Weekly Devotional: Love and Legalism

By Josh Sugata

A congregation listening to a sermon under the Weekly Devotional banner

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church here in the Southwest. My entire life, up through high school, involved a fear of attending any other neighboring church with a body over the size of 100.

In my mind, it served as somewhat of a security blanket for an overweight, shy, braced-faced, tinted glasses boy. I loved predictable environments, which is exactly what my bi-weekly (Wednesday and Sunday) experience consisted of.

The experience become so consistent that I could expect to hear some of the same jokes pop up from week to week, the same analogies of the Gospel message used time and time again, the same messages surface from year to year. And who could forget Mom’s famous taco salad for every potluck?

Sorry, Baptists do not believe in luck—it was a potFAITH.

Years later, I had the opportunity while traveling with my family to experience a Southern Baptist church body within the South that had a feel that was completely different from what I was used to back home.  There were television cameras, balconies and more people than I could count. I could not fathom how the same messages, jokes and potlucks could be controlled in such an environment.

Fast forward to present day, my wife and children worship and serve on a regular basis with a local body of believers that has been labeled as a “mega church.”

The name is irrelevant, and I am in awe of how connected, blessed and spiritually challenged we feel on a daily basis that God has divinely placed us amongst this body for this season in life.

Please notice I did NOT say:

Fast forward to present day, my wife and children are members of the biggest and best church in Arizona, named MY CHURCH! We do it right! 

The worship is amazing, it makes you feel good and there are so many people who attend, it’s like a rock concert. If you don’t check it out, you are missing out, and something is wrong with you.

Your church is not as good as mine!

Sadly, this all may seem absurd, but it is probably familiar; if you are like me, you have probably used a version of it or heard others say similar words.

I hope and pray that every Christian looks for the opportunity to share about the freedom and grace that exists within the Gospel message. However, oftentimes this excitement turns into a very legalistic burdensome conversation that we “Bible thump” into those closest to us.

At a recent Homeschool Convention that I had the honor to attend with my wife, we had the opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers. During one session in particular, I heard one of the best definitions of “legalism” from one of the keynote speakers, Heidi St. John:

“As soon as you put your personal conviction on your friend, and make that conviction your friend’s responsibility, you have crossed into legalism.”

The unified body of Christ struggles on a daily basis with this topic. While our relationship with Jesus Christ remains very personal, our faith needs to remain very public. One way to accomplish this is through involvement with a local body of believers.

The distinction between love and legalism is imperative to consider when transforming conversations that involve phrases such as “my church” to phrases such as “God’s church” or “The Body.”

As we share the good news of the Gospel, it is important for us to be inclusive and respectful. When we share His word, we are representing not just ourselves, but also our church, our community and God.

Let us be ambassadors to the Scripture, and share our faith with both Christians and non-Christians in a way that honors God and humbles ourselves before Him. While we can be proud of where we worship, we should not let pride get in the way of doing what Jesus has called us to do.

Each church is different, but as Romans points out, we are one body and belong to one another.

Want to hear more about the differences amongst churches? Check out this week’s Trending Faith with Pastor Tim Griffin and Dean of the College of Theology Jason Hiles, PhD.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.