What Is a Legalist?

What Is a Legalist?

One of our detractors recently wrote that she hates me because I am a legalist. I asked her to define “legalist,” and she refused. What is a legalist? The problem is understanding the difference between a legalist and a believer. My detractor had earlier sent me an email stating that she was applying to be the preacher in the congregation where we worship.

The detractor cited the fact that the government has passed a law that no one can be denied a job based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. She is a lesbian woman and since I have never seen her, I don’t know her race. The fact that I believe God has established different roles for men and women makes me a legalist in her opinion. When I asked her if there was a job a woman could do that I am excluded from she said “No.” When I asked her if she thought I could be a mother, she hung up.

So, what is a legalist? A legalist is a person who makes a law out of their opinion or tradition and forces that on everyone else. God has given us certain laws that even an atheist should not question. One example would be not murdering. That does not make God a legalist because it is not an opinion or me a legalist because I support it.

As a Christian who taught in public schools for 41 years, I have an opinion that recreational marijuana and alcoholic drinks should not be marketed in a place where teenagers have easy access to them. I base my opinion on seeing the horrible damage done by these recreational drugs. My opinion is that they should be removed from grocery stores, quick-stop stores, and filling stations. I have Christian friends who strongly disagree, and they have that right. I am not going to denigrate them or segregate the church over this issue. I can provide evidence of the destructive nature of these drugs (as we have done HERE and HERE), but a legalist would disfellowship another Christian if they drank a beer.

Legalism is a mindset, and Jesus gave us a classic example of what is a legalist in Luke 18:9-12. In this case, it was a Pharisee extolling the things he was doing that the tax collector was not doing, including fasting and giving tithes. He assumed that the tax collector was inferior to him. This ministry is about providing evidence of God and Jesus Christ and asking people to decide how they will use that evidence. It is not my job to tell you what to believe or how to live. I only ask that others not be legalists by telling me I can’t present that evidence or must be forcibly stopped and punished for engaging in a Christian activity just because they disagree.

— John N. Clayton © 2023