Why legalists can’t hear God

Grace 101

Okay, I will quickly confess that the title above is provocative and not entirely true.  God can get His voice heard by anyone, even compromised prophets, witches, and legalists.

The simple truth is that most people who are under the law, stuck in performance spirituality, don’t hear God because they don’t expect to hear Him.  Think back to what you learned as a young believer.  Maybe you were in Sunday School.  Did anyone ever tell you to listen for the voice of God in your heart?  Probably not.  They said to read Scripture and do right.  If you had the Scripture, you had all of God that you needed and all you could expect to get.  (Of course, the local teacher’s word was almost Scripture so you were supposed to listen to him also.)

But that’s not all.  Legalism is a system with rules and standards and expectations.  Lists!  We loved lists!  We don’t need to hear a voice of love, just give us a list of things to do and things to avoid.  As long as we follow the list, we don’t really need anything else.  Who needs a relationship when you have a list?

I remember one marriage suggestion made by a popular teacher.  He said that the husband should sit down early each morning and make out a list of things he wanted his wife and children to do during the day.  By giving her a list of expectations, he was communicating his love for her, the teacher said.

Is that the way to communicate love?  I agree that expectations that are unspoken set a person up for failure and cause problems in relationships.  But what about talking through those expectations?  Maybe some of them are unnecessary or even foolish.  There is no real communication, no heart connection, in a list.

And the legalist system depends on the lists.  Ten Commandments, church rules, 49 commands, rules for holy living, whatever.

The comics these days joke about kids and their cell phones.  They no longer want to talk because they are too busy texting their friends.  So, the mom and dad, in order to be heard, are supposed to text their kids in order to communicate with them.  Actually, that’s not too funny.  It’s kind of sad.

Why should God speak to the legalist heart?  If our noses are stuck in the texts of our lists, would we listen to Him anyway?

Legalists don’t hear God because they are too busy trying to find Him in their lists to hear His voice in their hearts.  They can’t stop, even to hear Him tell them of His love.


Filed under Grace 101, Legalism

4 responses to “Why legalists can’t hear God

  1. “Who needs a relationship when you have a list?”

    Very well stated as a single-line summary.
    God gave commandments for our good, but not to replace himself. And quite frankly, those commandments, while setting some boundaries to prevent harm, do not provide specific answers for how to be the most loving toward others in individual, challenging situations. To do that, we have to walk humbly into each situation with the God of Love intimately involved as well.

    I appreciate this article very much, Pastor Dave!

  2. UnForsaken

    Great imput, Repol….and another great article too , Pastor Dave! You summarized the usual childhood teaching we got perfectly.

  3. jacksaunsea

    Because he isn’t a lawyer? 🙂

  4. A beloved young friend broke off a multi-year relationship with her boyfriend from a legalistic family just yesterday. After emailing with her last night and talking with her in person today, I feel outrageously relieved and hope-filled about God’s work in individual lives today. I am so thankful, and she was herself again! She had been slowly dying, suppressing, for years, trying to meet their expectations, which they would not adjust at all in order to meet her individuality and callings from God. She said today that people kept asking her if she was OK, and saying things like, “Just pray and maybe God will bring you two back together,” and she said she was nodding politely, but she just wanted to announce to everyone, “Today, I feel like a PERSON again–a WHOLE PERSON!”

    Legalism is sin. My pastor today said, “Anything that isn’t love is sin.” Legalism hurts people and keeps them from the fullness of knowing God in relationship. It was killing my lovely, talented, intelligent, gifted friend. She said she was made to feel sinful all the time because God was calling her to use her brain and her gifts and this whole family just wanted her to deny her individuality and conform to a role that they felt all women, everywhere, are programmed to fill in exactly the same way if they are being “obedient.” My beautiful friend, made to feel false guilt all these years. I’m so thankful for her freedom today! Her strength was showing–because she finally DID obey God to break free and be who HE is making her to be.

    Legalism is deadly. That same family hurt me with their inflexible views and strong, overpowering voices. They hurt me by painting a similar picture of me as they were assigning to her. I think legalism may be the biggest problem in the church today.

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