A judges wooden gavel on a white background
When I speak to audiences about Scripture memory, the subject of legalism often surfaces during the Question & Answer time. People want to warn me about getting too legalistic about all this memorizing. While I do understand their concern, it’s obvious they’ve missed my whole motivation.

Legalism, by definition, is the strict observance to man-made rules, regulations and laws, based on the misguided assumption that adhering to this code of conduct is a means of gaining divine favor.

But do you prove your commitment to God by a checklist of unpleasant duties? In the eyes of some, the more painful and taxing the discipline the more brownie points you gain with God.

The underlying motivation from all this rule-following stems from guilt and coercion. And I might add, a misunderstanding of God’s character and his methods. God cannot love you any more than he already does. God is love—perfect love. God’s method is grace—unmerited favor.

I don’t memorize so that God will love me more. I memorize so that I will love Him more.

I don’t memorize to sway God’s heart toward me. I memorize to sway my heart toward Him.

I continue to memorize year after year, not to prove anything to God, but because in memorizing God proves himself to me. The payoff is not an appeased God, but rather a hungry heart satisfied. I’m the beneficiary of this discipline, which is why I continue in it.

It was and is God’s plan to reveal himself in his Word. That being the case, if we want to know him we must go to the place where he discloses himself.

My goal in memorizing is not to know the Bible—my goal is to know God.

I speak for those who memorize God’s Word, that memorizing is the means to the end, not the destination itself. Memorizing is the channel through which we have come into a close intimate relationship with God. It’s our way of seeking him, drawing close to him, focusing on him.

When we wake up each day, our hearts want to connect with God’s heart. We know where to find his heart—in the pages of his Word. When we speak the words aloud, we hear him speaking to us. We connect heart to heart and enjoy the interaction with the One we have come to know and love.

Our motivation for memorizing isn’t legalism—it’s love.

We would all benefit from hearing your thoughts on why you memorizing Scripture.

12 comments to Legalism

  • Barb

    There is not much more to say, Janet, than how you so beautifully expressed it. Coming to Him, hiding His word in my heart helps me know Him better, remember Him and Who He is more and better, makes my heart malleable to a work He desires to do in me, provides me with prayer all day and every day. It is AWESOME. Thank you for showing me the way to make it as easy and effective as possible.

    • Hi Barb, Love what you said, “makes my heart malleable to a work He desires to do in me”. I so agree. Often my stubborn heart wants to go its own way, but saying God’s Word out loud over and over, softens my will and leads me to His. God’s Word works in my heart to conform it to his. Thanks for sharing.

  • Love your words, Janet! Memorizing for me has become as natural and necessary as breathing oxygen. Without God’s word flowing deep into my mind and expanding my heart, I feel unprepared and ill-equipped for life. I guess you could say that my motivation does not stem from discipline but need. As my lungs need oxygen, my soul needs the breath of God’s word.

    • Hi Karen, I agree totally. I NEED to memorize. It’s way more than a discipline. It is life to for our souls. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • warren

    Yep…so many folks are quick to use the word ‘legalism’ when we have to put ‘effort’ into our pursuit of God. And maybe at times it may ‘feel’ like legalism…but we must keep thinking it does not ‘appease’ God…it pleases Him when we pursue Him and as you said, it helps my heart to stay ‘moldable’ in His hands. Thank you for bringing this up.

    • Hi Warren, Good point. We like to call it legalism if it requires effort on our part. But what does it mean to seek him with all our being if there’s no effort. The reward is worth every discipline we can muster. Thanks for sharing Warren.

  • Janet, so helpful and well put. I’m sure there are over 100 reasons you and those who have enjoyed the discipline of memorizing scripture could list.
    One of the ones I was thinking of lately is the “memorizing Scripture helps give me God’s perspective on His church. It helps me see the local body I serve in as the people growing into a ‘holy temple in the Lord’ as ‘equipped in every good thing to do his will’ as a gathering of His people whom he has ‘given gifts to men’ ‘ as a real avenue for obeying his one another’s . On my list has gone as I see so many people, especially of the younger generation, forget the importance of the Bride of Christ. So memorizing helps me see how valuable the local body is and how powerfully it can work to ‘ build us up into the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ’. When I recite these passages, I find myself filled up to ‘pour myself out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of others faith’ and to ‘endure hardship’ , ‘not be weary in well-doing’ on and it goes. I’m so thankful to have just finished my 8th book, and I need to count up the chapters again, but I think its 60. So many of these passages have proved useful to my heart to value His people and serve Jesus much better. I started memorizing many years before I became a wife of a pastor, but it is memorizing that helped me want to serve God in that way. 🙂 I’m so blessed for it. I am contemplating Ist and 2nd Thessalonians next so that I continue to grow in loving the Bridegroom and His bride more. Thank you Janet for the encouragement you are to me.

    • Thank you Heidi. You gave us such practical examples and we all need these reminders. God’s Word covers all the important topics, so if we stay in God’s Word, we will hear our Father address the things that are on his heart. Thanks for sharing your personal examples. Press on dear sister, to know and love Him more.

  • Ruth

    I memorize Scripture because I want to know what is true, and God’s word is truth (John 17:17). I don’t want to believe Satan’s lies or to be led astray by false teachers. I want to be able to listen to pastors and Bible teachers and, like the Bereans, to be able to compare what they say to what the Scriptures say (Acts 17:11). I want to follow Jesus’ instructions to His disciples in Matt. 24:4 that say, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” I want to recognize destructive heresies that false teachers secretly introduce (2 Pet. 2:1). I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind so that I can know God’s will instead of being conformed to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:2). I want to be taught by what was written in the past, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures I might have hope (Rom. 15:4). I want to be able to speak the very words of God (1 Pet. 4:11). I want to know God in order to have everything I need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). I want to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). I want to grow in my knowledge of God (Col. 1:10). I want to set my mind on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:2).

    What I wrote makes me sound more spiritually mature than I really am. I am often selfish and easily irritated–I’m not at all perfect! But memorizing Scripture passages has been a blessing in my life and I know that God is working on me.

    • Hi Ruth, So glad you shared all those reasons you want to memorize. I want those too, and hey we’re all selfish, which is another reason we want to memorize, to get outside of ourselves. Memorizing God’s Word puts our focus on the Lord. He is beautiful and perfect and holy. Memorizing has so many benefits. Thanks for sharing Ruth.

  • Vickie McKnight

    Yes, Janet! So many people don’t understand the why of memorizing and just want to give some they think it might be but memorizing and meditating on God’s Word is so exhilarating and satisfying because HE is the only ONE who satisfies and to have HIM on our minds and His Words deep in our hearts can only bring us into a closer relationship with Him and there is NOTHING better than that!

    • Vickie, You’re right and the only way to clear up their misunderstanding is to tell them. He is the One who satisfies! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.