How To Overcome Legalism And Judgmentalism

Have you experienced legalism? Why are some church people legalistic and judgmental? Legalism began as a guideline created by church leadership to help the people in their congregations avoid worldliness. But the guidelines became a source of judgmentalism and conflict instead because of differing opinions of what is worldly. Those who thought they were sanctified and held to the do’s and don’ts looked down on those who did not hold the same convictions. The judgmental attitude offended a lot of people who then did not want anything to do with the church. Love must eclipse convictions.

Romans 14:1-6 explains how to handle differing convictions. Though the conflict is about food, it can apply to anything not specifically defined as sin.

1) As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions (also, see 2Timothy 2:14 and 23).

2) One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.

3) Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

4) Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

5) One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

6) The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

How do judgmental people make you feel? Are you guilty of being judgmental? The key thought in these verses is that what is honoring to God for one person may not be honoring to God for another person. We are not to judge other people’s actions based on our convictions. What if a believer causes another believer to stumble and fall away from their devotion to God? God does not want us to cause anyone to stumble, so we should be respectful of the convictions of others. Romans 14:13 and 21 state, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 21) It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” So, if watching PG-13 movies causes your brother to stumble, then out of love, don’t watch them. This can be applied to all worldly activities that do not glorify evil or draw you away from godliness.

Everything we do should be done in love1 and Romans 14:19 states, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and the things for building up one another.” Romans 13:8-10 also states, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9) For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” For example, the first four commandments explain how to love God and the next six commandments explain how to love people.

Exodus 20:3-17 – the 10 Commandments:

1. “You shall have no other gods before me. 

2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5) You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6) but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9) Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10) but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, 11) For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

6. “You shall not murder.

7. “You shall not commit adultery.

8. “You shall not steal.

9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Legalism began in the ancient world to help people know how to conduct themselves, so they don’t break the Ten Commandments. This is not a bad thing, except, it is a matter of interpretation. For example. Commandment four is to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” What you may believe this means may be different than what I believe. Who is right? What we do know is God took the seventh day to rest after six days of working, and He requires us to rest from all work too. Rest means to refresh oneself by sleeping, laying down, or relaxing. No guidelines were given, just rest for one day each week. Relaxing looks different for each person because relaxation is a matter of perspective. Some people find it soothing to cut grass. To them mowing the grass is not work but restful and rejuvenating. A long time ago, stores were not open on Sunday, and you learned you were not to shop on Sunday. So, does the Bible say it is a sin to shop on Sunday? Where did that belief come from and is it still the right belief? Romans 14:23 states, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he _(fill in the blank)_, because the ___ is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Reflections and Application:

What is your experience with legalism? What rules were you taught to follow?

Do you have painful memories by someone who was legalistic and judged you? If yes, then read my short book to heal that memory so you can be free from that oppression. 1–Healing Begins by Transforming Painful Memories

What do you think is honoring to God?

What does legalism cause people to do and what does the Bible say we should do?

Further Study/Footnotes:

1. Do things in love: 1Corinthians 16:14.

2. God’s rest: Hebrews 4:1-11.

This blog is from “Unseen Battles For Your Mind” by Joyce Holzman Hanscom (soon to be published).


All verses are from the English Standard Bible. If you find my posts and website helpful, then please share the links with your friends and family, hopeforcompletehealing.com. The information is copyright protected and no part of the posts or my book may be reproduced without proper citation to Joyce Hanscom. 

Contact me at hopeforcompletehealing@gmail.com, and ask for a PDF of Eight Prayers from the Bible. The prayers are for the Spirit of wisdom, renewal, spiritual strength, knowledge of His will, virtues of God, non-believers, 23rd Psalm, and victory. Please leave your name so I know you are a real person making the request.

P.S.: Experiencing a lasting change in your life depends on having a right relationship with God the Father through believing in His Son Jesus Christ and obeying His command to love (1 John 3).