The root of legalism
It’s interesting… The human mind seems to naturally carry an ideal of perfection as God. Even if we don’t call it ‘God’, this ideal image rules us.
The Christian faith sees God’s “Law” operating from this place. The 10 Commandments are an outline of a perfect life. Not just a good life. A PERFECT one. Like, impossibly perfect. Universally so.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus upped the ante even more from ‘thou shalt not kill’ to ‘thou shalt not even THINK of killing.’
It’s impossible. I kill people in my mind all day. I worship the gods of money, approval, comfort, and status. Idolatry, baby. Guilty as charged.
When you think of heavy-handed fire and brimstone churches, it seems that they hold a really high view of God’s Law. But it’s actually the opposite.
It’s not a high view of the Law that leads to legalism, but a low one.
Those who hold a low view of the Law ACTUALLY THINK THEY CAN DO IT. They lower the bar and then wonder why their awful congregants or friends/family haven’t jumped over it.
They’re delusional. The more perfect they claim to be, the faster you should run in the other direction.
But those who hold a HIGH view of the Law (yours truly) and are honest about the God of the perfect ideal never lose touch with just how impossible living up to it is.
We see Jesus as releasing us from the Law rather than holding us to it.
This is such a lighter way to live. We find solidarity with each other here. We can be real. We can admit our flaws and have a laugh when we fall short, which we inevitably will, knowing that we’re all in the same boat of imperfection.
No one lives a perfect life. Not even close. But here’s the good news…
Jesus didn’t come to say, “Just Do It.” He came to say, “It is finished.“
This means we can stop performatively one-upping each other. We can lend a warm, sweaty hand to our neighbors in need as imperfectly as we inevitably will instead of making it about us. Preachers can love their congregants AS THEY ARE instead of constantly being disappointed in them for not living up to their delusionally ‘high-but-reachable’ standards.
I don’t know about you, but I need grace. Not inauthentic pious motivation. Thanks be to God.