• Michael Haldas

Rules and Legalism


“…religious traditions can add richness and meaning to life. But we must not assume that because our traditions have been practiced for years, they should be elevated to a sacred standing...Traditions should help us understand God’s laws better, not become laws themselves…The Law is the shadow of the Gospel. The Gospel is the image of the blessings held in store. The Law checks the actualization of evil. The Gospel brings about the realization of divine blessing.” (Life Application Study Bible, Matthew 15:1-2, Saint Maximos the Confessor)

“It is sometimes difficult to discern, on a daily basis, what is primary and what is secondary. I may set out, for example, to “improve” my prayer-schedule or fasting discipline…At the same time, I may be neglecting some bigger, outstanding problem in my heart, like being stand-offish and arrogant certain colleagues at work, or a member of my family. Or perhaps I am engaging in self-loathing, ungratefulness, and dissatisfaction with life as it is.” (Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin)

“Much of our religious heritage is a map or set of instructions for the deepest meaning of our interior life, not a set of laws for outer conduct. To relate to our religious teaching only in its literal dimension is to lose its spiritual meaning.” (Robert A. Johnson)

“To know God is to obey Him. His commandments (1 John 2:3-4) are not a legal code but life in Christ, the way of love (vv. 5, 6). Those outside of Christ will not become partakers of His life unless they, by God's grace, practice what He says.” (Orthodox Study Bible, 1 John 2:3-11)

“Any excessive focus on form alone will disrupt our communion with God and our ability to love others as Christ commands…we should listen closely to Christ’s indictment of those who neglect the state of their heart and instead exploit the minutiae of tradition. Clearly, God wants us to uphold His commandments (Jn 14:15). His chief desire, however, is that we do so with hearts filled with love for Him and for others, as He commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). (OCPM 7/19/2017)

"The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous about the smaller prescriptions of the law, like the prohibition, according to Leviticus 11, of eating any creature that “creeps along the ground.” So they would strain their wine and other liquids, to make sure there was no “gnat” or other small insect in it. At the same time, they neglected the whole point of the law, which was “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Christ is reminding them that they should be doing both: following the smaller, external rules, and embracing the “weightier,” inner meaning of those rules.” (Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin)

“…it’s easier to know the rules than it is to internalize the wisdom behind the rules…We are called to be purposeful in our relationships with God and one another. Let’s not take the easy way out by reducing our love for God to the mere keeping of rules.” (Father Barnabas Powell)

“Christ means to draw us into our hearts, into the reality of our communion with Him. We do not find Him in the “letter of the Law” but beneath the letters where He dwells in richness.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“What God wants is not golden chalices, but golden souls.” (St. John Chrysostom) “God does not want to drive His people with rules and regulations, the “bit and bridle” of righteousness. Rather, He wants His people to follow Him willingly, that they desire above all to please Him, not just to appease Him.” (Foundation Study Bible, Psalms 32:9)“

If we are feeling joyless spiritually and our spiritual practices – going Church, reading the Bible, praying, fasting – feel like forced labor, we need to ask ourselves are we doing these things because consciously or unconsciously we think we are appeasing God and thus doing them under some sort of inner compulsion? If so, we need to find our way back to that peaceful place where we are doing these things that please God out of love and they are simply an outward expression of that love.” (Sacramental Living Blog)

“True Christian life begins and ends with the inner life which our hearts direct. We perform the externals of life rightly when our hearts love God first, foremost, and above all. If our hearts are not filled with the living God, then our meticulous keeping of the “letter” – fulfilling the commandments and dictates of tradition – will never save but rather condemn us.” (OCPM 7/19/2017)

“God’s moral and ceremonial laws were given to help people love God with all their hearts and minds.” (Life Application Study Bible, Matthew 5:17)

“Legalism forms when the rules get ahead of the relationship and begin to govern a person’s life more than God’s Spirit does.” (Jeffrey Miller)

“Prayer as the emptying of self in the presence of God is a very different thing than great athletic efforts of well-kept rules.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“You can run from God either by breaking His rules, or by keeping them. The former says God doesn’t own me. The latter says God owes me.” (Pastor Timothy Keller)

"I do, indeed, gratefully embrace certain external forms and practices of my Tradition. But these external forms and practices do not, in and of themselves, fulfill Christ’s call to me. He is calling me to be filled with the Spirit of these practices, without Whom my external piety is meaningless. Christ did not come, die on the Cross, and rise again, to replace one set of external rules and regulations with another set of external rules and regulations." (Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin)

