Q&A: How to Live with a Legalistic Spouse?

I recently received an email asking about living with a legalistic spouse and the difficulties it can cause — especially with other family and children. (Note: I received it via the contact form and the person didn’t include an email address — if the person sending it reads this, contact me again and provide an email address).

Q: How does a Christian live with a legalistic spouse?

First, get advice from a trusted pastor in your church. In any marriage situation getting individualized counsel from a trusted person is the best thing you can do. If your spouse won’t go, go alone — if you’ve been involved in this situation for years it takes time to solve it.

But a few observations to ponder. First, legalists generally have a problem with grace, and feel they must do something to “earn” God’s favor — it’s a “Jesus plus” mentality. Many legalists proclaim belief in salvation by Jesus alone; they may say that, but they’re living in a Jesus+ world and their actions imply Jesus’ death and resurrection was insufficient — something must be added (works,rules,etc) to Jesus’ work on the cross. When placed in that light, some legalists may suddenly have the light bulb turned on and realize the error of legalism.

Second, it’s easier to be legalistic than to live by grace. Rules and regulations provide an easy checklist to measure yourself against, which provide many people comfort.

Instead of attacking the problem from the “legalism is wrong” academic point of view, perhaps a study of God’s grace and the position of salvation by faith alone. If someone truly understands salvation comes by faith alone, legalism falls away.

But it’s not easy as human tendency remains to be more comfortable living in legalism.

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