Do your duty! (just don’t be legalistic about it)

You might not be comfortable with thinking about your faith in terms of duty. I get it. Obligation isn’t a pretty word.

Jesus told a parable:

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

The Bible is clear:

  • We are called to friendship with God (John 15:15).
  • We are called into God’s family, he is our Father, the one we can call “daddy” (Romans 8:15).
  • The God we worship understands everything about us because he was tempted as we are, but did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

There is great hope in these teachings: God is our friend, father, sympathizer. In these, there is also a subtle danger: careless familiarity.

This attitude towards God can lead to a entitled view of God’s grace. We don’t watch our lives too carefully because we know we’ll be forgiven. Additionally, from this flawed faith can spring a casual worship, one that lacks the reverence God deserves. Finally, when we are “just friends” with God, obedience to his commands can take a back row seat in regards to our priorities.

Every believer owes a duty to God, and this obligation isn’t an unspiritual thing. Legalism is unspiritual.  Jesus taught against legalism (on several occasions, but for one, check out Matthew 23). Isaiah also spoke out against legalism:

“So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there— so that as they go they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured.

There is an important difference between duty and legalism, and it is found in the heart of the servant of God.

DUTY is a response to grace, LEGALISM is the attempt to earn it.

DUTY leads to fulfillment, LEGALISM leads to entitlement.

LEGALISM springs from guilt, DUTY is birthed in gratitude.

Do the good things due God, but do them for the right reasons. “For we are unworthy servants…”


What do you have to add?