The Difference between Legalism and Discipline

Godliness ≠ Legalism

Sometimes when people hear the word “godliness” it transmutes in their mind to legalism. And they say, I’ve been delivered from legalism, doing all these things to gain merit before God. And so they don’t want to discipline themselves because it sounds like legalism. But you have to understand there is a universe of difference between discipline and legalism. Legalism says, “I will do this thing in order to gain merit before God.” Discipline says, “I love God, I love the Lord Jesus Christ and I will discipline myself to please them.”

Disciplines of a Godly Man

R. Kent Hughes

This updated edition of a bestselling classic by a seasoned pastor aims to empower men to take seriously the call to godliness and direct their energy toward the things that matter most.

The apostle Paul understood this better than anyone or any theologian in history because you have to understand that he fought legalism bare-knuckled across Asia Minor. In fact, in the opening chapter of Galatians where he’s talking about the Judaizers and the ones that are involved in legalism, he says that because they preached another gospel, let them be anathema—or damned, separated.

It’s a regimen, it’s a practice, it’s a discipline enjoined for the purpose of godliness.

He hated legalism but he enjoined discipline upon all of his followers for the purpose of godliness. So it’s a regimen, it’s a practice, it’s a discipline enjoined for the purpose of godliness—which holds promise for this present life, how you live right now, and in the life to come.

R. Kent Hughes is the author of Disciplines of a Godly Man.

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