Little Babels of Legalism
Updated: Mar 2
In Genesis 11 we read a story that is the carbon copy of history from the garden onward.
With the goal of making a name for themselves keenly in view, the descendants of Noah settled in the land of Shinar and started building a tower to reach the heavens. Just like our ancestors, we are no different, except for the fact that we don’t use bricks to build our towers.
In his book How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, Derek Thomas defines legalism as, “being asked to obey in order to win God’s favor”.
Just like Adam in the garden, we must cover ourselves with whatever we can find, and just like Adam we typically take things that were created by God and twist them for our own purposes. Just like the fig leaves, we make ourselves respectable robes of our own righteousness, fashioned by the very laws of God designed for our good.
Thomas' definition also states that legalism will present itself in, “being asked to obey a command over and above that which God has given in the Bible”.
The goal of the builders in Genesis was to reach heaven, which meant that every brick they laid was another step closer, and this is exactly what the legalistic spirit does in our hearts to those around us. It uses other people in place of bricks, to build the pedestals that we use to look down upon them.
Have you ever wondered why those that seem to have the strictest standards are the same ones that are constantly cold and callous to others? The reason for this is simple. In order for us to feel like we are climbing the proverbial ladder to priority and acceptance before God, we by necessity must put others below us. What better way to be the best-looking reed and the brightest burning flame than to ensure that all other bruised reeds are broken off and faintly burning candles are extinguished?
So how can we destroy the little towers that we build and ensure that they stay destroyed?
While most of us can stand and sing John Newton’s Amazing Grace with little effort we forget to remember that before grace is amazing, it’s devastating. Grace literally devastates our pride, self-assurance, and basically everything else that we try to do ourselves.
It is grace that will, again and again, destroy all attempts for us to earn favor with God and others. Grace is a wrecking ball to the foundation of the Babels that we’ve built our lives upon.
And grace is not a “one and done” type of thing, we never stop needing grace because we never stop needing Jesus.
The gospel is of the utmost importance in the destruction and obliteration of what we build. It reminds us of our identity in Christ and keeps our focus on Him and His work for us and in us.
This good news keeps cleared the debris of Babel that we are tempted to rebuild and reminds us of what God has done.