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Avoiding Legalism


Is it possible to take some of the advice I give and turn it into legalism?


I believe that as sinful humans, we are always prone to want lists and rules.  I think we can be tempted to think, “if I do all of the things on this list or follow all of these rules, I can be close to God” or “God will love me more.”  When we think that we can “earn” God’s love, favor or heaven with our “good behavior” or “works” that is legalism.  It is actually a form of idolatry.  It is me trusting in my goodness to get me into heaven instead of trusting Jesus. It is me putting my imagined “goodness” above Christ in my life and trusting myself instead of Jesus.  This is what the Pharisees did and Jesus spent a great deal of time fiercely opposing this concept.

We can do this with almost anything:

  • If I go to church every Sunday, God will be impressed
  • If I pray for 15 minutes every day, I will earn points with God
  • If I give 10% of my income as a tithe, God will bless me more materially and think that I am a “good” Christian
  • If I make my husband pray with me every night, it means we have a godly marriage and God will be pleased

It is entirely possible to even turn respect, submission, modesty, godly femininity – anything – into legalism or an idol:

  • If I respect my husband, God will be impressed and He will have to give me what I want.  God will “owe” me.
  • If I honor my husband’s leadership, my husband will have to love me the way I want him to.  I can control him.
  • If I dress with long skirts every day, I am “more holy” than other women.
  • If I don’t wear makeup – I am “better” than other people.
  • If I do wear makeup – I am “better” than those legalistic people who don’t.
  • If I avoid close friendships with other men, then I am spiritually superior to those who do have lots of male friends outside of their marriage.
  • If I dress modestly, I can look down on other women.
  • If I do everything in this book or on this blog, I will earn more “points” with God
  • If I respect my husband, I will always feel loved.

It is not my intention at all to give “lists of rules” that “must be followed.”

I do give a lot of practical suggestions and ideas.  I talk about my own convictions and why I have them.  But ultimately, each Christian wife must decide for herself what she believes God wants her to do in each situation – in cooperation with her husband’s God-given leadership.  The biggest and most important aspect of the Christian walk is for us to abide in Christ and be full of His Spirit, sensitive to His leading.

The main two commandments God gives us are:

  1. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
  2. To love your neighbor (other people) as yourself.


God is constantly aware of my motives – whether they are pure or ungodly.  God wants me to do the right thing for the right reason – all the time.  So whether the issue is praying, going to church, reading my Bible, deciding what to wear, controlling my thought life, deciding what to say in a situation or obeying God’s Word to me as a wife –  God is pleased when I want to do these things because I love Him, reverence Him and have all my faith in Him.

Nothing we can do affects the level of God’s love for us.  And nothing we do can impress God or be good enough to make us exempt from needing Jesus’ blood to cover our mountains of sin.

We desire to obey God and do “good” things BECAUSE He loved us first and gave us grace.  Then we surrender our lives to Him fully and submit to Him as Lord.  Then He will empower us to do the good works He has planned for us to do.  The good things we do come from His power working inside of us as a result of the grace we have received.  Good behavior does not give us our intimacy with God.  Only Christ can give us intimacy and peace with God by His death on the cross for the payment of our indescribably huge amount of sin.


When I was learning about respect and biblical submission, I had very few godly examples.  I was frustrated because the  books I read talked about treating our husbands with “respect” but I really didn’t understand all the depths of the meaning of that word to men.  I didn’t know what was disrespectful.  I didn’t know how to change my thought patterns and priorities and how to give up control.  I needed SERIOUS HELP!

I give practical examples to try to provide a starting point for women who desire to live out God’s design for marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33, I Cor 11:3, Titus 2:2-5, I Peter 3:1-6).

Are there other respectful ways to handle things in marriage besides the things I write about?  Absolutely!  I pray that the ideas in my blog might at least get women in the general ballpark and then they can hash out the details with God and their own husbands.

Each marriage will look a bit different.  Each husband will have his own ideas of what is disrespectful/respectful.  Each wife will find her own path.  We will not be cookie cutters.  Everyone will not look, act and speak exactly like I do.  That is fine!

God doesn’t ask you to be me!  He wants you to be you.  He wants to put your sinful nature to death on the cross and let you put on your new identity and self in Christ – full of His power for His greatest glory.

My prayer is that women (and men!) will repent of their sins and then be filled with God’s Spirit and be sensitive to His voice.

I am not infallible.  I am not always right. I am a very sinful human in whom there is nothing good apart from Jesus Christ.  There are different situations, personalities and issues in each marriage that I cannot begin to address or have the wisdom to address.

God has the wisdom each wife needs in her own marriage.  My ultimate desire is for us to hear and obey God – not check off that you are doing everything I write about on my blog.  Abiding in Jesus and living in obedience to Him brings His peace, joy, strength, power and abundant life!  That is what I desire women to experience!