"How Religion Works: If I obey, then God will love and accept me. The Gospel: I'm loved and accepted, therefore I wish to obey…It is so easy to get religious instead of godly.” (Pastor Timothy Keller, Charles Swindoll)

“I often wonder if people meeting us for the first time would soon realize that we are Christians because of the quality of our relationships, and the principles by which we live our lives. Rather, I very much fear that our Christian faith is confined to a rigid formalism and occasional Sunday worship, and that in the daily discourse of life, we are not much different from those who do not share our faith.” (Rev. Andrew J. Demotses)

“The life of holiness is about adherence not to a religion, but to a way of life that brings about healing of body and soul. Being a Christian is not about rules and formulas of conduct, nor is it about ritual. Being a Christian is about putting on Christ daily. It is about committing to a relationship with the very God who created us.” (Abbot Tryphon)

“The world is not about who and what is right or wrong. It’s about what truly exists and what does not. Existence and being (ontology) are what matter, not what is legally correct. God is the “only truly Existing One,” and our salvation in Christ is a movement towards ever more true existence. This is the meaning of “eternal life.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“God’s law is inside us. It is no longer an external set of rules and principles. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ’s words, activates our consciences, influences our motives and desires, and makes us want to obey.” (Life Application Study Bible, Hebrews 8:10-11)

“All of us are being challenged by Jesus to go beyond the law, to go beyond the excuses, to go beyond the authority, and to come down to that love which expresses itself in compassion." (Father John Zeyack)

“For Christian ritual is distinguished not only by its eschatological fulfillment and its sacramental realism; it is also distinct in that it is but the external expression of what is present within us.” (Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ)

“The Pharisees placed their laws above human need...God is a God of people, not rules.” (Life Application Study, Matthew 12:10-12)

“Many people draw comfort from a legal construct of our relationship with God. Legal things are extrinsic. I can say that I am not legally responsible for my brother’s actions. But legality is simply a convenient fiction for the sake of the extremely limited justice that we can know in this world. But it is not ontologically true (really and actually). We are all profoundly connected in almost every possible way.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“Some people assert that our faith calls for nothing more than the practice of good moral precepts. In other words, true Christians obey God’s law; indifferent Christians and nonChristians do not. But if we minimize the faith, over-simplifying it and defining it as obedience to the Law, then sin will seize the opportunity with us as it did with Saint Paul. “By the commandment, [sin] produced in me all manner of evil desire,” the apostle says. “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom 7:8-9). God’s good and gracious laws do not bring about death. Rather, the Law simply reveals that sin necessarily produces death in us.”(Dynamis 6/15/2015)

“This recognition of the necessity of faith is then the prologue to faith… Once we grasp the limitations of living according to a set of rules, we become ready to “unite [our self] unto Christ” and receive life in Him.” (Father Paul Tarazi)

“Just as Jesus was crucified between two thieves, so the Gospel is ever crucified between these two errors…I often call them religion and irreligion; the theological terms are legalism and antinomianism. Another way to describe them could be moralism and relativism (or pragmatism)....Legalism says that we have to live a holy, good life in order to be saved. Antinomianism says that because we are saved, we don’t have to live a holy, good life.” (Pastor Timothy Keller)

“…many people have this legalistic attitude about God and Church…they believe they are fulfilling a duty and meeting God’s requirement as if He is keeping a balance sheet on every person and if you have more credits than debits you are admitted to Heaven…“…the Sabbath, Church, prayer and everything associated with striving to live a holy life is a means for us to grow towards God by becoming more and more Christ like, not a requirement. “(Sacramental Living)

“When a contemporary person hears the term “sin,” they immediately think in legal terms. We think, “They must have done something wrong and now they need to be forgiven…” Sin is not a legal problem. It is not a breaking of the rules for which we now deserve punishment…Sin and forgiveness have to do with our broken communion with God and others. It is a state of being out-of-communion or in which our communion with God and others is somehow impaired.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“Those who stop short of love, hindered by legalism, miss the message of the cross…Legalism does not understand the nature of divine commands, refuses to face the complexity of many ethical dilemmas, and waives any primary obligation for showing compassion…legalism can make you insensitive to God’s mercy.” (Orthodox Study Bible, Galatians 5:6-12, Rubel Shelly)

“The goal of the legalist is to have praise from men; the goal of the spiritual person is to please God.” (Orthodox Study Bible, Romans 2:29)

"Legalistic remorse says, "I broke God's rules," while real repentance says, "I broke God's heart." (Pastor Timothy Keller)

