A New Slicker, Sneakier Kind of Legalism

When people finally began to wake up from the strict and oppressive regime of Christian fundamentalism they were awakened to a starting reality: that Christianity was not about following God’s rules and guidelines and living an upright, sinless life, but knowing and be known to God. Suddenly Jesus’ earthy mission was less about the saving of souls and more about being with his people. The idea that God wants you, not your good behavior was a real game change for a lot of people.

And you can throw me in that mix too.

Suddenly Sunday church attendance became hollow unless I was there to grow closer to God. Anything short of that was simply going for the formality of it, like going to a funeral to pay your respects – you go partially so people wonder how you could be so rude to not attend.

Overall I think the renewed emphasis on knowing God like a friend, instead of simply as means to an end (salvation from a fiery hell), is incredibly helpful and renewed my faith. Had I not found that God wants to know me, I would have no reason to even given him a single more thought for the rest of my life.

But there is a danger in all of this. So easily a new legalism can arise, a legalism far more covert and undercover. It isn’t dressed in rules. Before, anyone who recited the sinner’s prayer was saved. A relatively easy task. The natural problem was that people used Jesus as a way to avoid hell and nothing more, and you of course wondered if God really was just looking for your to utter those specific words as the only requirement for salvation. So it became “well only those who are in a true, real, interactive relationship with God,” are true Christians, citing verses on how religious people did wonders in God’s name but didn’t know him.

And that is the same old story religion has been preaching since the beginning of time – that only the very good and pious, only the true faithful, are included in God’s fold. I certainly understand why the shift became knowing God and not doing some potentially heartless religious ritual, however putting the emphasis on a relationship with God accidentally tightens up the Christian ship so that only the holy saints are on board – and that is not what Jesus was about. Hopefully I don’t need to mention the myriad instances in the gospels where Jesus opened the door to those left out, to those who fail miserably at being moral and righteous.

Have you fallen for this yourself? Where is the balance between emphasizing relationship and not turning it into only those closest to God make it? In the shift towards emphasizing your relationship with God have we lost anything else?

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3 Responses to A New Slicker, Sneakier Kind of Legalism

  1. David says:

    Great insight.

    Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people live.

    Certainly sin takes its toll on us humans. Even saving faith doesn’t change that. Engaging in sinful behavior always has consequences.

    The grace that saved a wretch like me is powerful enough to save an not so wretched sinner, but more importantly would have been enough for the likes of Hitler and Ted Bundy as well.

    Song of Songs is all about intimacy with God. The lover who looks through the keyhole, is passionately waiting for us to wake up and let Him in.

    People can get all religious about not being religious and make fun of fundamentalists. But somewhere there has to be repentance and faith that creates a passion to please God.

    I think the “I did not know you” verse is sort of funny in context of the manicured American church. How many do you know of that are casting out demons?

    Salvation is not in a book, it is not in a church, it is in a relationship!

    • Good point about the “I didn’t know you” verse. If I was really cynical I’d be inclined to believe that next to none of the American Christians know God because they aren’t doing those extraordinary things. They/we are missing a vital piece to be sure, but it doesn’t totally exclude them.

  2. David says:

    Christianity includes those that are saved by faith. The rest will be judged by what is written in their hearts. Either way, you are in. I feel bad for those that doe not want to be in, and have not encountered God in a way that writes his forgiveness in their hearts. (Not everyone that knows personally Jesus said the sinners prayer to get there. But I would seriously caution folks not to take their chances. If you’ve heard the gospel, I’d take it.)

    It is entirely too bad, that we do not experience (or get taught) the demonic. I promise, one exposure to a shrieking devil, and all your theology about faith, and the supernatural will get seriously messed with. The same is true of divine healing.

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