What is Legalism?

By Edgar Hernandez

Imagine you are in an enormous house.  Some of the people who live there hear well and others are deaf. Everyone is together, and it is not obvious which is which at first glance.  In one room there is a man sitting down, and you notice he is tapping a rhythm with his feet and his fingers.  You know what is happening.  He is listening to music and obviously enjoying it.  His whole body is reacting to what his ears perceive.

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Soon, one of the deaf men opens the door and comes into the room.  When he sees the other man, he greets him and thinks, “This guy is really enjoying life. I will try to do the same thing.” The deaf man sits by the first man and begins to imitate him.  With a little practice, the deaf man keeps nearly the same rhythm.  He smiles and thinks, “This isn’t very fun, but I guess it’s fine.”

Then a third man enters the room and sees the two men apparently doing the same thing. Is there any difference between them? Of course there is!  The actions of the first man are a natural response to the music he hears, but the deaf man is merely imitating the outside behavior even though he cannot hear a single note. This is the difference between true Christianity and legalism.

When we understand the Christian life in the way God desires, our attitudes and actions are a response to the “music” of love we hear. The music is the relationship of trust we have with God who lives in us, and who we are learning to love more and more each day.   Nevertheless, legalists do not care if you are deaf to the grace and love of God.  What they value most is if you snap your fingers and move your feet just like everyone else.

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The Arrogance of Knowing


Richard Rohr

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are told there is one tree that they shall not eat of, with a most unusual name: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Now why would that be a bad thing to eat of? Isn’t it good to know the difference between good and bad?

Here’s the problem: notice that it says, “If you eat of this tree, you will be like God.”  Only God knows what’s really good and what’s really evil.  And the great pride and arrogance of religion…is to think that we know.
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The arrogance of knowing.  “I know who’s going to heaven.”  “I know who’s going to hell.”  “I know who’s right; I know who’s wrong.”  Let me tell you something: what characterizes evil is that evil is always absolutely certain.  Evil suffers no self-doubt.  It brooks no criticism.  “I am right and I know.”

We who are trying to live what we hope is a good life have to live in the hinterlands called faith, where we’re never absolutely sure we’re right.  Dang it!  Who wants that?!

And if you think of most religion that’s ever turned you off – and there’s a lot of it that should – it’s always lead by people who are absolutely sure that they’re right.  They suffer no self-doubt.  They have the whole truth.  They know who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell.  They know who’s right and who’s wrong.  They’ve got the world neatly divided up.  And of course they’re always right and the rest of the world and the other religions are always wrong.

What a waste of time.

What stupidity.

And we’re warned against it in the very first chapters of the Bible.  

*This is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Richard Rohr at Holy Families Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the first Sunday of Lent: March 5, 2017.