Rigid Legalism will only wear us out

By Henry Karlson, 29 October 2022
Image: Chris Robert/Unsplash


Rigid legalism offers us an unbearable burden which can and will wear us out if we succumb to its temptation. If we heed its call, it will place more and more demands upon us, until, at last, we find it tries to obligate us to something which we cannot do. For, it is clear, its demands are never-ending, while our potential is limited. So long as we think we must obey its every whim, we will not be able to attain the peace and joy God desires for us, because we will never find ourselves in a position where we think we have done enough to receive it. Such rigidity is not a temptation everyone has, but for those who do, not only do they wear themselves out trying to appease it, they will make others suffer, placing the same (or possibly even greater) extreme demands upon them. It is important to keep in mind, contrary to such rigid thinking, the expectation God has for us is not meant to be such a burden: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3 RSV). When we turn those expectations into such a burden, we have lost sight of their purpose, for they are meant to help guide and direct us in our love instead of establishing legalistic obligations which destroy the spirit.

We need to learn not to be stiff-necked, not to deceive ourselves thinking we can make ourselves holy merely by following various rigid, legalistic expectations which we place upon ourselves. We need to go beyond them and to the Spirit, to open ourselves up to the Spirit and the love which transcends such rigid legalism. Our obedience to authorities, when it is proper, is not to be legalistic or extreme, but for a purpose: “to be ready for any honest work” ( Tit. 3:1b RSV). Goodness spreads through kindness and love, not through such legalism. Thus, we find the incarnation was meant to help share the goodness and loving kindness of God throughout all the world, to make sure that people can receive holiness for themselves instead of trying (and so, failing) to produce it all by themselves:

but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,  which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7 RSV)

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Henry Karlson, after studying early church history and theology, and talking to a close friend who could answer many of his questions, became a Byzantine Catholic in 1995. Because of his interests, he eventually pursued graduate studies in theology. He has a wide variety of topics he likes to talk about which will be reflected upon here, including, but not limited to, Patrology, Sophiology, Comparative Theology, Theological Aesthetics, Eschatology and Literature.

With thanks to Patheos and Henry Karlson, where this reflection originally appeared.


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