Legalism In Our Own Hearts

Seth Stewart allowed us to publish this note that he sent to his volunteers regarding his frustrations with his students’ disobedience and his temptation to beat them over the head with the law.

Confession. I want to beat obedience into our students’ heads. I am so tired of disobedient 7th graders, and kids who keep looking at porn, and girls who won’t stop gossiping and the damaging rumors they spread. There have been times I want to abandon preaching the gospel, just to focus on their disobedience, call them out and tell them to change… or else. Since I am not a paragon of holiness, I can’t say for sure if that is your heart. But I assume (occasionally) it may be.

Be on guard against this temptation if and when you talk about sexual immorality. It’s such a “big sin,” a “red-letter” atrocity that we want to use everything in our armory. In desperation, we reach for what we think will end their current or possible rebellion, and sadly it’s normally guilt-loaded phrases and rarely the gospel. We use phrases like:

“I don’t want you to end up like so and so.”

“I don’t want you to go down the same path I did.”

“You don’t want to be that person, do you?”

“Just stop it.”

“What would your mom/coach/pastor/grandma say?”

“Who would want you after that?”


Now, there are places for some of these rebukes. But they must be used sparingly (in a close relationship) and predicated by and concluded with the gospel.

Romans 1:16 “The gospel is the power of God…” Guilt does not change, shame has no power, and warnings without grace are of no effect. Give them the generosities of God until their hearts bleed obedience, and they flee sexual immorality willingly. Beware of the legalism in our own hearts this week.

Seth Stewart is a husband and a dad, and after a decade in student ministry is now working as the Editor-in-Chief at Spoken Gospel. Spoken Gospel creates online resources that point to Jesus from every passage of Scripture. Seth spends his day writing, speaking, and being his family's chef.

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