“…a trusting heart having faith in God is of greater worth to the Lord than objective obedience to the details of His Laws…. If we foolishly believe that by having a clear-cut set of rules we will be able to attain perfect righteousness, we are tragically mistaken.” (Dynamis 9/12/2012)"Those who stop short of love, hindered by legalism, miss the message of the cross… legalism can make you insensitive to God’s mercy” (Orthodox Study Bible, Galatians 5:6-12)"…without a proper understanding and relationship with Christ, Christianity is incorrectly reduced to just another system of rules and regulations we try to follow by our own will power and therefore ultimately makes no deep and lasting change to our way of being.” (Sacramental Living)

“… it is necessary to be wary of and reject anything that reduces the faith in Christ to a mere set of observances. Rituals can have value: fasting, keeping the feast days, wearing a cross, making the sign of the cross, eating traditional foods…. But if that is all [Christianity] is in our eyes…such a way"will profit us nothing”…May we never abandon these truths for the subtle lies inviting strict adherence to a tidy set of rules.” (Dynamis 9/17/2012)

“Ritual is part of the word spiritual for a reason. Rituals, conducted in the right mindset and with the right heart, free us from self-focus, open our minds and hearts to Christ, and allow us to draw closer to Him.” (Sacramental Living)

“Christian learning and growth is more formational than informational, meaning that the process is the means by which we learn and grow. It’s not that we believe that study can’t open our heart, but rather study is but one component of an active [spiritual] life. Opening our heart is what truly leads to an ongoing encounter with Christ and understanding of truth.” (Sacramental Living)

“…the emphasis shifts inward, to spiritual formation, to interior growth that produces godly thoughts, actions, choices, and words. How does this inner formation occur? To have Christ formed in us, there must be day-to-day contact with Him, regular personal interaction with Him. This is a Spirit-endowed relationship and is very different from learning rote obedience to a code of rules. Those who organize their lives around law or custom need only learn the rules and work at applying them as best they can.” (Dynamis 9/14/12)

“No personal relationship or spiritual experience is self-perpetuating. Each must be nourished, sustained and fanned into flame again and again or it will die.” (Os Guinness)

“…many people have this legalistic attitude about God and Church…they believe they are fulfilling a duty and meeting God’s requirement as if He is keeping a balance sheet on every person and if you have more credits than debits you are admitted to Heaven…“…the Sabbath, Church, prayer and everything associated with striving to live a holy life is a means for us to grow towards God by becoming more and more Christ like, not a requirement."(Sacramental Living)

"The Christian faith involves many rules that are meant to be governed by love. That makes love the highest rule, but it also moves Christians toward personal sacrifice, discipline, and responsibility—scarce resources in today’s world.” (Life Application Study Bible, Mark 2:25- 28)

“What, then, is the function of"rules”?...Only when we see we cannot keep the rules, and need God’s mercy, can we become people who begin to keep the rules. The rules do not earn or merit God’s attention but rather align our prayers with who God is—the God of free grace—and thereby unite us to Him more and more…Christianity is a personal, intimate relationship with Him [Christ]. There must be warmth and fellowship with Him, not mere ethical compliance.” (Pastor Timothy Keller)

"God’s commandments are never intended to confine us, but rather to protect against the cruel consequences that inexorably follow wrongdoing. Our true moral life is based on praise, thanksgiving, and love – gifts from God to encourage us to strive toward purity.” (Dynamis 1/10/2014)

"In Mere Christianity Lewis compares theology to a map of the ocean. Studying a map is not nearly as much fun as sailing the sea, but the map is necessary if you want to get to another continent. Many become so involved with the map, however, that they neglect the ocean. It is possible to study diligently all the characteristics of God until one knows much about Him without ever coming to know Him.” (Thomas Williams)

"Charity and human need outrank ceremonial obedience.” (Dynamis 10/17/2014)"…without a proper understanding and relationship with Christ, Christianity is incorrectly reduced to just another system of rules and regulations we try to follow by our own will power and therefore ultimately makes no deep and lasting change to our way of being…Ritual is part of the word spiritual for a reason. Rituals, conducted in the right mindset and with the right heart, free us from self-focus, open our minds and hearts to Christ, and allow us to draw closer to Him.” (Sacramental Living)

“We still have our rituals, but now they take on deep meaning. We see them, not as the essence of religion, but as pointers toward the essence. Law is still important, but it is a loving guide to joy rather than a restrictive demand. Church is no longer a burdensome meeting but a loving community of mutual support and rapport with people bonded by a common purpose.” (Thomas Williams)

“...we don’t know our Heavenly Father’s love if we only know his commandments and what we are called to do. We don’t know our heavenly Father if we think that religion, our faith, is only about rules and commandments and restrictions on our freedom. When we know God’s love for us, the commandments make sense.” (Father John Zeyack)

