Moralism and Legalism

In my copy of Ruthless Trust the chapter entitled “Infinite and Intimate” is full of highlighted passages. The entire book was the beginning of a major paradigm shift for me and this particular chapter was quite possibly the most powerful part of that motivation.  The following passage stopped me short and I re-read it multiple times:

“Moralism and its stepchild, legalism, pervert the character of the Christian life.  By the time young people enter college, they have often abandoned God, church, and religion.  If they persevere in religious practices, their need to appease an arbitrary God turns Sunday worship into a supersititous insurance policy designed to protect the believer against God’s whims.”

Manning purports that the church’s failure to dwell on God’s transcendence has resulted in a rather self-absorbed focus on how we are behaving and how we are “feeling”.  We worry about how happy we are, how fulfilled we are and we relegate God to the role of divine regulations overseer.  Children in the church are taught that God cares about their external behaviors – everything from whether or not they wash their hands eating to sexual purity.  While it’s true that our behavior can be an outward expression of what is going on in our hearts, it is also true that people can maintain a certain level of behavior simply as a way of pleasing others.

You probably could have called me a “goody-two-shoes” during my school years.  I never got into much trouble mostly because I lived in a very small town and my father was the pastor of the only church within the village limits.  I should probably also mention that my grandmother was the secretary to the Superintendent of the school district.  Everyone knew who I was and who I was related to so any bad behavior on my part would have gotten home before I did.  My conduct was acceptable.  My motivation was anything but.  I wasn’t doing the “right thing” because I was motivated by the overwhelming realization of God’s love and glory – I simply wanted to keep myself from getting grounded!! 

When we ignore God’s glory, his transcendence, what then motivates our actions?  An awareness of how undeserving we are of God’s love combined with an awareness of just how great that love is will in turn motivate us to obey – to do the “right thing” – because we want to, in some small way, return the love we’ve been shown.  We stop seeing God as a cranky being just waiting to nail us for screwing up and begin to see that he is passionately pursuing us as a bridegroom who cannot wait for the day when he claims his bride!

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