Spiritual Disciplines: Laziness or Legalism?

I was in a recent conversation with a group of people from church and one said, “Well, all that stuff you talk about spiritual disciplines seems like the Pharisees (legalist). I’m set free in Christ so people can’t tell me how to live my life!”

My first thought was, “I don’t want to be a legalist.” I didn’t want to be in the same category as the Pharisees! Who would want to?

Praying consistently and writing down your prayer in a journal? Legalist. Setting time every day to read the scriptures and meditate? Legalist. Staying accountable to fellow Christians in a local church context? Legalist.

I’ve thought through this for the last several months. Can spiritual disciplines turn Christians into simply doing a checklist of rules? Or are these tasks weighing down Christians with unnecessary guilt?

Is one being a legalist if he works hard unto the Lord? Or can a Christian cruise and coast through this life?

Here are few pointers of the formative power of spiritual disciplines.


What are Spiritual Disciplines?

Spiritual disciplines are activities rather than attitudes. These are practices of things you do so they are not characters. Few examples;

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Pray with one another
  3. Meditate on Scripture
  4. Fasting
  5. Corporate Worship
  6. Service

These are rooted much more than being rather than doing. It is, “being like Christ” or “being with Jesus.” However, the best way to biblically grow and to be more like Christ is through the rightly motivating doing the spiritual disciplines.

As we speak of spiritual discipline, I hear either two responses. Either 1) Reactive response or 2) Proactive response

1. Reactive approach

Sadly, many Christians and churches are in this category. This response has no plan to choose. As Tim Keller said it well, “Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way.”

This happens unexpectedly in response to circumstances or change in life. This can include both positive or negative events, which either leads often leads to stress in their lives.

2. Proactive approach

This involves developing a structure of discipline and accountability.

A disciple works to build a structure that supports a disciplined life. As Dallas Willard said, “A life of self-control is a steady capacity to direct oneself to accomplish what one has decided to do or be even when you don’t feel like it.”

As we find in the scripture commands us to, “Train yourself to be godly,” (1 Tim. 4:7).

Spiritual disciplines are a lot like physical exercise. You and I know it’s important, but some days it’s hard to get up and excited about cardio and leg workout day.

I remember even yesterday morning I woke up on Sunday morning and said, “I don’t feel like going to church today.” (And I’m one of the pastors!) But just like a workout, when I disciplined myself to do what I know I should do I said at the end of the day, “I am so glad I went!”

“Well, that’s legalism! You felt bad.” No, I believe that is not against the means of grace. God never forces us out of bed to go to church. Grace causes within us the desire to know Jesus. Grace doesn’t mean we coast spiritually until we get to heaven. Grace gives us the disciplines.


Laziness is a sin. Legalism is wrong.

In the American Evangelical churches, we are not in any danger of creeping legalism within our churches. We are not in danger of becoming legalist (which is equally wrong) but it is the kind of legalism is the opposite of spiritual discipline; laziness that says, “meet-my-need-squishy-feely-Christianity.” This is the new legalism that has marked the 21st century evangelical Christianity.

Lazy people are some of the most exhausted, dissatisfied, and ill-tempered folks around because of the joy-backed promises of laziness our lies.

The people of God have always understood laziness to be a sin. Laziness is a sin because laziness fails to appreciate the gift and blessing of work and fails to make the most of the time we have been graciously given.


1. Lazy Christians justify their Faithfulness over a lack of Fruitfulness

Some church leaders honestly keep themselves busy just to hide their laziness.

I believe we are in a spiritual warfare every day. Because of the internal war of the Spirit against our flesh and our flesh against the Spirit (Rom. 8:5-7), Christians must constantly choose the intentionally fights against the flesh and who “sows to the Spirit.”


2. Lazy Christians blame their Personality rather than Preparation.

The Proverbs speaks of this problem of laziness.

Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator, or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest. How long will you stay in bed, you slacker? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, your need, like a bandit (Proverbs 6:6-11).


3. Lazy Christians use Excuses to trump Actual Results.

Jesus had demonstrated that the task of Great Commission was an urgent work. Jesus never saw this work as a burden as he never burned out with hurry and worry.

As the great John Wesley once said, “I am always busy, but never in a hurry.” Wesley was scheduled tight and traveled over 240,00 miles by horse or carriage. He supervised a great detail 50,000 Methodists and their progress in Christ through an elaborate tracking system. He wrote many books, letters, and commentaries, yet it wasn’t experienced as a burden.


Choose the “Discipline Life”

A disciplined life is a grace-driven life that we receive that requires structure, planning, and effort. OT saint, “Daniel prayed 3 times a day” which was a pattern and structure every knew he followed through (Daniel 6:10).

It is not a passive mentality that one merely involves as a spectator-sports.

Sadly, this idea of expectation is not passed down from the church leadership down to the average lay people. This idea births of hypocrisy is a false religion, shows that God is dead and the church continues on the teaching of a life to many participants. Only those who take their training serious enough are the ones who make progress.

And as I am trained to break through this inertia created by my own laziness, I find the joy that is deep and satisfying. This process of self-discipline and self-control leads to the formation of godly habits.

Maturity is developed through intentional training and there are no shortcuts to this.

In 2 Peter, we find Peter encouraging the believers to, “make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (2 Pet. 1:5). His point is crystal clear; We have been entrusted with the profound truth of the gospel of Christ and we should, therefore, do all that we can do to develop and utilize God’s gift for His kingdom.


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