Legalism is a body of rules torn loose from their mooring to morality. Without the connection to morality, the rules no longer make sense and can go to absurd lengths such as the story above. Unfortunately, legalism has too great of an appeal to human pride and desire for control, so it is all too easy to lapse back into it, even for Christians. With the focus on the outward appearance, you can neglect the harder work of changing your heart and your mind. But it is fool’s gold. It only has the appearance of true morality. It has no real value in God’s eyes. And it has very limited range. Since it is done under human power, it always goes for the bare minimum and usually doesn’t even accomplish that very well. Moreover, it only accomplishes that until no one is looking. Then it lapses back into the original state. It’s not real morality. It never is. But because it is cheap and easy, legalism is very popular and widespread. It is rampant throughout our modern-day governments and legal systems throughout the world. This is why you get such absurd rulings in courts these days and bizarre rules and regulations from legislatures and from the governments that apply their rules.
For the Christian, it is a slide back into what is comfortable rather than what is right, and it is the withholding of control. You can all too easily come up with any limited set of rules and think to yourself, “If I only do these things, then God will be happy with me, and I can do what I want over here in this area of my life that I don’t want to surrender to God.” True morality that pleases God is much harder. It is the walk of faith. It is the willingness to surrender to God anything and everything that He confronts us about. It is the relinquishment of control to God. It is not a set of rules, but rather it is a lifestyle that touches every single area of your life. It is not doing just enough to get by, but rather it is going the extra mile and giving or doing sacrificially. It can seem scary, but if we simply focus on obedience and allowing Him to guide us in what to do, step by step each day, and spend time with Him in prayer so that He can give us the power to do His will, then it is much easier than trying to live by an arbitrary and harsh set of rules that always leaves us dissatisfied and guilty.
More on this tomorrow.