Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Some Thoughts About Legalism From People Who Are Smarter Than I Am

The attraction of legalism is that, despite all its complexity, it's mindless. It requires little or no personal engagement. It's sheer mechanics, simple arithmetic, no more difficult than cranking a hoist or measuring a length of board. You just follow orders. You match the parts to the diagram & apply pressure. It need draw nothing from your heart, your mind, your strength, your soul. It's like paint-by-numbers: it requires no artistry, no imagination, no discipline, just dumb, methodical obedience.

And the attraction of legalism is its inherent rewards. Legalism feels good, in a perverse sort of way. It strokes our egos, fills us with the pleasure of achievement, knowing we spelled all the words correctly, and in such a nice, tidy script to boot. And it's even better if we accomplish this where others have failed. It's like winning a race: it wouldn't mean half as much - indeed, it wouldn't mean anything - if our triumph didn't imply others' losses. The secret impetus behind legalism is its competitiveness. The point is not just to win: it's to beat everyone else. Read "beat" in that last line however you wish.

Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God

The curious thing about legalism is that you might look at a legalist and a person walking in grace and at times not be able to tell them apart. They could very well be doing the same exact things. The difference lies not on the outside but on the inside, in the realm of motivation. Why is he or she doing it? A person is a legalist, therefore, not necessarily because of what they do or do not do, but because of why they do or don’t do it.

Neil Anderson, Breaking the Bondage of Legalism

And they tell us we can save ourselves, but that isn’t very good news/Because if I could have, I would have saved myself/I wouldn’t need you like I do...
Rick Elias, "I Wouldn't Need You" from the album


I want to hate what God hates and love what God loves. And this I know beyond the shadow of a doubt: God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism.... Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one.

  • Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.
  • Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.
  • Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.
  • Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.

John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

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