Latest Thoughts

Recent Blogs

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