Legalism is defined as excessive adherence to laws and rules. It steals, kills, destroys, and robs the Christian of freedom — even if enforced (or applied) with the best of intentions. So the question is, as Christians and mentors, how do we lead well and put legalism in check? Let’s unpack this…
Look at the complexity of legalism through the lens of scripture. Paul lays out some basic biblical guidelines in Colossians 2:16-21. While writing to his friends in Colossae, he says, “Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why…. do you submit to regulations [such as] — “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch….” Paul goes on to explain that the gift of Christ is to be alive in Christ. He does not condone hedonism, but instead, is emphatically pushing against the religious systems that rely on legal definitions of perfection.
This push against legalism beckons us to embrace the freedom we have in Christ through His redemption.
In fact, it is our brokenness and failures (not perfection) that serve as a constant reminder of our desperate need for Him!
Once you embrace your own freedom in Christ, you can lead others along the same path as well. As you guide those under your care, do so with a gracious and tender spirit so that they do not see the harshness of rules, rules, rules. Be “imitators of God,” and “walk in love,” as Ephesians 5:1 instructs us to do. Just because there are rules and guidelines does not mean it is legalism — there is a difference between legalism and orderliness. There is a way to guide, give guidelines, and create order for the sake of everyone in your home, on your team, or in the classroom. Inevitably, this orderliness involves consequences. With that being said, when allowing consequences, do not do so with an air of legalism — or hyper-focus on failure — but do so with grace.
Isn’t it wonderful that we, as Christians, have so much more than the rules of religion… we can have a relationship with God Himself!? Not only a relationship, but one filled with grace and freedom! “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law,” (Galatians 5:18). Let’s be Spirit-led mentors that cast away the weight of legalism from our lives and embrace the freedom Christ offers us.