When Sin Looks Like Freedom: The Cost of Legalism

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ.”  Romans 7:4 (NLT)

I made a recent discovery the other day.  Katy Perry, the popular singer with such hits on the radio as, I Kissed a Girl, Firework, California Gurls, and Teenage Dream, used to be a Christian singer under the name of Katy Hudson.  When you look up her up on YouTube you get song titles such as, Faith Won’t Fail and Trust in Me.  She says her Christian CD only sold about 100 copies.  Obviously, if you have followed her career she has decided to leave her faith and Christian singing career behind.


A look back into her life might give some insight.  She is the daughter of strict Pentecostal ministers.  They did not allow her to listen to any rock or popular music and they were not allowed to watch MTV and other such cable channels.  Probably along with the entertainment restrictions were rules on clothes, language, and the like.   She said in a Vanity Fair interview that she comes from a very non-accepting family but she is very accepting.  Hmmm… somehow she and her parents got the Christian message turned upside down.  The whole point of Christ dying on the cross was to demonstrate a God who will go to radical measures to show His acceptance of us.  How did she get the idea that Christianity is not accepting?  Her parents?

This story of faith is not original with Katy Perry.  In my years in ministry I have come across countless people who have left the faith of their parents because of the strict religious upbringing.  When they look at church and church people they don’t see acceptance and freedom.  They see legalism, conformity, and submission.

When legalism is practiced by those in authority over others, the sin they are trying to prevent begins to look like freedom to those forced to submit.  Those in submission to all the rules begin to see a life of faith as a prison.  They can’t wait to get out.  Only those in authority think legalism is freedom!  Paul put it this way, “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” Romans 7:10 (NIV ’84)

Most legalists I have known have a good heart.  They desire for people to live holy and acceptable lives before God.  I think Katy’s parents are good people, but they bought into the lie that following the law leads to holiness.  This is a nasty lie that Satan gives us.

This is why I am so glad that Paul wrote Romans 7:4.  When we gave our lives over to Christ we died to the power of the law.  The law was good, but it brings up sin in our life.  Only through Christ’s work on the cross do we find holiness.  Paul writes, “There is no condemnation for those who keep all these rules.”  He did not say that!  He said there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:1) That is a critical, life changing difference.

Legalism is a distrust of Jesus work on the cross.  Legalists feel like they have to add something to his work to be holy.  Many times, they feel like they must impose this holiness on others.  For some people, when they gave their life over to Jesus, didn’t die to the law.  They still think that they have to do something to be accepted by God.  This thought robs the power of the cross.

Plus, I have never met a legalist that kept all of the laws written in the Bible.  Usually, the legalist will pick out a few pet subjects they feel need to be addressed, such as gambling, some doctrinal point, sexual mores, and the like.  Does the Bible teach guidelines on these issues?  Yes, but not as a means of grace or acceptance.

So, if Katy’s parents asked me for advice I would say this.  You need to die to the law and focus on Jesus.  Your heart is on the right place but your eyes are focused on the wrong place.  It is not the law that brings freedom, but Christ’s work on the cross.

Plus, as a parenting tip, teach your children not to be scared of the culture around them, but to be critical thinkers of the world around them.  God is bigger and stronger than our culture.  Help them see sin for what it is: bondage.  Trust God to change their heart.

Then finally, accept Katy as Christ accepted you.  God accepted you when you were unacceptable.  Please show the same grace to your daughter.  Her success will mask the bondage of her sin, but God’s love can shine a brilliant light on that if you let Him.


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