of God and people? Should we not use Scripture for our definitions? 1John 5:2-3 “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandts. And his commandments are not burdensome”. Jesus made the point that on “love of God and people” all the Commandments rested. in other words, if I love you…I won’t steal from you. If I love God, I will keep his Sabbath…and so on. You and I should not define love based upon our feelings or opinions. Love is an action word…you know I love God when I obey Him. Isn’t that what James says?

    You also seemed to say that obedience to external rules is not biblical . Really? Jesus said “if you love me, keep my commandments”. Paul said in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” He tells us in Ephesians 5:1 to be “imitators of God”. Is Jesus God? Did He or did He not keep all of His Father’s instructions as given thru Moses? Paul also warns us in Ephesians 5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” James tells us to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only deceiving ourselves”.

    Nowhere in Scripture does God give you or I permission to live as we want. We are saved 100% by the grace of God thru faith…but we are not free to live as the heathen do.

    “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gaes into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters and whoever loves and practices a lie. Revelation 22:14-15


  2. newcolors says:

    It just struck me…you seem to be mixing justification and obedience together. I realize that I am saved by grace, thru faith period. I cannot earn my salvation. yet I believe we should obey God out of our love for what He did for us. I am not a legalist. If I am…so was Jesus and Paul, and Peter, and John…and……

    Thanks, Newcolors

  3. Scott W. Kay says:


    The legalist obeys God as a means to prove or demonstrate his own love for God, both to himself and (in his mind) to God. This is wrongheaded. It starts from the wrong motivation. Obedience is a FRUIT of love already pulsing in our affections toward God. It is NOT the ROOT of our motivation to produce the fruit (proof) of love for God. That gets things backwards.

    I don’t think I said that obedience to external rules is unbiblical. I am saying that measuring one’s spirituality or godliness primarily by external measures is unbibilcal. What defiles a man is not external things but internal thoughts, motivations, lusts, affections that THEN get expressed in external actions.

    Obedience is not pleasing to God if it is not from the heart. And even then, it has to be from a proper motive: love for God and His glory, not my own self-righteous pride for having done my duty. This is where legalists mix justification and obedience together, cutting grace out of the equation.

  4. Newcolors says:

    I agree Scott. Do you teach obedience to God’s commandments then at the church you pastor? Newcolors

  5. Scott W. Kay says:


    Every week. Feel free to check out my online sermon audio, and you’ll see that I see that I strive to exhort believers to live in faithful obedience to Scripture, and to do so from a proper heart motivation, dependent on God’s grace, not human effort.

    I refuse to make legalists out of those entrusted to my care as a pastor, but I do shepherd them to live lives free from sin. To do any less would make me derelict in my duties as a shepherd of God’s flock. His purpose in election is our conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). That includes obedience and progress in spiritual maturity that is grace-motivated and grace-enabled.

  6. Newcolors says:


    Thanks for your responses….I am going to confess to you now I have had a motive to these questions. I believe that God is restoring things…that He is calling His people back to His Word….that He is calling His people to repent. I have a heart for pastors because God will hold you very accountable for what you are teaching His flock. In case you have not looked at my site I teach that we are saved 100% by grace thru faith as Paul says in Eph 2….but that as disciples of Messiah…we should seek to imitate Him in all ways…just as Paul said to do….”Imitate me as I imitate Messiah” Jesus kept Torah. I believe that God never gave us permission to follow the catholic tradition of changing the 7th day Sabbath to sunday….I believe that eating things God calls abominable is just that…abominable. I believe that we have made the same mistakes as our forefathers and have subtracted from the Word of God and came up with our own list of Commandments. Instead of Sabbath which is most definately the 7th day…(I am not a 7th day adventist) we do Sunday (actually most Christians do not even rest on Sunday)….instead of the Biblicallly appointed times….we come up with easter and christmas….(both rooted in paganism…God hates syncretism by the way) God says here is my definition of food….but we don’t listen. Everything is messed up and we don’t even know it yet. We say that we believe Scripture….but we don’t live by it. We instead say…well, Jesus nailed that to the cross…or Peter had a dream….or Paul had lunch with the disciples on Sunday….or whatever. We have fallen for the oldest trick in the book once again….Hath God indeed said. God bless you as you study His Word. I encourage you to look for context….ask yourself not what would Jesus do….but what DID Jesus do. He was the spoteless Lamb of God….He was without Sin….He kept the Law of Moses perfectly. He was our example right?

    Jesus said “whoeever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”. Matthew 5:19 I want to see you great in the Kingdom Scott. Feel free to ask me anything…or email m privately….I believe God wants to use you in His restoration of all things…

    Finally, you said that you teach “faithful obedience to Scripture” James says to be “doers of the word, not hearers only,deceiving yourselves.” Paul says in Acts 24:14 “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, beliving ALL THINGS which are written in the Law and in the Prophets”. They spoke these things of course before there was a “New” testament.

    I won’t bother you anymore…but pray that you check out what I say. It’s important. The ball is in your court. Thanks for your gracious manner….may we always extend grace to others as God has extended it to us.

    God bless, Newcolors

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