My wife recently viewed my Internet history, and what she saw seemed to go all the way back to the day the Internet opened for business.

She wasn’t snooping. She simply responded to divine intervention, a curious digital glitch, or both. For reasons I don’t understand, she suddenly found my Internet history on her computer, so she scrolled through some of it. She told me about it when we got together for lunch.

“I’m disappointed,” she said. I hate to hear those words from my wife.

As I made a quick mental review of my Internet habits, I could recall nothing damning. But I told her I would take her comments seriously and review the history. When I did, I found nothing that was against God’s law—technically. No porn. Nothing overtly sexual. Ah, I was safe. Phew!

But it is more complicated than that.

Whenever we declare ourselves to be “technically” within bounds, it is a warning that we are living under the law, not grace (Gal 4:21). This was true for me. The telltale sign was that I could rest in my own perceived righteousness: I had kept the law of no overt sexual content. So all was well.

Meanwhile, my law-system had authorized all kinds of other things, such as unedifying entertainment, useless wastes of time, humor that could sink into the crude, and flirtation at the level of my imagination. None of these violated the law—i.e., no overt sexual content—so they were laundered by my legalism.

When the law is our guide more than Jesus Christ, we narrow the prohibitions of Scripture to the point where we can satisfy them (e.g., Matt 5:21–22), and we ignore the more positive commands such as purity, love, and meditation on things that are godly and edifying (Gal 5:23). In other words, the righteousness of Christ is not our foundation and the holiness of Christ is not our aspiration.

Legalism remains a pernicious tendency of the human heart. In my case, it came out in low-level flirtation with the law and works-righteousness that escaped the gaze of my conscience. Given that this represents a temporary abandonment of the gospel, I am grateful for my wife’s careful exhortation, the book of Galatians and its more rigorous confrontation, and the Spirit, who, in love, opens blind eyes.