medical stethoscope placed on white background

Five minutes with a naive pastor

Legalism is a real danger in the Christian life. Jesus tells us to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). On Sunday, we were thinking about how easy it is to be a Pharisee. Sadly, it’s not cured by simply talking more about “grace”.

I love this imaginary conversation Sinclair Ferguson came up with to illustrate how legalism can’t be fixed in a 5-minute appointment with your minister:

Dr. Pastor: How can I help you today? You have a problem? 

Fred Legality: Yes! I seem to have a problem with legalism. I was wondering if you could advise me and perhaps write a prescription for me.

Dr. Pastor: Certainly, Mr. Legality. This is a common problem. You are mistakenly thinking that you can be justified by works. Thankfully there is an immediate cure. Let me first explain my diagnosis, and then I will prescribe the remedy. Because we are sinners, we cannot justify ourselves. But here is the remedy. It is wonderfully powerful. I am glad I can give you the good news: Christ died for your sins. If you trust what Christ has done, you are then justified by grace, not by works. So you must stop trusting in your own efforts. You understand? 

Fred Legality: Well, yes. 

Dr. Pastor: Good! Then the prognosis is excellent. I am glad to tell you that you are no longer a legalist! You are cured! But – in case you have a relapse, you understand – remember what I said. 

Fred Legality: Well…

Dr. Pastor (in response to Fred Legality’s weak smile): I am glad I have been able to help. Have a good day now. Would you mind asking my next patient to come in, please? I think her name is Janis Antinomian. Didn’t you used to date her? But try not to engage her in conversation; she has become one of my most difficult patients!”

p.87, the Whole Christ.