Legalism and Morality

Legalism and Morality

Oooh. Those are some hefty words. For some easy reading, check out Someone asked me why I don’t feel free to marry again if my ex had cheated on me. (Because Jesus did say divorce was excusable in that circumstance.) And my answer surprised me somewhat. I said, “Because I’m not a legalist.” You see, when you think about legalism, you think of a set of rules. DO’s and DO NOT’s. New Testament writers said God gave us those laws because we needed to be aware of our inability to attain perfection in ourselves. To show that in order for God to be God, He must be perfect. And to be joined with Him, we also must be perfect. Jesus said His coming was changing all that. He came to fulfill the law. That is, to bring it to it’s natural conclusion. God illustrated through His chosen people that no one could stick to His standards. Not a single hero of the Bible was even close to perfect. Union with God required a solution. Jesus is that solution. Love has destroyed the Law. Therefore, to live under a set of rules in the A.D. is to reject that act of Love that He gave to us.

So how can I claim not to be a legalist, yet hold myself to a standard that most find silly and pointless? Because legalism works both ways. It’s a sort of a contract. It’s a “I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine” deal. God, if I’m good enough, You let me into Heaven, OK? When we reject that mode of thinking there are implications beyond, “Now I can do whatever I want!” Because legalism is a whole different mindset. It sets you looking for angles. I just got back from the movie Oceans 12, and one of the burglars laments that he live a normal life. He has tried to settle down, but everywhere he goes he finds himself casing, and “looking for the angles”. That is exactly what legalism will do to you. For every stifling law, you end up looking for the loopholes. Then those loopholes are addressed and new laws are made. Minutia piles on minutia until you are fact-checking every decision you make. (Assuming you are serious about pleasing God.)

So Jesus put a stop to all that insanity. God now dwells within us, guiding and directing when we will listen. Why look at a map, when you have the One who made the roads with you? Now I have lost the futile chase of perfection. And I have taken up the role of listener. With a set of rules it’s enough to just pass the test. D- and you’re in. Without those rules you have to look elsewhere for guidance. If I was trying to read Jesus’ words as Rules, I would see that I’m ‘free’ to divorce and remarry. I’d see if I could track down proof that my ex cheated on me, and check it off the list. But that is not the mode of thinking I want to be in! I don’t want to pass a test. I want to please the God that loves me so much He died for me. I want to emulate Him as closely as I can. And since I have stepped outside of the law, it would be ridiculous to justify an act by it. Selectively using legalism as a tool to fulfill my wishes. No. I’m going to stay on the course that has shown God faithful and merciful to me. I’m going to listen for His prompting. I have faith that I will know it when I hear it.

Pretty Hair told me she didn’t like being the stick I use to beat myself up with. (Referring to my last entry.) I told her she isn’t. Well, for one, because I’m not beating myself up. But also because I can’t base my culpability, or lack thereof, for wrong-doing on others actions. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a beautiful woman pursues me, and, let’s say just for fun, becomes a serious temptation to me. NOT that that would EVER happen. But let’s just say… … Does the responsibility for my actions diminish? I would say that in order for any sort of morality to exist, an individual needs to divorce themselves from the situation in which their actions took place. Otherwise any horrid action could be justified at some point. And yet, that is the natural response people want to have. He hit me, so I hit him back. It makes perfect since in an isolated instance. But if you try to apply that logic in a society, you’re in for a world of hurt. (Don’t get me wrong. Criminal justice still has to exist, but as a separate ethic from that of personal responsibility.) That’s why Jesus pointed us in a direction that screams out of tune with our nature. He said if someone steals your coat, give him your shirt too. If they punch you, give ‘em another go at it. It’s a very different philosophy that implies a different structure that our morality should take. One that requires faith, hope, and love. In massive quantities. This ethic is also impossible to build laws around. Although I have heard it said that once you have forgiven someone seventy times seven times, (490 if my math is correct.) then it’s fine to stop forgiving. But the way Jesus phrased it really brings the immaturity of this way of thinking out. So when He says to turn the other cheek, to walk an extra mile with a soldier who forces you to carry his bag, to forgive an infinite amount…. I can follow the pattern and apply that inference, that intent, that heart, to my situation. Granted, that can not be enough. Jesus left us with an incomplete picture of God’s nature and intent simply because it would be impossible to explain His nature in human terms, and because there would be no way to give an example of what to do in every human activity and interaction. So we have a general idea of how He wants us to be, but when it comes down to brass tacks there is no exact plan to follow. That’s why He sent His Spirit to inhabit us. To guide us. But it requires more diligence than simply referring to a rule book. Sometimes I wish it were that easy.

A special note to my gentle readers: I apologize for the rambling, redundant, and only partially-strung-together nature of this entry. I never got the schooling I wish I had on ethics theory and such, so it’s a messy process trying to reinvent the wheel for me. I’m sure if I spent half the time researching that I do pondering, I could have produced a far superior piece here. Oh well… I’ve had worse.


Anonymous said…
Nice blog. Sorry about your wife. I'll check on you to see what's been going on

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