Legalism In A Little Corner
I grew up in a small corner of Christian culture unknown by many. To the greater whole of the earth’s population my subculture was probably less well known than the Amish– probably because we drove cars so that helped us go unnoticed. This corner of Christianity is known as Fundamentalism; its like the Christian F-word that very few people want to be associated with. For most, Fundamentalism is synonymous with terms like uneducated, awkward, arrogant, cultish, extreme, and legalistic. I’m not saying that all of those things are true; I’m also not saying that they are untrue. That’s not the point.
When I was a teenager, I secretly wanted out of this subculture. I didn’t really know why, but I just did. By the time I was halfway through college, I started gaining some shape to my concerns and began to cry, “Legalism!” I wanted nothing to do with the subculture I was nurtured in because of its horrific legalism. I bought wholesale into the idea that this sin of legalism was a gangrene pervasive in my small corner of Christianity and that the rest of Christianity was immune, because they were inoculated by their doctrines of grace. I needed to get away from this obscene legalism!
Where Legalism Really Resides
Legalism is indiscriminate. It leaves no stone unturned and it leaves no soul untouched.
While I think some of my concerns about my subculture were very valid, I have come to learn that my thinking on this was extremely flawed. You see, legalism is indiscriminate. It leaves no stone unturned and it leaves no soul untouched. No one movement or subculture has a corner on the legalism market. It is not confined to some awkward extremist corner of Christianity. It doesn’t matter if you are in the most Gospel-centered church out there. It is still pervasive because legalism is in each of us; that is where legalism resides. It is rooted deep in who we are in Adam.
We all desire to save ourselves. Every single one of us has our own self-salvation project going on. It doesn’t always come in the same form but we all try to save ourselves because that is the nature of depraved people. Whether we tell God we can save ourselves or try to one-up God by keeping the Law, we are all building our own “Tower of Babel” to get to God.
The message of legalism is this: I don’t need you Jesus, because I can save myself.
Though the building blocks may look different depending on what subculture we find ourselves in, our towers proclaim the same message: I don’t need you Jesus, because I can save myself.
Everyone A Legalist
I’m a legalist. It doesn’t matter that I have fled the small corner of Christianity that I once was a part of, I still have this burning passion within me to live my life apart from the grace of Jesus– to save myself. I am learning that legalism wasn’t a problem for me because it existed within the DNA of a movement. It was a problem because it exists within the DNA of who I am as a fallen human. Don’t ever buy into the lie that says legalism is a problem outside yourself.
So if we’re all legalists and cannot escape legalism by removing ourselves from a certain subculture what is our hope? The only cure for the self-salvation we try to procure is to receive a new DNA– one that is exclusively righteous– a DNA that is wholly good and acceptable to God. Obviously something outside of myself, a movement, or a religion. That DNA can only be found in a person, and that person is Jesus.
An Indiscriminate Savior
What’s comforting is that though legalism is indiscriminate–engrained in everyone– Jesus is an indiscriminate Savior. When He died, He died for legalists like me and you. He died for the pagans who whipped Him and the religious crew who spit on Him, both of whom were legalists in their own ways. He died to take your self-salvation project and make it his finished project– it’s grace, saving grace.
We need to think about legalism rightly. We all want to save ourselves. It is not the church’s problem. It’s not some odd faction of Christianity’s problem. It’s not “the world’s” problem. It’s your problem and it’s my problem. But it’s a problem Jesus asks us to give to Him! I think of these lyrics:
“Majesty, Majesty, [Jesus] Your grace has found me just as I am, empty handed but alive in Your hands!”
That’s us. Empty handed. Dead. Nothing to offer God but filthy legalist rags. But by grace we are made alive in His hands. Hallelujah for Jesus– the only solution to the indiscriminate legalism in each of us.