Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Peer pressure in legalistic circles is HUGE! It’s sly, it’s subtle, and it’s powerful!

But legalists misunderstand peer pressure. They think it is the way God keeps them on track. In fact, it’s hard for a legalist to discern that it’s peer pressure because it’s confused with the Holy Spirit’s inner working on our consciences.

Just as worldly peer pressure can be motivating to go in the wrong direction, Christian peer pressure isn’t seen for what it is: manipulative and binding. Here’s how: If peers are fearful of changing directions because of the risk of being condemned or ostracized by the others, the whole group is locked into an unchecked path.

If anyone breaks rank and begins to question the legitimacy of the group’s beliefs or direction, they are quickly classified as a compromiser or a liberal and immediately ceases to hold any influence on the rest of the group. Not only are they not given a sympathetic or attentive ear, but the group will refuse to associate with him, lest they also loose their acceptance in the group.

As a former legalist, I was also once influenced more by this undetected peer pressure than Spirit pressure. I was more committed to upholding legalistic standards and thereby my respect among my friends and family. I continued to preach man-made traditions that were extreme and legalistic, with a self-righteous and know-it-all attitude.

That kind of legalistic peer pressure is just as harmful and destructive as worldly peer pressure, since it locks you into a lifestyle governed by what others think of you rather than what is really Biblical.

See, as a legalist you desperately want others to think you are a godly Christian. Out loud, you will say you don’t care what anybody thinks of you. But what you mean is that you don’t care if lost people or liberal Christians think you are strange, weird, or whatever. But deep down you DO care what your legalist friends think of you.

The legalist responds by saying, “I want to have a godly testimony.” The truth is that if any legalist asks his lost neighbor whether it’s right for a Christian ought to watch movies, or listen to secular music, or if a woman should wear pants or makeup or have short hair or not, his neighbor won’t really care one way or another about those things. Only the legalists do.

But legalists tell themselves that these are the distinctives that set them apart from the world sufficiently to give them a “godly testimony.” Only, neither Scripture nor lost people recognize those things as being what makes our witness credible to the lost. It only makes us credible to other rule keepers. So, “having a godly testimony” is code language for “making sure my friends think I’m really godly” and “retaining my acceptance in the group.”

As a legalist you are not only a victim of this peer pressure, you exert it on others, often without thinking. You feel divinely obligated to speak your mind, to proclaim and uphold godly standards, no matter who it offends. That’s viewed as a praiseworthy act of boldness, instead of the obnoxious act that it is.

You desperately want to be respected by your fellow legalists, but you really fail to respect anyone else very much at all. They are not allowed to disagree or have different personal standards from you or your group. Instead, you just pour on the pressure for others to measure up, to “get right,” or to get out. So you are both the victim and the inflicter of this peer pressure. All because you think you’re right and it’s your job to keep everybody else right too (as you’ve defined it).

Once again Paul’s words apply: (2 Cor. 10:12) – For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

For the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


4 Responses to Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. newcolors says:


    Jesus said in Mark 7:8 “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men”. Traditions of men are just that….tradtions of men. While they can be good tradtions…they are not binding upon the lives of Believers. I think you and I are in agreement on that. The Commandents of God however are a different matter.

    By the way…I consider a legalist one who is trying to earn ones salvation by keeping a set of do’s and dont’s…someone who thinks they are justified somehow by their own actions….declaring themselves to be acceptable before a perfect and holy God thru works of the flesh. That is not me. I am saved 100% by the grace of God thru faith in what He has done for me….saved by the blood of the Lamb. I just happen to read the bible as to say that we should obey God.


  2. Scott W. Kay says:


    Yes, you and I are in agreement that the traditions of men, while sometimes good, are not binding on the lives of men. When we try to make them binding, we go beyond Scripture and end up undermining the Gospel itself. So, legalism is not only what you say, but it takes on another form too: thinking we can MAINTAIN or INCREASE our acceptance before God by our works (law-keeping). That does damage to grace and fails to understand the extent to which justification has made us righteous before God.

    That’s the form of legalism I’m trying to expose here on this blog: the motive to do good works in order to stay in God’s favor and make oneself more pleasing to God, rather than resting in the finished work of Christ on our behalf to make us completely righteous in Christ. When that reality comes into view, GRACE becomes the motivation to live faithful and obedient lives, not law, and especially not man’s additions to the law.

  3. Newcolors says:


    Thanks so much for your gracious responses. I know you don’t have to take the time to discuss this with me. I appreciate it. You and I are in agreement completely about the finished work of our Messiah. Just for some clarification however….

    In your comments above you ended saying that because of grace we should live faithful and obedient lives. Again…we are in agreement. But this is where the rubber hits the road as they say…My question then….obedience to what? You and I agree that traditions and commandments of men are not worth our time…so what then?

    The only answer is of course God’s Commandments…all of them. You seemed to also agree that only He can give a definition of right or wrong…only He can define sin as you and I agree…(1John 3:4) Therefore…because of what God has done for you and me…because of the grace given…because of the love you and I have for our Father…we should obey Him. Do we agree?

    Again…Jesus said if you love me… keep my commandments. We know that Jesus kept the law of Moses perfectly while saying follow me….be my disciples….imitiate me in all ways…repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is now…stop sinning and start living according to God’s Law…His Torah. This is the part where most teaching grace today and I part ways. I understand that on my own…I am nothing but filthy rags….but that does not mean that I stop trying to obey God’s Commandments….no matter what you or anyone else might think. By the way…obeying God will never make me more righteous…but do you think a heart that seeks after His ways is not pleasing to Him? I don’t know if you are a father…but it pleases me greatly to see my children listen and obey the instructions I give. They were my children long before they ever obeyed me…but it does indeed make my heart happy to see them walk in obedience.

    You said below in you comments to me in part 4 that you are not talking about God’s commandments in this discussion. So then….Do we agree then that as a follower of Christ…Christians should imitate Him and keep the commandments of God…while understanding that this in no way makes us somehow “justified” before God?


  4. David T says:

    You miss the boat.
    You have defined legalism much more narrowly than scripture defines it.
    If you read Galatians, you will see two types of legalism:
    1. Works for salvation
    2. Works for sanctification
    The blogger is talking about the second.
    Your misrepresentation of legalism is a bulwark for legalists. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard legalists say, that legalism is only works for salvation.
    So, do we keep Christ’s commandments or not?
    Well, what did Christ command? To love the Lord, to love each other, to turn the other cheek, to recieve him, to take up our cross, to make disciples, to control our fleshly desires. Pretty basic, wouldn’t you say?
    What did Paul say? He said, ALL things are lawful. The law has been nailed to the cross. We serve NOW in the newness of the Spirit, not the letter of the law. The constraining influence is not the law, but the Holy Spirit inside of us.
    Legalists, when pressed to wall, eventually concede this point and admit that personal standards are revealed by the Spirit. However, they turn it into a barb and accuse you, saying, that if you REALLY desired to be holy, if you REALLY desired to live in the Spirit, then the Spirit would show you the same things they “have been shown.” Since you don’t agree with them, you must not be following after God.
    The answer to this attempt at roping you in is found in Isa 8:20(KJV)- “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. ” It is also found in I Cor 4:6(ESV)- “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”
    The Holy Spirit has a right to reveal to you specific, extra-biblical steps that you can take to better glorify God in your life. You do NOT have a right to require these things of others, or preach them as Bible truth.

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