In today’s post-modern culture, man is lost. He lacks, in his thinking, the necessary reference points to discern truth, have meaningful communication, and even to truly love. In the despair that he finds himself in, as a result of this lostness, he often turns his attention to government—and that disappoints too. In his post-modern framework he has no rational basis to create a government (or recognize it if it exists) that will relieve the tension he experiences, due to the imbalance of freedom and form in all areas of his life.
Legalism is difficult to understand because it is seldom defined. The main thing about legalism is that it involves switching the roles of rules and principles. In their proper roles, rules are expendable, principles are not.
At first this sounds backwards. A rule sounds like a rigid thing; something that cannot or should not ever change or be broken. A principle sounds like a nice little insight on a subject, something that may or may not be essential in the practical application of a rule to our lives. But this is exactly backwards. It is the principle that is of supreme importance and must not be violated. The rule is useful so far as it carries out the principle. In a situation where it does not, it must be suspended or discarded.
The victim of child abuse probably wishes that Christians didn’t brag that they “aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” He or she wishes they would have been perfect at not doing that sin that hurt them so much. And the same with those who have been lied to, stolen from, cheated on, or raised in a broken home. Don’t Christians have to be good at all?!
But the Bible doesn’t teach that Christians “aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” In fact, Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and the apostle Peter wrote, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” Some Christians are saying that these kinds of commands and teachings from Jesus and His apostles were just to give us something to aim for, but that we were never expected to actually do it. But Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”1 And the apostle John wrote, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”2