Ryan Strother

You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 3)

Note: This post is part of a series.


You might be a legalist if you don’t practice what you preach.  

If you demand others to be righteous but then don’t follow your own words, you’re acting like the Pharisees. And Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them.

Look at Jesus’s words in Matthew 23:2-4:

2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Within Judaism, the Scribes were experts on the Torah because they interpreted it. The Pharisees were experts in the theological matters that the Torah brought about. They had authority (Moses’ seat), so people were to respect them and observe what they interpreted properly, although they weren’t to mirror their works. They would maybe say the right things, but they wouldn’t do it themselves.

A similar situation is mentioned in Acts 15 during the Jerusalem Council. Peter condemned some there who were trying to put unnecessary demands on Gentile converts.

Today there could be:

  • legalistic preachers, who preach one thing to their people and then neglect their very words;
  • legalistic parents, who demand their children to act in biblical ways and then don’t act that way themselves.  

We can so easily be legalistic simply by not practicing what we preach. We might know what’s right and how to proclaim what’s right, but we don’t always live as if it actually is right.

I believe the answer to this problem is that we need a softened heart that realizes the power of the grace of Jesus Christ. As Peter said, “. . .we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11, ESV).

Five To Focus 15. Contentment Combats Jealousy

It is easy to compare yourself to others and become jealous. Listen to a couple examples from the Bible on combating jealousy by being content.



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You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 2)

You might be a legalist if you add your rules above God’s as absolute authority.

Note: This post is part of a series.

Some must feel that God’s words are not clearly sufficient or explained well enough because they feel the need to “define them more clearly.” Doing this is dangerous, however, because it puts one in danger of adding to God’s words (Rev. 22:18-19).


We see it in John 7:21-23. Jesus referred to healing people on the Sabbath, of which he is condemned by the Pharisees. The gospels contain six records of Jesus healing on the sabbath, all which were contested by the Jewish leaders. Even though the leaders were upset with Jesus’ actions, everything he did on the Sabbath was only unlawful according to the Mishnah, not the actual Law of God. The Mishnah was a “series of interpretations of the meaning of the law” that were eventually compiled around AD 200.1  It existed in Jesus’ time and basically defined God’s Law more clearly.


It’s ironic really. Sinful people are judging a sinless God by their finite definition of God’s perfect law.


It is easy to put your rules or interpretations of God’s Law above what He actually said.

  • Denominations might do this by creating policies and rules that further define the Scriptures;
  • Churches might create bylaws that go beyond the intended meaning of Scripture;
  • People might trust the words of a Christian author more than the words of God;


An easy way to test your heart for legalism is to beware of this attitude: If it’s right for me, it must be right for you. You can fill in the blank with examples. Those examples might be accompanied by good intentions, but enforcing them is putting man’s word above God’s Word.


We must study Scripture faithfully and be brave enough to live by what we learn.


1Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 903.


Five To Focus 14. St. Nicholas Slaps Arius

St. Nicholas was a real man with a real God. Listen to this story of defending sound doctrine.


Sources consulted:


Hill, Jonathan. Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI:

Zondervan), 2006.





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You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 1)

The Zondervan dictionary of Bible themes defines legalism as “the belief that salvation demands or depends upon total obedience to the letter of the law. Examples of legalism include an excessive concern for minute details of the will coupled with a neglect of its fundamental concerns, and a preoccupation with human legal traditions.


The danger of this sinful attitude: one who is committed to it could spend an eternity in hell and can be responsible for sending others there too.  We see this in Matthew 23:13 & 15:  ““But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”


Legalism is more worried about rules than the heart.

You might be a legalist if you condemn someone’s sin while ignoring and denying your own.


In John 7:19, Jesus asked the Jewish people why they were seeking to kill him. They thought Jesus was guilty enough of something that he should be put to death, but there was no justification since he was sinless.  


So they were condemning a sinless man to death at the same time they were guilty of not keeping the law of Moses.


They ignored their own sin while falsely condemning Jesus. While we know that Jesus did not sin, his purity here is actually irrelevant to the Jewish peoples’ argument because they should have looked at themselves first before accusing him.


Not only did they ignore their sin but they also denied it. In verse 20, they blast, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”  They wouldn’t even admit their own guilt of wanting to kill him! But Jesus, in his infinite knowledge as God, knew their hearts, their intentions, and their guilt.


It is so easy to do the exact same thing – quickly condemn other people for their sin, while ignoring and denying our own. This is legalism– holding other people up to the laws of God while somehow exempting yourself from them.

Five To Focus 13. Don’t Worry; Be Joyful

Anxiety can kill joy. Listen to Paul’s instruction for finding joy through all circumstances. Scripture reference: Phil. 4:4-9.



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Using AirTable To Plan A Yearly Worship Calendar

I’ve written about using AirTable for recording shepherding tasks, and now I want to show you how to use it for planning your church’s worship calendar for the year. By worship calendar, I’m talking about sermon info, service notes, and files that a pastor and worship team should be communicating on as they plan worship services.


Other programs exist that might do this and more, but I like AirTable because it is free and easy!

