Reading the Bible is something every Christian needs to do. Commanding a mother of young children to rise early may eventually suck the life out of her.
Legalism happens when biblical principles get boiled down into a list of inflexible practices.
Every parent is responsible before God to train up their children in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). But to prescribe a set of spoken or unspoken rules regarding the how, what and why of schooling creates an oppressive, legalistic environment. Should every parent be involved in how their children are trained? Of course. Should every parent homeschool/private school their children? No, and to insist that a parent do so will drain the life out of them.
In the early days of medicine, bloodletting was a common treatment for many ailments. Physicians thought that draining a person’s blood would staunch infections and promote vitality. The physicians thought they were doing a good thing, when in reality they were actually weakening their patients.
Legalism is like bloodletting. It seems like a good thing. Creating a set of rules to follow seems like it will promote morality and keep people on the straight and narrow. Legalism feels like the safe thing to do. It gives us a feeling of being in control of our lives. When we create rules, we don’t need the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting people.
The reality is that legalism slowly drains people of life.
I find the words of Charles Spurgeon to be very helpful:
Many preachers have had to confess the uselessness of mere moral preaching. There is no instance, I believe, on record, where the mere preaching of the law made a man love God, or where the heart ever was, or ever could be, renewed by inculcating good works.
Note: Special thanks to my pastor, Paul Gilbert, for getting me thinking on these things.