Static Grace

“I love mankind.  It’s people I can’t stand.” 

Those famous words are attributed to Linus, from the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz.  After his life with Lucy, poor loveable Linus admitted that he found certain people hard to love. 

In fact, Lucy was abrupt and unkind and self-centered.   We remember how she used to convince Charlie Brown that she would hold the ball for him and then jerk it away just as he was about to kick it.  And we remember her little counseling booth where everyone was welcome to receive her latest impersonal word of wisdom, without regard to their real problems.   Lucy sounds like a good legalist!

The god of legalism is cool and detached.  No one would think of approaching him as a friend.  He has formulas and judgments and impossible expectations for all people.  The Bible, for legalists, is God’s book of rules and standards, with an account of how people failed throughout history.  And the god of legalism is angry all the time.

I am increasingly convinced that legalism must depersonalize both God and people.  Legalists see God as an impersonal force consisting of expectations and guidelines and condemnation.  They see people as little machines that must operate according to programmed standards or be considered inferior and defective.  There is no patience for individuals and no relationship with God.

Why do I think this?  This is the legalism and these are the legalists I have experienced.  They are hollow in their relationships and conflicted in their hearts.  In the face of impossible expectations for themselves and others, they are failures striving only to look better than someone else.  And their system of belief is no better.  It offers a formulaic and static grace that brings little hope and less personal connection.  Legalism is empty.

The grace of legalism, no matter how much it is touted, is a weak and distant grace.  It comes from a god who doesn’t really care about you or me.  It is carried on a message of performance and judgment.  It is laid out in standards and rules and formulas that have no heart.

Praise the Lord this is not the grace of the Bible or of Jesus! 


Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism

7 responses to “Static Grace

  1. Lilica

    I thought it was Linus who said that line.

  2. Jean

    Could not have said it better. When I get around legalism, it seems like someone is always raising the bar, and then condemning others because they cannot measure up. Their self-righteousness is a smoke screen for the fact that they can’t either. His grace is sufficient for us all.

  3. I haven’t commented for a long time, but I’m the one with the husband involved heavily in the HRM and legalism. I asked him the other day this question: “If you fail to do something God expects you to do, i.e. sin, is He angry with you?” My husband said, “Yes, He gets upset with me.”

    This is his whole mind-set. It colors everything he does – things he does to “love” his neighbor and enemies are so forced and false and totally under his own power. Our daughter and I can feel the difference – it’s duty he has towards us, not love, in this sterile home.

    Legalism kills. It kills relationships, marriages, father-daughter bonds, family bonds….everything. It just kills.

  4. Angela

    Please forgive my long winded rambling-
    I have been thinking about legalism for a long time, and how it kills. Funny thing, the people who are so legalistic that their very humanity seems to be lost are the ones who “don’t get it”. Like Jesus doing a good and merciful thing on the Sabbath, everyone “gets it” but the accusers, the walking human graves with beautiful markers/clothes to show where a person is supposed to be.
    I walk my dog late at night in this small town after the sidewalks get rolled up and the streets are deserted, but the street lights still go their rounds of green, yellow, red. I walk across the street because there are no cars coming, not because the signs says “you can go now, the light is green”. Technically, legally, it is jaywalking. To stand there, waiting for the light to turn green is pretty stupid. Legalism turns you into a cold robot, unthinking, unfeeling. The idea of traffic lights is good, everyone gets their turn to go, nice orderly living. Just like the Biblical laws, they bring order and rightness as opposed to chaos. I often wonder why does there have to be chaos? Animals have no laws, they just do what God created them to do, and it all works. I guess thats why Jesus came to save people, not puppys and bunnies and birds. We were truly created differently than animals
    Another small example I run across in daily living (obviously I like parables) is if you know how to cook, so you don’t need to follow a recipe to make spaghetti. You know the world won’t come to a screeching halt if you don’t put in any peppers, or lots of peppers, or if the recipe says one cup of sliced mushrooms and instead you do the dastardly thing and chop them to little pieces. Legalists break into cold sweats over things like this. Well, the ones I know do, they come unglued at the merest hint of deviation from what someone else said is right.
    How dare you THINK??? How dare you FEEL?? How DARE you be human!!
    I used to wonder about circumcision until I “got it” from the New Testament, about the heart being circumcised. From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, there is a lot of “seed” coming from the heart, good and/or bad., I think the outer body is a picture of the inner man in this respect. If I have a circumcised heart, it is a heart from which the (good, right, purified) law comes…which brings the whole thing back to love, mercy, grace.
    I hope I am not too way off in my thinking. if so, I hope someone will correct me.

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