By Jim Tune
I found a terrific definition of legalism on Wikipedia. “Legalism . . . in Christian theology,” it says, “is the act of putting law above gospel by establishing requirements for salvation beyond repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and reducing the broad, inclusive and general precepts of the Bible to narrow and rigid moral codes.” The article states that legalism usually involves “superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit.”
I know all about legalism. I am a recovering legalist. I expect to be in recovery for the rest of my life. I’ve experienced the unpleasantness of graceless Christianity when others have adopted a legalistic posture toward me. Too often I’ve failed to recognize that same attitude when I am the dispenser of a graceless gospel. I guess it’s the log and speck thing. I’m quick to see the splinter in someone else’s eye while remaining blind to the plank in my own. It’s ironic. As one who depends on God’s mercy daily, my heart should always be overflowing with praise and gratitude.
Legalism allows me to condemn the actions of another while failing to deal with the condition of my own heart before God. It dodges the personal application of God’s holiness, but pretends outwardly to honor it.
Legalism is the way of the world, not the way of the kingdom. There are more than 1 million lawyers in the United States out of a population of approximately 320 million. The United States has 70 percent of all lawyers in the world, yet its population is less than 5 percent of the world. Lawyers take in 3 percent of the gross national product, while the combined profits of the companies that comprise Standard & Poor’s 500 account for just 6 percent of gross national product. The number of lawyers in America has doubled over the past 30 years. Apparently nobody likes lawyers, but everybody wants to be one!
Lives deeply centered in God are marked by freedom and courage. Christians often applaud people for having the courage to confront. I am already good at confronting. My cross-examination can be relentless. I need the courage to forgive. I need the courage to rejoice in God’s mercy to others. I need the courage to reject superficiality and outward forms of Christianity. We already have enough lawyers.