Legalism is attractive because it is easy.

This should not be viewed as a complete list. ; )

Not for some time has a quote stopped me in my tracks. This one did.

Legalism is attractive because it’s easy.

First, what is legalism? Briefly and over simplistically, it is the belief that obedience to God’s law, rather than receipt of God’s grace, is the chief principle of redemption. Put another way, Tim Keller states, “The law (i.e. legalism) says, ‘I honor God so that God will love me.’ The Gospel says, ‘God loves me so I will honor him.'”

Second, why is this easy? Asked differently, why is belief that I am okay before God because of my good behavior (i.e. legalism) easier than the belief that I am okay before God because of Christ’s sacrifice (i.e. biblical Christianity)? I do, I do, I do is easier than I believe, I believe, I believe. Why is doing easier than believing?

This is an intentionally short post in order to get the ball rolling. I am curious as to your thoughts.

QUESTION: What do you think? Is legalism attractive because it’s easy?

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Posted on by Cor in FAITH

8 Responses to Legalism is attractive because it is easy.

  1. Mark

    #7 in the list explains why legalism has been not just easy but more attractive at times in my life. What rescues me from such sin? Christ chose to lose all He had so that I might gain all He has and at the end of it said, “It is finished.”

    • Cor

      I agree, man. Preach it.

  2. Emily

    Legalism is easy because it’s “measurable.” Measurement can negatively affect people in two different ways: 1) People lean toward laziness. Legalism allows for measuring a certain amount of success and then having “arrived”, not having to do anymore. People do the minimum that is required and feel like that is enough. 2) People lean toward pride. “Arriving” at “success” can lead to self-salvation. “I” was able to follow all of these rules and be “successful”. As humans, we have developed deep rooted habits that tend to fall under these categories.

    On the other hand, it is much more difficult to live a life of faith because it is just that, faith. A life of faith requires effort, struggle, and being in relationship for a lifetime. It requires constantly handing your life over to Christ (in times of success and failure). Also, having a Savior goes against our understanding of success. We have to admit it takes/took someone outside of ourselves to save us. We want to stand in front of God and say, “I did it” not “Jesus did it for me.” It’s a hard concept to understand that we are saved because we recognize that we couldn’t do it and Jesus could.

    (quick shout out to my husband who helped me figure out how to put my mess of thoughts into linear words! – it made for a great discussion for us, thanks Cor!)

    • Cor

      I think you made the quote better! It’s easy because it’s measurable. Regarding your #1, I hear the echoes of Romans where it says sin is the seizing of an opportunity afforded by the commandment. So, if I’ve set up my own law and then exceeded my own aspiration, I CAN sit back and relax. But, like you allude to, such “arriving” is not what should be sought after.

      I like your thoughts on this a lot, Emily! And thanks also to Jordan. Great stuff.

  3. Joey

    I grew up in a very legalistic environment. I’m often baffled at how anyone can find it attractive.

    But as I’ve tried to understand it, I think it comes down to this: security. Particularly for anyone who’s had instability in life, the security of knowing the answers to everything and having a rigid structure in place for everything (home, church, courting/dating, etc.) makes everything so easy.

    At least that’s the concept. In reality, life is much more complex than legalism allows for. But the concept sure does offer a sense of security.

    • Cor

      Man. These are all great comments. And I so appreciate yours, Joey. Security.

      You heard that Barreiro intro on KFAN? It’s discusses those who see things in black and white versus those who recognize the reality of gray! That’s what your comments reminded me of.

  4. sean

    I think legalism is appealing because it tells me I CAN “do” the law. As Americans, I think we are very individualistic and our me-first, can-do attitude orients us toward trying to achieve success and gain self righteousness. If the law/Bible is only seen as a set of rules for living, we interpret it as helping us to live a good, Godly life. I think we see this in the Pharisees in the new testament. They made great effort to live by the law – they even tithed out of their Tabasco sauce!. The bible though says that by the law alone we cannot keep the law. It only brings death.

    It’s easy for me to focus on the things I am doing “well”, and ignore the things at which I fail. It’s much more difficult for me to humble myself when I sin and ask God for forgiveness in his Son. BUT That brings me life!

  5. Steve Treichler

    My friend, and fellow church planter, Jeff Gauss calls it “the ultimate blasphemy”. He says this because you are in effect replacing the work of God for your self and your work. Wow!

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