Is Memorizing Legalistic?

When I speak to audiences about Scripture memory, the subject of legalism often surfaces during the Q & A 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.

It’s as if you can tip the scales in your favor by demonstrating 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.

In God’s flawless plan he chooses 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. Memorizing is the means to the end, not the destination itself. Memorizing is the channel through which I have come into a close intimate relationship with God. It’s my way of seeking him, drawing close to him, focusing on him.

When I wake up each day my heart wants to connect with God’s heart. I know where to find his heart—in the pages of his Word. When I speak the words aloud I hear him speaking to me. We connect heart to heart—and the joy spills over.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on legalism and memorizing Scripture?

11 comments to Is Memorizing Legalistic?

  • Susan M.

    Very beautifully said! Thank you for inspiring me to keep going. Just finished memorizing my first chapter–what a blessing! Now to choose my next one. . .

    • Sue Bond

      WAY TO GO, Susan! What chapter of God’s amazing word did you get in your heart and your mind! And what did He reveal to you in your minutes and hours of meditating?
      Keep it up, sister!

  • Chris Gray

    Amen Janet! His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path. Our foundation is being built on solid ground with Christ as the Cornerstone as we believe in The Lord and what He has said. When we memorize scripture and receive God’s truth in faith as we hide His Word in our hearts we remember after seeing ourself in the mirror what we look like…..Who we belong to,…..Christ in us, the hope of glory. And we are ready to share the hope that is in us with others to encourage them in The Lord Jesus by sharing what God says from His word (often times we don’t have our Bible handy so it is awesome how the Holy Spirit surfaces Scripture to our minds). Thanks for spurring us on in Scripture memory of knowing what God says so we can love Him more……..”if you love me, you will obey My words”! Love in Christ & prayers, Chris

  • Lise Anderson Brocious

    Janet, thank you for addressing this topic. It is one that needs to be openly discussed. Those who memorize should be often reminded that the purpose is to draw us in closer relationship with God, not to earn brownie points. Those who do not memorize should be pointed to the goal of knowing God better so that they do not think that there is merit in the “doing” just for the sake of doing.

  • Patty Brunger


    Thank you for articulating this so clearly. How could we ever do anything to earn our salvation or pay back or impress almighty God for His gracious gift. Hearing God speak to us in His Word is a gift that enables us to know and love Him more.

  • Jenny

    Hi Janet. I am new to your blog and to the idea of a commitment to memorizing. I really want to try it. Do you have any scripture suggestions for a beginner? I am in a place of needing encouragement in my life. Thanks for any suggestions and for your ministry.

    • Hi Jenny, Yes I do have suggestions for beginners. Psalm 1 is the perfect place to start. It is only 6 verses and its very motivational because it talks about the one who is blessed because he meditates on God’s Word day and night. If you already know Psalm 1 by heart, then pick another short psalm, like Psalm 121. When you finish psalm one, you can either do another psalm, or if you feel ready for a book, Titus is a great book to start with. Its only 46 verses, and is full of rich doctrine and practical life application. We are here for you Jenny. So glad you joined us. Ask as many questions as you need and we will give our help and encouragement.

      • Jenny

        Janet, thank you so much – your reply is such a blessing to me today. I’m going to go for Psalm 1 as you suggested. I’m excited!

  • Rebecca

    A M E N !!

  • Chérie

    LEGALISM. Ouch. That is the “L” word in my home. In the scope of what memorizing really does, the word ‘Legalism’ flies in the face of what memorization will accomplish in anyone’s life who is willing to dive in to this world. 
    Anyone have a story about growing up in legalism? I can trump that story. 
    I double-dog-dare anyone who would suggest memorization is akin to legalism— to memorize a couple chapters—then we’ll talk. 

    Want to find out if any work you do can earn your salvation? Memorize. 
    Want to experience God loving you as opposed to Him being ready to strike you with lightening because you “didnt” do something you thought you were supposed to? Memorize.
    Want to know why Jesus got so angry with the stinking legalistic Pharisees and their (Hello dichotomy?) “works-based faith”…. Memorize.
    You want to have the LOVE and GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ permeate your soul? Memorize. 

    When you do, you’ll begin to truly understand what salvation is and you’ll fall on your face to worship this God who GAVE you everything you couldn’t possibly work for and do not deserve.
    You’ll want to keep memorizing for the rest of your life. 

  • Josh

    Well said!

    Sadly, I live in an area where even believing what the Bible says is seen as legalism, even among the “Christians” I meet. I have been called a Pharisee, a hypocrite, and all kinds of names just for believing the teachings on marriage (never mind the rest!). But I stand by God and His Word, for “I cannot alter the word of the Lord my God, to speak either more or less.” (Numbers 22:18)

    For this reason, I have no social life (unless you count my mother, who is also a Christian), but even this is a blessing, as it gives me more time to devote to learning God’s Word!