Why Words Don’t Work With a Churchy Legalists

The state of being a Christian is to have received eternal life by believing in Jesus, trusting in Jesus and Jesus alone as the One who made payment for your sin on the cross. When someone is in Christ, the believer’s previous view of what God might demand of a human to accept him or her into relationship doesn’t matter, not if they’re thinking from the new nature and according to Scripture.

legalistOn the other hand, if you want to win an argument with someone who claims Christ but refuses to think like a New Covenant Christian, I’ve discovered that doing good theology doesn’t help you very much.

The churchy person you’re arguing with (who might truly be a Christian in God’s eyes, but is clinging to what Peter calls the vomit of works righteousness) is not going to be persuaded to turn from a strong conviction by your efforts to cite Scripture, give examples, or your pleas to give grace a chance.

It’s more likely that it will take personal failure, heartbreak, disappointment, and a multitude of circumstantial and relational crowbars to force them out of hiding behind their masks of self-righteousness.

This blindness of the legalist is why it’s so frustrating to encounter people with deeply-held religious and pseudo-theology beliefs about issues of righteousness, the spiritual life, and the definition of a “good Christian.”

You want to believe that it’s enough to simply turn them to the laminated promises of God concerning the security of the believer or the apostles teaching on the wonder of new life in Christ, but they resist because, in reality, there’s no interaction with truth happening here.

4 Principles for Dealing with a Churchy Legalist

I’ve changed my strategy when dealing with a churchy legalist using the following four principles.

First, I ask God to give me Christ’s love for these misled and miserable creatures. This isn’t easy for me, but Jesus told us love is always more convincing than words.

Second, I freeze the conversation at our disagreement and say something like, “We’re going to disagree on this. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be a part of one another’s life.”

Third, and most importantly, I pray for them because I know that only the Spirit of the Living God can break through the deception of works righteousness.

Finally, I wait…

Until life falls apart.

And then I move in with mercy truths, love truths, and invitations to explore the wonders of God’s grace.

Questions: What if you approached the churchy legalists in your life with the love of God rather than the truths of your theology? Am I missing something? Isn’t that a better strategy?