“When you love God completely and care for others as you care for yourself, then you have fulfilled the intent of the Ten Commandments and the other Old Testament laws.” (Life Application Study Bible, Mark 12:29-31)

“Right doctrine and beliefs are only as good as they issue forth in transformed lives." (Keith Meyer)

“The message Saint Paul delivers to the Galatians focuses primarily on his opposition to religious legalism. The Holy Spirit prompts Saint Paul to write against certain teachers who wish to see the Church revert to a system of laws...Any of us, at any time, may fall into this error and lose sight of the fullness of life in Christ.” (Dynamis 9/9/2015)"Believers today may still be in danger of acting as if there was no need for Christ to die. How? By replacing Jewish legalism with their own brand of Christian legalism…” (Life Application Study Bible, Galatians 2:21)

"…the law is a shadow, an icon, pointing toward Christ Himself, who brings us life." (Orthodox Study Bible, Galatians 2:21)

“The foundation of faith, according to Saint Paul, is thus established long before the Mosaic Law – indeed, some 430 years earlier, if we follow the Old Testament timeline. This temporal primacy of faith points to its eternal primacy with God: a trusting heart which has faith in God is of greater worth to the Lord than one merely obedient to the details of His statutes.” (Dynamis 9/9/2015)

"Being crucified with Christ through baptism, we come alive to the law of the Spirit, which perfects the intention of the OT law. There is no contradiction between law and gospel. The law is"holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12). However, the law is"weak” (Rom 8:3) and"obsolete” (Heb 8:13), for it is fulfilled in the gospel, in Christ Himself.” (Orthodox Study Bible, Galatians 2:19)

“God’s commandments are about relationships. They are about loving in a godly way. They are about obedience to God’s love and holiness. God’s commandments are about family, relationships, respect, honesty, trust – all ways that we show that we belong to God…”(Father John Zeyack)

"We are not called to be ritual; we are called to be holy. We are not called to be religious; we are called to be prayerful. This is what we are called to be – a holy nation, a royal priesthood." (Metropolitan Joseph)

“The Pharisees’ converts were attracted to religion, not to God. By getting caught up in the details of their additional laws and regulations, they completely missed God, to whom the laws pointed.” (Life Application Study Bible, Matthew 23:15)

“I think the term dikaiosynē (righteousness) is more a metaphysical term than a juridical one. Dikaiosynē means living according to the reality of the way things actually are, as they have been ordered and established and created by God. The laws of God are prescriptions that people should live according to reality. Therefore, when something is made righteous or put right or justified, it means that it is aligned up rightly.” (Father Thomas Hopko)

“Rules constrict our relationship with God and others, negating the rule of trust and love. Saint Paul exposes the temptation to find self-satisfaction in legalism and asks:"And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [a law], why do I still suffer persecution?” (Galatians 5:11). Instead, he embraces the"offense of the Cross” (vs. 11), refusing to deny his liberty in Christ. He chooses to"walk in the Spirit” (vs. 16) and to serve, rather than to"bite and devour” (vs. 15).” (Dynamis 9/15/2015)

“...law is more than a set of rules—it is a guideline for living according to God’s will. It is also a reminder that we cannot please God without a proper relationship to Him...God's instructions are neither complicated nor harsh. In fact, they are designed to free us, not bind us to a set of rigid do’s and don’ts.” (Life Application Study Bible, Romans 2:21-22, Larry Burkett)

"Righteousness, you see, does not consist in keeping a list of commandments. Righteousness means to learn to live right, to respond appropriately to the bewildering array of moments and situations life throws at us. It means to be sensitive to the movements of goodness and its opposite, to be growing always in the direction of the better and away from the worse. Sometimes the letter of the law would actually get in the way of this growth.” (Hieromonk Maximos)

“...when a Christian must choose whether a certain action is moral and good to do or not, the only rule that need apply is the Rule of Love."Is this action loving?” If it is, then it is moral. Simple, right? Absolutely. Simple, but not always easy.” (Abouna Justin Rose)

"The freedom to base moral decisions solely on love carries a heavy responsibility. We do not have the luxury of"just following the rules.” Where rule keeping can allow us to hide in the crowd, making moral decisions based upon love often calls us to"stick our neck out.” We must sacrifice ourselves to exercise this great freedom God has given us.” (Abouna Justin Rose)

"Sometimes the best way to apply a rule is to be very strict with it. But other times, the situation calls for a creative suspension of the rule, a dispensation or relaxation, to move the person involved to a new level of maturity and health.” (Hieromonk Maximos)

