“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
~Galatians 5:1 (NRSV).
Old habits die hard. So it was for the Galatians, and also it is for us in our lands of compulsion.
Legalism is veiled religiosity, basically for the sake of fear. It’s vapid regarding love.
What is Legalism?
From the Gospel’s viewpoint, legalism is the ‘undoing’ of grace by works devoid of love. It’s the basis of a law for the law’s sake alone, where meaning is stripped away.
When we argue a case well, but it’s the wrong premise and will never be the right one, we can be close to legalism. Legalistic activity tends to have the way of wicked motivation.
Legalism, within the realm of Christianity, wants to look like pleasing God without the heart to achieve it. It’s invidious hypocrisy, and Pharisees like this are known throughout the world and within every page of history written. No corner of humanity is saved from it.
Legalism is adding something to the Gospel (even when that can’t be done) to the point that its actions produce the belief that God needs us.
Grace, on the other hand, understands that God doesn’t need us, but engaged in the process of Creation out of holy and wholesome love. God wants us and this goes some way to helping us understand the difference between grace and legalism.
Grace is both offers and options where legalism would be rigid requirement. Humanity loves the former and loathes the latter.
A Closer Look at the Perfection of Love in Grace
When we look at grace with eyes concerned for truth we cannot actually see it being undone. It’s too perfect. Grace is endured via love—the two concepts intertwined. And we know, also, that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).
Grace is free of condemnation.
It cannot hold a thing against anyone or anything and it offers copious portions of space and time for love to come in and cohabit.
What Wins Our Day?
This life requires us to choose, and to know what to embrace and what to let go of is vast wisdom.
We can live in love—issuing the freedom the Gospel espouses—or we can return to the harder and less attractive manner enshrined in fear.
Grace or legalism is a moment-by-moment choice; to go with God or go with our own quirky ideas of what’s right; yes, proffered in pride.
The moment, therefore, holds its metaphorical breath. Which way will we go?
Will it be forgiveness or condemnation and ‘conditions’ for wrongs against us?* Will it be allowing people the freedom to decide how they’ll live their lives, or will it be dogmatic and legislated requirement—a standard spelt out to the letter with no freedom or flexibility for expression?
Will we love unencumbered by the past, freed for the future?
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
*Disclaimer: There are times when forgiveness can coexist in conditions—forgiveness is not always trust. By forgiving people we do not place ourselves in situations of ongoing vulnerability to abuse.