We set up a table with these column headings

  • Date.  
  • Sermon Title.
  • Text Reference. Our whole service theme is built around the sermon text, so this is important to us.
  • Suggested New title. I’m not the best at creating sermon titles, so this column is for my ministry assistant to suggest something better. If I like it, then I change the Sermon Title box. Of the 5 suggestions this year, all 5 were better!
  • Preacher. Our worship coordinator knows who to work with to get a feel for the direction of the sermon, etc.
  • Scripture Reading. If a Scripture will be read in the service that is not the Scripture text of the sermon, then it is listed here.
  • Main Point/Helpful Notes For Worship Planning.  I do most of the preaching, so when I plan out the year’s sermons, I can put little notes to remind myself of some details. Also, this gives our worship coordinator a better idea of how the sermon Scripture will be applied. We might put a note here for the tech team (i.e., video will be played here…).
  • Sermon Series. Just for easy sorting if we’d like to view everything from the same series.
  • Series Graphic. It’s kept here because our tech team can grab it quickly to upload as our sermon podcast cover image.
  • Special Notes. Used for things like “Mother’s Day,” “The Lord’s Supper,” etc.
  • Website Description. I put a final description of the sermon here for our tech team to paste into the podcast description.


Organizing our material this way helps everybody know in advance what to plan for. It helps everything flow smoothly. There is a tab for each year so that we can quickly look back on any details. And you can share the table with whoever needs access; so everyone can access it easily on their computers or devices (the app is helpful).


Can you think of other ways to use AirTable or other programs for worship planning?

Five To Focus 12. Remove Obstacles and Go To Jesus

Bartimaeus appears again in this episode, this time to teach us three lessons on pursuing Jesus. Scripture reference: Mark 10:46-52.



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You Can Still Confidently Sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

If Jesus already came and we know that God is with us right now through the Holy Spirit, then how can we still sing this song with any meaning?

O Come, O Come Emmanuel–this prayer should change your perspective during the Christmas season. It represents Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

The mood at the time of the birth of Christ

We know this song was written long after the birth of Christ, but let’s apply the lyrics to that time to see why we can understand the mood.

What we call the “Intertestamental Period,” between Malachi and Matthew was roughly 400 years. There is no record of God speaking during that time. Much was changing in the political landscape and impacting the Israelites. The first divine revelation since the intertestamental period came through an angel, Gabriel, who told Zechariah, a priest, that he would have a son. Zechariah’s son, John (the Baptist), was the forerunner to the Messiah who would come.

Imagine being in that time period: Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping. Four hundred years without hearing from God. Changes in government. Different rulers, some of whom leave you alone and others who don’t. You’d be longing for the Messiah.

Now we are back to the same question:  how can we still sing this song?  Let me argue that:

We should still have the same mood.

Romans 8:22-25 is a great passage to show us that we should still be longing, aching, yearning, and hoping, even though the Messiah has come and He has accomplished the work of redemption that has secured our salvation for all eternity.

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

God cursed the ground as a result of sin entering the world (Gen 3:17-18). All creation has been groaning in pains of childbirth, waiting for the joy that would come.

We can understand the pains of childbirth. It hurts, but a woman perseveres because a great joy is coming. In the same way, the whole creation is subjected to pains like childbirth. The verse before tells us the great joy coming for the physical creation: v.21– it is set free from this bondage and decay it is subjected to.

23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,

One commentator describes the firstfruits of the Spirit as “Spirit as a foretaste of the future” (Conybeare & Howson, The Life & Epistle of St. Paul).

It is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is a guarantee of our faith and that which is yet to come, like Paul mentions in 2 Cor. 5:5. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit—there is more to come.

[we] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here is the “now/not yet” of our salvation. Though we have Christ and our salvation is secure (NOW), inwardly we still groan for something more that is to come (NOT YET).

Do you realize that what you are experiencing right now as a believer in Christ is not all that you’ll ever experience with Him?  There is much more to come. You have the salvation of Christ and all its blessings right now in your life. But you still have the not yet waiting for you!

This verse says we eagerly await our adoption—this is interesting because just earlier in this chapter (14-17), Paul writes of our adoption as God’s children in the past tense.

You are adopted by God in the sense that you are saved and you are His child (NOW). But verse 23 refers to the full culmination of our adoption, which is the glorification of our bodies (NOT YET).

We groan inwardly as we live in the now because we know that right now is not the end.

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Hope is a key theme in this passage, appearing 5 times just in verses 24-25.

We hope for what we do not see because we have not obtained that glorious inheritance yet. What we have right now is finished, fully sufficient. We were saved. It’s done.We are saved. And it changes your life right now, giving you purpose.


Now, when we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” we are not just thinking about the birth of Jesus. We are thinking about His coming again, about the time we will experience His full glory, which we have not yet seen. Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.


We are still in a sinful, fallen world and experiencing its effects.

Death takes away.

Disease leads to misery.

Calamity still strikes.


In Sutherland Springs, TX, they are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

In Las Vegas, NV, they are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.


We are still waiting for “…the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7).

We are still waiting for final deliverance “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

We are still waiting “for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5).


We are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.  So yes, we still sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel. God, be with us. Finally, eternally, in glory.

Five To Focus 11. Know Your Identity In Christ

Roles and relationships can change, so stability in life comes by knowing who you are in Jesus.


Scripture reference: 1 John 2:12-14



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