“Christianity is not about rules. It is about persons.” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware)"We...serve God, not by obeying a set of rules, but out of renewed hearts and minds that overflow with love for Him [and others]... It is easy to get so caught up in our man-made structures and rules that we forget the people involved.” (Life Application Study Bible, Romans 7:2-6, John 5:10)

"Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity." (St. Vincent de Paul)

“Keeping the law, and being free, are not polar opposites. For the properly formed mind and heart, the statutes of the Lord are a"delight” (Psalm 118:24, 92) because the law does not constrain freedom, but rather directs it where it really wants to go. The law comprises a kind of useful guide or instruction book to make true peace, happiness and harmony possible.” (Hieromonk Maximos)

“If our hearts are not changed, following God’s rules will be unpleasant and difficult. We will rebel against being told how to live. The Holy Spirit, however, gives us new desires, helping us want to obey God...With new hearts, we find that serving God is our greatest joy.” (Life Application Study Bible, Hebrews 8:10)

“To trust in pious acts more than in God’s love, or in our responsibility to care for others, is a form of death…Our pious actions must be connected to God’s self-giving love, and above all to sharing His love with others in true joy, thankfulness, and delight.” (Dynamis 11/5/2014)"…when Christ our Lord first exorcises a man on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-26), He sets a notable precedent for His ministry: He will place human needs ahead of pious practice.” (Dynamis 8/28/2014)

“…regular attendance at liturgy, personal prayer time, and active support for our congregation are wasted if we act dishonestly in our financial dealings or exhibit greed, anger, and overindulgence. Our goal should be to match our pious acts with growth in the virtues of gentleness, honesty, loving concern, sharing, peacemaking, and frugality.” (Dynamis 8/19/2013)

"Most people still admire those who"do their duty,” but they don’t understand them and can’t see themselves doing the same thing. That’s because our self-centered society spurns the concept of moral or religious obligation that elevates self-sacrifice to the exclusion of personal needs. The truth is, however, that duty—properly understood—is motivated by compassion, love, justice, and mercy. But it is also misguided to think that duty does not require sacrifice and selfdenial.” (Joseph O'Day)

“We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.” (C. S. Lewis)

"Laws and rules do not necessarily provide inner formation, for they only tell what to do, how to behave and actions to take. Being impersonal statutes and instructions, they are subject to interpretation, evasion, and infraction… Therefore, to be in covenant with God, each one needs to turn within, to address his or her interior life to work at purifying the state of the heart and soul.” (Dynamis 5/22/2013)

“We cannot reach up to God but following rules of pious self-denial, by observing rituals or by practicing religion….But keeping laws or rules will not earn salvation. Man-made religions focus on human effort; Christianity focuses on Christ’s work. Believers must put aside sinful desires, but doing so is the by-product of our new life in Christ, not the reason for our new life.” (Life Application Study Bible, Colossians 2:20-23)

“Saint Paul strongly asserts that living [solely] by external rules is futile. When we acknowledge that it is impossible to be justified before God, we may actually find the gateway to the life in Christ, to the true faith"in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Dynamis 10/29/12)

“Christ [in the Gospels] pointed out instances when the"rules” were broken, and rightfully so, for the sake of what was a loving action. To be very clear, He was not advocating breaking rules but pointed out we should follow the rules in spirit and truth… (Sacramental Living)"He [Christ] directed His disciples toward change of heart and mind, interior repentance, and inward renewal, while never annulling that which God had commanded for His people through the Law and the Prophets.” (Dynamis 5/22/2013)

“Loving God is not simply"the first and great commandment”. It is the life-giving response of the believing heart, and thus transforms the commandments from burden to grace.” (Dynamis 7/8/2013)

"A"legalistic” relationship between man and God is not possible: God loves man and expects love back. It is possible even to say this: we are saved not only by the love of God for us, but also by our love for God.” (Hieromonk Nektary)

“Rules and discipline are important, but when they suck the life out of a relationship, they can become destructive....Once you make a relationship all about rules, it becomes almost impossible to derive joy from it...We find ourselves getting stuck in the motions of legalism and experiencing little joy in the presence of God.” (Ryan Shook & Josh Shook)

“When we do come to Jesus... we will be motivated by love and gratitude, not by the desire to get God’s approval. We will not be merely submitting to an external code, but we will willingly and lovingly seek to do God’s will.” (Life Application Study Bible, Romans 7:6)

“If we focus on his great love for us, we will understand that he only restricts us from actions and attitudes that ultimately will harm us.” (Life Application Study Bible, Romans 7:11,12).

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