Is Christian Busy-ness A Form Of Legalism?

There is a trend I have been observing over the last ten years or so in our Reformed circles, and now I have been hearing various voices from “the pew” expressing concern in this particular area. That is of a call for members of Christ’s church to be more active or to become busier for the work of the church/gospel. The people who have spoken to me regarding this have been people who already are very busy serving Christ in the home and in the church. Sometimes they have been among the busiest church members, faithful for years in witnessing, serving, showing hospitality, personal devotions in the Word and prayer, etc. These exhortations to be “up and doing” have felt like the leadership is putting more pressure on those who are already faithful, while, as I have found to be “normal” in church life, the ones who almost never volunteer continue on as if these exhortations were “water off the duck’s back.” My concern is that this renewed emphasis on Christian activism is another avenue by which legalism, particularly legalism in one’s approach to sanctification and service, creeps back in, even in our circles where we preach sovereign grace. I would like to make a case for this being the wrong approach in our preaching. I would also like to recommend a better way to stir up God’s people to good works and love and hospitality and service.

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Allen C. Tomlinson | “DO! DO! DO! Back to the Old Legalism Again!” | November 2023 Issue of Ordained Servant Online


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  1. Yes!
    Isaiah 30:1, 15-16 “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD,
    “who carry out a plan, but not mine,…”
    For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
    “In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
    But you were unwilling, and you said,
    “No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
    and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.

    John 6:28-29
    Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

  2. Interesting that the 80/20 rule of the secular business world applies equally well to many church congregations: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the employees (in this case, membership).

    • Yes, and (in duties not particular to pastors and elders) this is largely a fault in the 20 percent. Taking every responsibility for oneself is a form of selfishness.


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