Better the devil you know…


…than the devil you don’t.

The world is a scary place.  For the unprepared, a simple trip to the grocery store can be an adventure.  For those stuck in the values of the 1950’s, the world is downright evil.

Imagine a young lady out on her own after leaving her legalistic family and church.  Who are the other tenants in her apartment building?  Are they all married?  How many of them are gay?  How does she deal with the advances of the single (or married) men?  What about the music that she has to listen to from the apartment next door?  Or that strange smoke smell?  Or the empty beer bottles left in the trash?

And that’s just her apartment building, the place where she sleeps and finds refuge.  At work or at school she encounters people whose morals and values and language and dress and hair and almost everything else is counter to what she was told was the only right way. 

Even at church, she finds people who have compromised with the world just like her preacher back home talked about.  The men have long hair and the girls have short hair.  The girls dress “inappropriately.”  The music is more like the world’s music she hears from next door than like what she grew up with.  The few people she looks to for support don’t connect with the church at all and she is left thinking that she has to reject everything she believed in order to survive. 

The world is a scary place, filled with devils and sin and compromise.  For all the pain and shame she suffered at her old church, at least the people tried hard to do what is right.  Of course, she isn’t so sure just what is right anymore.  The people who have been most kind to her would never be welcome in her parents’ home. 

We should have great respect and patience for those who are trying to escape legalism. 

And, when a legalist wants to continue in her faith, what message does she hear in church?  More legalism, but disguised as grace.  No one talks about what clothes you should wear, but you better be involved in a small group.  You can enjoy almost any kind of music you want, but the message from the pulpit is still about measuring up and doing what is right.  And those people who are so kind and supportive are still not really welcome.

And when she tries to sort out her feelings about her family and the legalist message, what does she hear?  The laughing of other Christians?  The mockery of the things she once believed were true?  She didn’t expect the people of the world to understand, but she wanted some support from the people who were supposed to be believers.

Who is explaining to her the difference between law and grace and why she suffered pain from a system that was supposed to help her?  Who is telling her that God loves her and wants only the best for her?  Who is helping her understand that God has already dealt with her sin and she doesn’t need to be afraid in His presence?  Who wants her to understand that she is accepted and valued and loved—just as she is?  It will be hard for her to find anyone who understands the real message of grace because there are so few who believe it.  Jesus has done it all and offers it all to you freely just because He loves you.  Who teaches that?

So this poor young lady faces a strange and frightening world.  Her only support comes from people who reject most of what she has believed throughout her life.  The church she finds out there offers both the compromise she expected and a redecorated legalism she finds all too familiar.

Eventually, the temptation comes.  Just go back.  It wasn’t so bad.  You can’t make it out here.  You can’t trust anyone. You were wrong to leave.  Just go back.

Although it breaks our hearts to see it, we can understand why some return to legalism.  It’s the devil they know.


Filed under Legalism

3 responses to “Better the devil you know…

  1. Diane Murray

    WOW. I’m still floundering around….wondering if I ever truly believed in the first place…still trying to measure up. Still trying to break free. I know I will never go back to the legalism, but it keeps on coming back to me….

    Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2012 17:30:25 +0000 To:

  2. Kelly

    I went back and forth into legalism probably 6 different times until I became comfortable in my knowledge of grace. I felt so messed up, but this explains why I did it….the familiar is always more comfortable even if it’s really dysfunctional. Freedom is scary business until we understand how it works.

  3. My, my. You do hit the nail on the head. I have often wondered why it is so hard to leave the legalistic atmosphere and to get it out of your head. Slowly, I am learning how to go about it all. Thanks for your very simple outlines of different behavior patterns. It truly has helped to make sense of a former relationship I had. The other individual broke the relationship suddenly and I got the feeling that she thought I betrayed her somehow. Fortunately, I have some of the worlds most amazing friends who encouraged and helped me see that what happened was not my fault. I am blessed beyond belief.:-)

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