Some legalists love to be beaten up with the law, and they criticize any application of Christianity that doesn't beat people up as a “kissy-poo” faith, which is soft and effeminate, unwilling to face up to the hard teachings of the Bible. They beat themselves up and they like to hear preaching that beats them up as well. This used to puzzle me, since it involves the endurance of great and persistent harshness. However, I’ve come to believe that a triumphalistic legalist (as opposed to a defeated legalist) enjoys beating himself up and being beaten up by preaching because he feels that thereby he makes atonement for his own sins. If he’s beaten up sufficiently, he feels better about himself as though he has somehow paid for some of his sins, though all such beatings are utterly insufficient when one considers what we truly deserve. He does not want to hear about forgiveness. He doesn’t want to hear that Christ is wholly sufficient to atone for his sins. He doesn’t want to hear about hell (and good teaching never avoids the negative) only to have the condemnation of hell remitted by the righteousness of Jesus for those who believe because that doesn't motivate him. He is motivated by pride not by faith in Jesus Christ and his grace. The legalist would rather wallow in condemnation, feel better about himself, only to try to do better next time and to be proud of his miserably imperfect work. Christ and forgiveness are for unbelievers, he may say. He doesn’t want to be motivated and disciplined by grace; he wants to be disciplined by the law. The basic reason for this attitude is pride. The essence of pride is belief in self and unbelief in Christ. All Christians are recovering legalists, but someone who is exclusively a triumphalistic legalist is not a Christian at all.
The sanctified heart is overwhelmed and motivated by grace. The one who lives by faith in Christ is increasingly stripped of pride because he knows there is no way to pay for his own sins and there is nothing he can do to merit favor from God. He is humbled into the dust and motivated by faith in Jesus Christ and all that Christ is. All his works are like filthy rags for justification, though he knows that his works of faith and love to God are made acceptable in and through Christ. The one who is motivated by grace works to imitate Christ because Christ has won his affections! His costly love was manifested in his life, death, and resurrection, and the one who looks to Christ longs to emulate him. Christ captures the heart of the believer. All that Christ has done, is doing, and will do to shower us with love and grace proves to us that he really does love us. Scripture says that we love God (and thus obey him) because he first loved us! The Bible teaches that those who understand how much they are forgiven love (and thus obey) much! It is the kindness of God that leads us to daily repentance. God's consistent, steady and powerful love convinces us that his merciful instructions really are for our own good and for God's own glory. Our good works of evangelical obedience and worship don’t glorify God because they are in themselves glorious, worthy, or meritorious in any sense (they are too imperfect for that). Rather, they glorify God because they flow from a humble heart of faith in Christ, who is in himself glorious. They glorify God because they display the Spirit’s free and gracious work in us, which was purchased and applied by Christ’s righteousness, and they glorify God because we cannot claim that there is any merit or absolute worthiness (for justification) in them.