The Antidote to Legalism and Judgmentalism

Last week, we discussed the story of the Canaanite woman with the demoniac daughter from the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15; Mark 7). In that post, I pointed out how Jesus seemingly portrays a judgemental and legalistic attitude, but how Jesus actually demonstrates compassion, mercy, and grace. This week I wanted to build upon those ideas we have already established in order to clarify the contrasts which the Gospels are trying to make between the legalistic, judgmental Pharisees and this gentile woman.

Before getting into the main topic, it is prudent to define what is meant by legalism and judgmentalism. Legalism is a strict adherence to an arbitrary set of informal rules which are often enforced through social stigmatization. Legalism is wrong because it replaces God’s incorruptible standard with a corruptible human standard. Judgmentalism, on the other hand, is the eternal condemnation of a person for not adhering to a standard by which one professes, but does not adhere to either. Judgmentalism is wrong because it almost always falls into legalism (though it does not have to) and it places one’s self above the incorruptible standard of God. Further, it places you as an equal to, and often in the place of, the God who created you. No creature can take the place of its Creator for no creature is greater than, or even equal to, its creator.

This is perhaps what differentiates the Canaanite woman the most. When facing Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, the woman recognizes her unworthiness before Him. In accepting that she is like a dog (as the Jews considered all gentiles), she recognizes her own status before this Jewish miracle worker. Yet even by approaching Jesus she recognized her own inability to help her daughter or even herself. What came from within the woman was not merely faith that Jesus could heal her daughter, but acceptance that she was not worthy to have her daughter healed. What came from within the woman was humility. Humility is the recognition of one’s proper relationship to God. Moreover, to be humble is to recognize the corruption of one’s own human nature.

This was in stark contrast to the previous encounters with the scribes and Pharisees that the Gospel writers had just described. These Jewish leaders were both legalistic and judgmental. They had their own arbitrary rules (rabbinical traditions) that they enforced through social stigmatization. And they were often judgmental as well, condemning many while not upholding the standard they claimed to believe in. We see that the Jewish leaders not only replaced God’s standards, they also placed themselves above the standard of God. Further, they put themselves in God’s place which is to say the place of honor. Yet, they had no honor for they did not recognize their own corruption which leads to unloving judgment.

What can we gather from these contrasted elements the Gospel writers provide? To begin with, they are revealing the Pharisee’s corruption. The Pharisees are revealed as frauds who only pay homage to God with their mouths. They are unworthy. The Pharisees do not have the moral authority to set the standard of judgement. Yet the writers reveal Jesus does have the moral authority. After exposing the Pharisees, Jesus expounds upon what the Mosaic law really means by cleanliness. This is a demonstration of Jesus’ own authority over the Law of God. 

Moving forward, we see that Jesus shows us by His actions what the standard of judgement will actually be. In the Canaanite woman we see that Jesus teaches God’s standard is about humility before, and faith in, Him. It is in the recognition of our unworthiness before God that we can receive the antidote to our corrupted human nature. It is through our faith in Jesus Christ as God incarnate that healing comes. For Jesus is the antidote to our broken human nature. Through the grace of God, we can partake of the divine nature and escape the corruption of this world. For this is what St. Peter teaches: “by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)


The Contemporary World

This discussion is all well and good, but how does this help us in the present moment. What does legalism and judgmentalism look like in today’s society? Should we continue to look for the old curmudgeons who tell you to stop drinking your IPA beers, stop vaping your juul, and put some clothes on? I am certain those types of people still exist and are even plentiful in some areas. Yet, they are not the real perpetrators in our society today. So who is? 

Those who are the most legalistic and judgemental are those who proclaim tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion the loudest. That is morosely ironic. Yes, it is the social justice warriors, postmodernists, intersectionalists, and the critical theorists who are most legalistic and judgemental today. They are the perpetrators of what is called “cancel culture”. If someone says the wrong thing or acts the wrong way, they are cancelled. To be cancelled is a kind of permanent judgement in the visible world. You get fired from your job, friends and family members disown you, and you are publicly ostracized. One who has been cancelled often has to start all over by moving to a new city and even starting a new family.

Sadly, the social justice movement only brings condemnation. There is no healing. There is no tolerance. They bring up social media posts from years before and judge a person who has already apologized. When you do stupid stuff as a teenager, they condemn you for life. They rush to judgement and do not seek out the truth. They preach tolerance and acceptance, but do not accept or tolerate diversity of opinion. They only know conformity. They teach they are oppressed, but through their cancelling become the oppressors. There is no redemption among the social justice warriors.

So how do we deal with this? How can we stop this? Condemnation leads to condemnation. Judgement creates more judgement. No, the solution to this disease is not to use the disease itself. The solution is Jesus Christ. We must take the antidote of Christ to the people who are afflicted with the disease of legalism and judgmentalism. We live our lives with humility and faith. When those who have condemned others are themselves condemned, we offer forgiveness. When those who hate us become hated themselves, we offer love. When those who reject others are rejected, we accept them. 

We must adhere to the standard which Christ sets before us. It is to accept our own unworthiness before Him. It is to trust Him to bring healing to our corrupted nature. We must become partakers of the divine nature which cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We must choose to do what is right when our desires stir us to evil. We must rely on what we know when our feelings have gone astray. The standard by which we judge others will be the standard applied at our judgement. So let us choose the standard of God. Let us choose the way of Christ and so find abundant life through the loving judgement of God.

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