Is God a legalist?

I deeply appreciate people who extend grace to others. Thankfully, I’ve met a lot of them in my life. They inspire me to do the same—to overlook faults and love people as they are.

God does that, too.

There was a time when I judged other Christians in my mind for their not seeing issues exactly as I saw them. To me, they were not insignificant issues. They were important biblical principles. Why didn’t others understand them as clearly as I did? Sounds prideful, doesn’t it? Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:16). I clearly needed to be more of the same mind.

I love Romans 14 for many reasons. The instruction is about two issues in the early church. Some people thought they could eat meat offered to idols. After all, an idol is just a lifeless statue. Others felt pricks of conscience about eating meat that had been used in idol worship, and they became vegetarians in order to avoid this possibility all together. The other issue was about holy days, probably including the Sabbath. Some felt that all days were the same. Others were very concerned that the Sabbath and holy days be strictly kept in a prescribed way.

The ones with the greater consciences are called “weak brethren” and should be accomodated, while the stronger Christian needs to guard himself from judgmental, haughty behavior.

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:3, 5, 10-12).

There are several lessons, here. If a person is a Christian, God has received him, and his behavior is none of our business. He gives account of himself to God. It is for God to judge our fellow Christians, and for us to do right before Him, also.

Is God a legalist?

The definition of legalist is: “strict adherence … to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.”*

Does God want us to obey His law?


Here are just a few of the verses about how God values obedience:

  • Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine (Exodus 19:5).
  • A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day (Deuteronomy 11:27).
  • And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).
  • But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you (Jeremiah 7:23).
  • Jesus said, If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).

Sometimes, when God gave explicit instructions and people disobeyed, He struck them dead:

  • Nadab and Abihu, for offering “strange fire” in the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10:1-2)
  • Uzzah, for touching the ark of the covenant (1 Chronicles 13:10)
  • Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led a rebellion against Moses. God opened the ground and swallowed up them and their families. Then, fire from heaven consumed 250 men who had followed them. (Numbers 16:1-35).
  • Ananias and Sapphira agreed to keep back some money and lie to the apostles. They were struck dead one at a time after lying to Peter, who said they were actually lying to the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:1-10).
  • For taking the Lord’s supper unworthily, some were sick, and many sleep—had died (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

There are countless examples of God extending mercy to those who deserved to suffer the consequences of their sin.

  • Moses and David were both murderers, yet God used them in a great way. What did God say about these two? And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend (Exodus 33:11). God said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will (Acts 13:22).
  • Saul was a persecutor of Christians before God called him to be an apostle, trained him, and used him (name changed to Paul) to start churches all over the Roman Empire.
  • Instead of stoning the woman caught in adultery, Jesus forgave her and told her to “Go and sin no more.”

Consider the mercy bestowed upon every person in the world, that Jesus would come and provide salvation, through his undeserved death, for anyone who believes.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16-17).

Is God a legalist?

I think not—and neither should we be.


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