Dr. David Orrison
11 March 2014
A recent article ... prompted me to think about the reason it is so difficult to move forward after being victimized by legalism. As I have worked with those hurt by legalism over the years, I have often heard stories about what happened five, ten, maybe thirty years ago. These folks still struggle against the lies they were told and the anger they continue to feel toward those who misused them. I have come to the conclusion that a great deal of the difficulty of moving on has to do with the treasures that were stolen.
Each of the following could be an article in itself, but let me just introduce the problems legalism created by stealing these treasures. You may think of more precious things that were stolen, but these are the ones that have come up most often as I have communicated with victims.
The character of God. Legalism presents an angry and vengeful God who wants to see us fail and then will punish us when we do. He rejects us when we sin and puts us into situations to test our faithfulness. He even punishes us for the things our great-grandparents did. ... The Lord may be a strong tower for His people, but the victims of legalism can’t run to Him and feel safe because they think He is angry with them.
The message of the Bible. So many times people have told me that they simply cannot read the Bible anymore because all they see in it is condemnation.
The new heart of the believer. How many times did we hear, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked”? Victims of legalism are told never to trust their hearts, which meant never to trust their own judgment. Sadly that meant that they were only to trust the judgment of those above them, which opened them to all kinds of abuse. . . . The truth is that the believer has a new heart, one which the Lord uses to communicate with us. When He connects to the new spirit in us, He connects to the new heart (See Ezekiel 11:19). But when legalism stole away our ability to look within and trust our hearts, it took away our opportunity to hear the voice of our Lord.
The love and joy of others. Legalism is a system of condemnation and comparison. It sets us up to put others down. If I can’t ever be good enough, I can at least be better than you. We learned to judge and condemn others, rather than to understand them. We learned to compare ourselves with them, rather than to listen and care. We learned to keep them at a distance just in case, rather than to love them.