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Legalism Breeds Shame

There is an unbreakable connection between legalism and shame.

In our story as Christians, this goes all the way back to the fear and doubt that the Israelites experienced in the desert. They followed Moses out of Egypt after witnessing miracle after miracle. God even parted the sea to help them escape, and then drowned the entire Egyptian army! But they still said, “Moses, we need structure. We can’t live without structure.”

That’s when God summoned Moses to the mountain. But Moses was gone for over a month, and the people didn’t know when he was coming back! So they built the golden calf. They were thinking, “We can see an idol, and we can touch an idol. If we worship a god that we can see, then all our problems will be solved.”

Moses was so angry when he saw this that he punished everyone. And it was severe!

Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.

When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting noisily, he said to Moses, “That’s the sound of war in the camp!”

But Moses said,

Those aren’t songs of victory,
And those aren’t songs of defeat,
I hear songs of people throwing a party.

And that’s what it was. When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. (Ex 32:15-20, MSG)

Later the Israelites said, “We need a king.” So God gave them Saul, and Saul tanked it. He really did.

All of this happened because we believe we need structure, and structure includes rules. For example, we want something written down that says it’s wrong to kill somebody. We know it’s wrong, inherently in our souls. You can’t take a human life that you didn’t create, because it’s not yours to take. You don’t need a rule to tell you that. But we crave structure, so God said, “You want a rule, okay. Here’s your rule.”

Do you think the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” brought the murder rate down? No! There was all kinds of killing after the Israelites followed Joshua into the land of the Canaanites. You might say that establishing the rule increases the behavior. This is how sin corrupts.

It’s like the pink elephant. Suppose someone told you, “Don’t think of a pink elephant. It’s illegal.” What’s the first thing that happens? You start thinking about a pink elephant! That’s just how the human brain works.

Now look at how this leads to shame. Someone knows that you thought about the pink elephant and calls you out. “Man, what a wretched person you are for thinking of a pink elephant. How dare you think that way?”

Now you feel crappy and shamed. You tell yourself, “I’m never going to add up, because I can’t help thinking of a pink elephant.” See how sin corrupts?

And it doesn’t stop there. How about the guy that just shamed you? What do you think he was just thinking about? He calls you wretched, but he’s thinking about a pink elephant too. Maybe he tells himself that he hasn’t thought of it as much as you. He tells himself, “I’m not as bad as you, because you’ve thought of the pink elephant four times, but I’ve only thought of it twice. You’re way worse than me!” He’s going to shame you to make you feel bad because he’s hoping to feel better.

We’re in a chaotic mess based on shame. Based on shame.

So God says, “No! We are going to end this. I’m going to bring my son, and with Him, my grace. Then you will find that my grace is sufficient for you.”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

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