White Horse Inn Blog
Know what you believe and why you believe it
The Radical, Missional, but not-so-new Legalism
Being wired for Law makes us susceptible to Christians and other religious people trying, in the most creative and eloquent ways, to goad Christians into adopting a new law. Writer Anthony Bradley has pinpointed one way our culture is coaxing Christians towards a new law or “new legalism.” “Being a “radical,” “missional,” Christian, “he says, “is slowly becoming the “new legalism.””
These calls to be “radical”—or whatever is the new “extraordinary”—snooker us because we are wired for the Law. We were created for the Law. Adam chose to disobey the first law given to us by God and we bear the consequences of that today. Israel proclaimed that they would keep the law given by Moses. As they stood together as a nation (Exodus 19:8), they promised, “This we will do.” Like Adam, though, they broke the covenant and, as a consequence, lost the right to stay in God’s Promised Land as his chosen people. Ever since then we have gone looking for a new law in an attempt to erase our narcissistic shame. We love new laws, particularly when they promise to make us look spectacular.
Sadly, because Adam disobeyed, we are no longer able to keep this type of law or what really matters: God’s Law. That is why Christ came. He fulfilled God’s Law perfectly, took our sins upon himself, and died on the cross to satisfy justice and bear the condemnation we deserved because we broke (and willfully keep breaking) God’s Law. Jesus did for us what we could never do and then intentionally gave to us his own earned righteousness. This is the glorious gospel, the true missional and radical action. We did nothing; Christ did everything. But instead of claiming this truth, we forever harangue ourselves into adopting some new law so we can prove that we are not quite as bad as Adam.
But now there is no new law to fulfill. Clarion calls abound for us to band and stand together again and shout “This we will do.” But Christ did it all. Michael Horton calls Christianity a “sit down” religion, not because our faith is not active, but because we have to sit down and receive before we have something to give others. We are active, but it is because we’ve been given something. So every Sunday we sit down in church to hear God’s word preached by God’s servants and to learn about our glorious inheritance. Every Sabbath we turn our hearts towards the north star of God’s living and beautiful words because we are so prone to forget our inheritance and wander into the wilderness. In our anxiety, we prefer to launch a new movement to assuage this restlessness that only the Father, speaking to us about His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit, can cure.
Anthony Bradley is dead right. We are sons and daughters of the living God; this is our inheritance. Therefore we can become lovers of the one true God and lovers of our neighbors. Mr. Bradley suggests that we need to recover a true sense of vocation, and certainly that is correct and proper. But before we rush off to our vocations, we need to learn to sit in wonder at our radical, missional God who calls us to learn who we are in union with His Son. Only then will God’s Word properly inform us so that we do not create another legalism that obscures our inheritance and only gives us, in the end, something else to do.
Mark Green is the President of White Horse Inn