Why Are Legalists Mean?

From time to time I get a note from someone who has been hurt by a legalist.  The victim has been criticized or judged and wants to know why the legalist (or performance person) acts that way.  Here’s my answer to one such person.

If a person has to measure up in order to be acceptable to God, he’s in trouble.  His actions, both past and present, do not meet the standards he believes are necessary.  How does he survive the thoughts that this produces?  (This is the inner conflict that causes performance people to be depressed and just plain mean.) The only way to feel better is through comparisons.  He may not measure up to the ideal, but he may be able to surpass you.  When he measures himself against others, he has a competitive system of spirituality that moves him to hide his own sins while pointing out those of others.  Of course, this doesn’t help his true problems.  He may still be depressed and/or mean, but he will have something going for him.  He may actually feel better about himself. 

If he thinks in terms of a competition then he will probably see only right and wrong, good and bad, superior and inferior, winners and losers.  When one is right the other, who disagrees, must be wrong.  One of the tenets of the performance system is that superior spirituality will lead to higher honor and increased influence/power.  If he accepts that successfully spiritual people have more influence/power, then he may also accept that the one who causes another to act in a certain way is the spiritually superior one.

When performance people read that the strong are to yield to the struggles of the weak, they find themselves in a logical loop.  They want to be the stronger, because that appears to be the superior position, but they see that the weak have the influence they desire.  Remember that the goal is not real growth.  The goal is to be considered more spiritual.  The one with the influence is more spiritual.  Thus, to be weaker, according to their system, is to be stronger.  And around and around we go…


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