I’ll never forget a close friend of mine telling another man in our church one Sunday, “There’s no such thing as Christian liberty!”
This was a line in the sand for my friend, as well as for me, since he became a long-time mentor in my life. See, the man he told this to was defending himself against my friend’s charge against him of having sinned by letting his wife wear pants.
See, when fundamentalists draw a line in the sand like that, they call it “taking a stand.” And once you’ve taken a stand on an issue, there really isn’t any going back. To go back now would be to “compromise.” Fundamentalists rarely change their position on issues after they’ve taken a stand. The only option is to become even stronger on the issue, not weaker. They’re not going to be “compromisers!” Rarely does self-doubt haunt this mindset.
Rare is the occasion for a legalistic fundamentalist to admit that he’s taken too strong a stance on an issue, or that he was wrong about it. Even when engaged in a biblical debate with an opponent on the issue, and when shown passages of Scripture that indicate that the stance he’s taken might be too severe, or not biblically warranted at all, a legalist will only argue the point, resisting any admission that he is incorrect or overly strict.
He’ll dig the hole deeper with arguments to the contrary, and gladly too, for this defense of his position serves to strengthen his resolve and reinforce his convictions. In the case when his logic is has exhausted all reason, he’ll just end all debate by saying, “Well, that’s just what I believe. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I’d rather stand before God and find out I was too strict than to find out I was too lenient. Better to err on the safe side.”
Yet in truth, this is at root an admission of not really knowing, only being cautious. This is the very reason a legalist will typically become more and more legalistic as time goes. In the interest of not only being safe, but out of desire to be “more godly,” the legalist will become increasingly strict. Less liberty not more. To take more liberties is a trend backwards into sin and ungodliness. To add more “standards” is a trek toward greater godliness and being even more pleasing to God than before.
Sadly, there is a failure to realize that their quest for ethical safety and standards-measured, performance-based Christianity might somehow be contrary to the Gospel of God’s grace. Sadly, this was my story for many years. And it has taken a major awakening in my thinking about the Gospel and God’s grace to set me free from it.
This is just the first of numerous posts in which I plan to elaborate on the legalist mindset, so stay tuned for more all week and next – there’s lots more coming. I hope it will help someone break free from it, or help those of you who know others caught up in it so as to understand them and know how to pray and minister to them in love.