15 thoughts on “Avoiding Legalism

  1. May I add a beautiful bonus to our obedience to those things God has commanded us women to do? I just discovered this yesterday as I was studying Titus 2 for a group Bible study using the book Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney.

    Titus 2 instructs wives to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to our own husbands–the very things you address right here at Peacefulwife. (In this chapter Paul also gives instruction to young men and servants as to how they are to behave.) He doesn’t just give the commands, he also lists the reasons, and here’s where it gets so good!…

    We obey these things “that the word of God be not blasphemed” (verse 5), “so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (verse 8), and that they may ADORN the doctrine of God our Savior in all things”. (verse 10) To adorn means to decorate, beautify, embellish…we are actually putting on the doctrine of God for all to see through our obedient behavior! This is beautiful to God, and is a radiant display of the gospel and the fruits of the spirit that are at work in our lives!

    Carolyn Mahaney said this: “Our conduct has a direct influence on how people think about the gospel. The world doesn’t judge us by our theology; the world judges us by our BEHAVIOR. People don’t necessarily want to know what we believe about the Bible. They want to SEE if what we believe MAKES A DIFFERENCE in our lives. Our actions either bring honor to God or misrepresents His truth.”

    So, as we obey, we are protecting God’s reputation, stopping the mouth of the naysayer, avoiding being a hypocrite, and displaying sound doctrine beautifully. Many items in the list in Titus 2 are pretty deep and extraordinarily contrary to this world–such as Paul addressing the order of authority God has established for husbands, wives, and servants. So, when we are being obedient to our own husbands, for example, we truly are displaying some pretty heavy doctrine, and to God, it is beautiful, and it causes those in this world to take notice!

    The bottom line is there is a higher purpose to our obedience!…It isn’t to earn God’s favor. It isn’t to check off a list of do’s and don’ts. It isn’t just about doing what God says for my own benefit (though He delights to bless us as we seek to honor Him). The very sake of the Gospel is at stake!

    “Can you conceive of anything that sets forth the beauty of the gospel jewel more brilliantly than the godly behavior of those who have received it? Consider the loveliness of a woman who passionately adores (RESPECTS) her husband, who tenderly cherishes her children, who creates a warm and peaceful home, who exemplifies purity, self-control and kindness in her character, and who gladly submits to her husband’s leadership…I dare say there are few things that display the gospel jewel with greater elegance.” (Feminine Appeal p.28-29)

    Had a few moments this morning and just thought I’d share!

  2. HisHelper, I LOVE that book!!!! And that is one of my favorite quotes at the end of your comment. Would you please allow me to post your comment as a post? BEAUTIFUL! THANK YOU!

    1. Absolutely, April!!! I just find the concept of adorning the doctrine or gospel of the Lord so motivating!…Kind of like putting on exquisite jewelry…But, this” jewelry” is priceless and only obtained by the power of the Holy Spirit living in me! And to think that when we cherish sin and refuse God’s lovely adornment (and oh, how I have done this myself), it’s like wearing a big ugly stain on the front of our dress…how repulsive!

      1 Peter 3:1-6 also comes to mind. I’ll start in verse 3 to keep this short: “…Whose ADORNING let it not be that outward ADORNING of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ORNAMENT of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the old women also, who trusted in God, ADORNED themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands…” Isn’t that magnificent?!

      It’s interesting how we women tend to like to wear fancy, sparkly adornments. Our Creator knew that when he wrote those verses. I think He’s appealing to that part of us that wants to be beautiful, showing us that the greater desire is to be SPIRITUALLY attractive! As much as men appreciate physical beauty (and I think we wives should take care of our outward body to please our husbands) ultimately, spiritual beauty is far more satisfying to our husbands… It brings them rest and peace! I want to give that to my husband, I want to humbly but beautifully display this to the world. Oh, how I want to truly adorn myself for the King!

  3. Hi April
    Thank you for the post; I am helped, I have found that it is very easy to become legalistic. I would like to thank you too for your blog, I am a 23 years old wife married to a really wonderful man of God since last year, I think the church is not really practicing titus 2v3-5. I am glad I am learning alot here and I hope I will be able to help other wives, especially those of my age 🙂

    1. Pandu,

      It is so wonderful to meet you!

      Unfortunately, there aren’t many wives today in the church who practice God’s design for marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33 and Titus 2:2-5. So it can be very difficult to find a godly mentoring wife who can teach these things.

      I pray that God will open your eyes to all the riches of heaven in your walk with HIm and that He might make your marriage something beautiful that brings great glory and honor to His Name!

  4. Thank you for such a beautiful way to start my day. What a blessing to wake and this is my first email of the day. May God bless you and your family with all the love and happiness that you have shared with others ten fold..

  5. Fantastic post and reminder, April! Thank you once again for keeping our focus on the Lord rather than on ourselves and what we should or should not do. If we are truly focused on the Lord, our behaviors will reflect that.

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