The inevitable consequence of legalism

Among the abandoned jewels of the Church, none is so winsome and glorious as grace.   When her sweet presence is ushered out, court convenes, law takes the stand, and the inquisition begins.  I know all about it, you see, because I’ve lived on both sides of that street.

Someone should do a scientific study of legalism and grace.  They could compare blood pressure, anxiety and dopamine levels, heart rate, and life expectancy.  I’ll bet the contrast would be shocking.   Of one thing I’m certain: a life of legalism will invariably push a person towards either self-righteousness or shame.

The self-righteous legalist appears relatively successful in keeping the law: she’s not divorced, not addicted, not sexually confused, and has never struggled with outward vices.  She looks good, and when judged by the law she presents the paradigm of an upstanding believer.  “What’s wrong with those people?” she thinks. “Why can’t they just pull their lives together like I have?” Judging herself by the law has turned our sister into a self-righteous, judgmental, pain-in-the-backside who teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir.

The other kind of legalist hasn’t been nearly so successful.   Though he feels profoundly convicted, he’s never been able to break free from cigarettes, sneaks behind the sanctuary for a quick drag between services, wrestles with overeating, and has a little pornography issue that he can’t bring himself to mention.  He carries a shame so deep that he can barely look at himself in the mirror.  Self-righteousness, when it appears successful, puffs us up with pride.  And self-righteousness, when we fail, suffocates us in shame and condemnation.

When a church falls into self-righteousness it becomes a grand masquerade with the squeaky-clean legalists parading their plumage on one side, while the loser legalists hide behind masks of pretense and fear on the other.  “Masquerade!  Paper faces on parade.  Masquerade!   Hide your face, so the world will never find you!”

The answer, of course, is to utterly renounce law-based righteousness.  The law was never intended to justify us in the first place, but only to show us our need.  And the happy truth is that though none of us deserve it, all of us are invited into the sweet presence of grace who says, “You can take your mask off now.  I know who you are, and I choose to love you anyway.”

(Note: I don’t know how to properly credit the first photo, but the second photo, “Guilt” is from Mark Nickels. It is an oil on linen.…../176148-8-14585/Painting/Oil.html)


7 thoughts on “The inevitable consequence of legalism”

  1. Hi Don,
    Thanks for taking this jewel out of the box of dead religion and holding it in plain view for all to see! God have mercy on our pride and our shame, and help us to believe that we are loved more than we will ever be able to comprehend. By simply believing, I know that the love Christ has for us will be the wind in our sails that takes us to places that no amount human effort or religious striving ever can. I also have known the weariness that comes from rowing in my own strength and the discouragement that causes me to not expect the winds to blow again. You post reminds me of the verse that says…But they that wait on the Lord…will renew their strength and fly like eagles!


  2. Don,
    So glad you’re back w/your cohorts of the ‘blog’Can we ever figure out how we slip into this chasm ? Or when ? Have you set that Hymn to the Godhead to music ? Where are you as you ponder these deep thoughts for us ?
    Hope this gets thru to you., Love and smiles and hugs, Janet


  3. Don! Hope all is well friend. Thank you so much for continued prayer when the Lord prompts. Was led to this via another fb post and want to post this on my wall for another to read. GOOD STUFF! Where we all are. Will have some time next week and if you don’t mind, may send you a note with prayer update. Thank you so much for standing before the Father. Blessings, Dee Hoehn


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