Legalism is Just Haggling Over Price

At a dinner party Winston Churchill says to his dinner companion, “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?”

The woman responds, “My goodness, Mr. Churchill. I suppose I would.”

Churchill replies, “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”

She answers, “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?”

Churchill answers, “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”

Okay, let’s tell a similar story but with a completely different setting: church.

Imagine this conversation with a visitor at your church…

“Do you welcome people here who are remarried?” “Of course.” “Minorities?” “Sure.” “How about interracial couples?” “Why… yes.” “People who sometimes struggle with drinking?” “Of course – we’re not perfect here.”  “How about people who are overweight, or who don’t wear head coverings, or who do wear mixed fabrics?” “Don’t be silly, of course we do.”  “That’s so good to hear, because I’d like to bring my son — he’s gay.”



Variations on this talk occur in countless churches, homes, family gatherings, communities, and political parties, regularly, all over the map. Sometimes only silently conveyed.

If you are deciding which people can come in, which people can serve, which people can marry, then you’re legalistic. Because legalism means adherence to the law for moral approval. It’s approval earned rather than given, a result of works instead of grace, a payment instead of a gift. says:


a. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.

b. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.

But the Bible says, salvation comes not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

In other words, the way God saves us, protects us, draws us into needed provision, on an ongoing basis, is a gift. And you don’t earn a gift. If you earn it, it’s called payment. Even if you pay only a dollar, it’s still payment.

If you are deciding who can be part of church, or will be warmly welcomed in church, and not looked with subtle superiority — then you’re a legalist.

If you’re legalistic on the gay issue, you’re a legalist.

If you are behavior-focused, then you are a legalist.

Jesus talks about faith as the basis to make us well, to make us rightly related, to bring us peace.

Jesus tells us to be love-focused, not behavior-focused.

If you’re not love-based — but love-plus based — you’re a legalist.

Jesus had SO MUCH MORE in mind than us policing each other.

Jesus was talking about love. Absolute unconditional love. Jesus was talking about life.

That’s all.

[To read more from Susan Cottrell, visit]


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SUSAN COTTRELL is a national speaker, teacher, and counselor with years of Biblical study and discipleship experience. Her books include: Mom, I’m Gay – Loving Your LGBTQ Child Without Sacrificing Your Faithas well as How Not to Lose Your Teen and The Marriage Renovation. Through her nonprofit organization – – Susan champions the LGBTQ community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that “loving God and loving others” are the foundation of the rest of the scripture, just as Jesus said.

She is the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin, and her “Mom, I’m Gay” book has been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign and others. Sharon Groves, PhD, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program Director says, “I often get asked by parents for resources that can address the struggles of raising LGBT sons and daughters without having to leave faith behind. Susan Cottrell’s book, Mom, I’m Gay, does just that. This is the kind of book that parents will love.”

She and her husband have been married more than 25 years and have five children – one of whom is in the LGBTQ community. She lives in Austin, Texas, and blogs at and here in IMPACT Magazine’s FreedHearts and Jesus Blog columns.