Legalism and spirituality


Is it just me or does anyone else see this? It seems to me that many people, especially Protestants, but some Catholics want lists.

What do I have to do to be saved?
What are the requirements to be Catholic?
Where is the list of Traditions?
How many times do I have to go to mass or confession?
How do I get to heaven?

Maybe I am looking at this all wrong, but it seems to me that people want a checklist that they can go through and check off like a grocery list… yep… Baptized, check… prayed the sinners prayer , check… Woo hoo I am saved! It seems so legalistic. It begs the question (in my mind anyway) What are you going to do, argue your case at the pearly gates? Do you really think you will be able to argue your way into heaven by doing the bare minimum?

It also seems like it is about doing the minimum and being assured your salvation. How can anyone ever be sure of their salvation given that Jesus said to lust after a woman is to commit adultery? I mean really… I don’t think I am that atypical and I struggle with uncharitable thoughts, anger, etc… to the point that I am constantly praying that I can correct this deficit and confessing my sins and asking for guidance.

To me, all these lists and check boxes reminds me of the Pharisee… you know… the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. In my mind, there is no way we can ever do enough for the gift Christ gave us when he died for us. How can we? To my dying day, I will try to be Christ to others, but I will fall short… because I am not God. Every time I pray or do something for somebody… that is nothing compared to what Christ did for me. So how can I even think about minimum standards?

What if Jesus was all about minimum standards? Would he have died for us? Would he even been God? I don’t think so. Jesus was about extending your comfort zone and doing for others… putting everyone before self, treating everyone with love and respect, showing mercy to all who ask for God’s mercy. Aren’t we supposed to imitate his life? So why not ask, What more can I do for God and man today? How can I best serve God? Who needs to know God love him and how can I show it?

Am I crazy, or does anyone else see this prevailing spiral into mediocrity too?


Just as gold is found, washed out of a great amount of sand and it amounts to very small grains like millet, so also out of many human beings few will be approved. For those who seek the kingdom are clearly manifested, while those who merely wear its word as a beautiful ornament are the ones most conspicuous. For the same reason those are manifested who are seasoned with the heavenly salt and who speak out of the Spirit’s treasures. The vessels appear in whom God is pleased and to whom He gives His grace. There are also others, who, with much patience, receive the sanctifying power in many different ways, as God wishes.
St. Macarius the Great, Fifty Spiritual Homilies


There’s only 1 thing you have to do to be a saint (get to heaven) and that is to do God’s holy will.

As for being “saved”, I don’t believe that this phrase fully encompasses the Catholic understanding of “Salvation”.

Jesus died, once and for all to save all men. Therefore we have all been “saved”, but we are able to reject this “grace” (free gift) or to accept it.

So it’s all about growing in holiness, not “being saved”. All the rules and regulations just help point us to where the graces are. But without a change of heart and a love for God, all these things are in vain.

“oh vanity of vanities and all is vanity”

Thomas á Kempis on life without doing God’s holy will***God’s will for us is this: that we know Him, Love Him and Serve Him.**
All the religious practices etc. just helps us to do this more perfectly. :thumbsup:


Maybe I didn’t make myself clear…

I am not asking what we need to do to be saved or get to heaven, I am asking if anyone else noticed the tendency for people to want it all spelled out like a grocery list… like a minimum standards list.

My question is about the downward spiral of morality, when people only want a check list instead of living a holy life.


nobody else see’s this? I must be nuts then…


I’ve certainly seen the same thing. In fact I used the same checklist analogy with my wife about a month ago, almost word for word. I don’t think that most evangelicals actually live their lives according this, but their theology certainly seems to follow a “what’s the least I can do?” mentality.


Yes I see it. And the list is not specific enough, then it is a cause for a free for all.

I see this often on threads…for example: “show me exactly where the bible says woman are to do XZY and men are responsible for XZY” - as it pertains to tending the household…

Or how about this: Premarital relations - "How far is too far"
regarding head coverings, circumcision, white lies…oh so many other topics.

And it goes on and on. It’s called wiggle room. If people can find technicalities to wiggle around and still do what they want, then by all means disprove my behavior wrong. Only then will I stop.


We must be careful not to judge that someone is attempting to find a salvation shortcut. None of us can read hearts. An individual may be working out their salvation with fear and trembling, but on the surface it looks like Christianity-lite to you and I. We must always try to be the best Christian that we can be, and hope that it is a good witness to others. But at the same time, we should always keep in mind that we ourselves, are the most wretched of all sinners.

Peace and blessings,


Oh thank God… I was starting to think I was nuts… Do you think that it is a part of the “dumbing down” thing or the “I’ll do what I want” thing? Personally, I think it is both… we are so used to having to be told the obvious… Be careful… coffee is hot… don’t dump it in your lap… that we don’t think for ourselves as much as we should. But on the other hand, I also see the “My will be done” which I also think comes from people spoiling their kids and giving them everything in life. I think we appreciate things more when we have to work for them.

Yep… exactly… how far can I go and still “make the grade” We can see how personal interpretation has affected our society. Person A believes that this verse (about divorce, for example) is no longer valid because God would want them to be happy… or God doesn’t mean no ABC when he says be fruitful and multiply…that was for when we needed to populate the earth… We can justify and rationalize our behaviors all day long, but it doesn’t make us right.


Mickey… This isn’t about one human judging another… I don’t have a person in mind. I am talking about the blatant “give me a list” kind of stuff… I don’t treat anyone differently because of it… I was just asking if it was just me or if others had noticed this trend to do the minimum when serving God.


No you aren’t nuts. I would like to hope that the ‘checklist’ mentality is just a manifestation of a young Christian. That as folks grow in their love for God, they will begin to want to do more and more to love Him and serve Him and won’t be satisfied with minimums.


AMEN!!! I hope so too… but then I turn on TBN… and some of their shows promote this mentality… it really saddens me.

But I have to say, it did influence the way I raised my kids… I really spent alot of time teaching them why this is wrong and encouraged them to do alot of volunteer work just for the sake of helping others, not for gain… they all still do, even without me telling them to. We also have a tradition in my family of discussing at weekend meals what it means to be happy (to follow the commands of God is the only true way to happiness) and why we are on this earth (to serve God and worship Him) and what freedom is really all about (choosing to follow God of our own accord). I must say, in this respect, not choosing to follow the current mentality, made me a better parent.


I follow you. I tend to agree. It crosses denominational and communion lines, especially in the western traditions. I think the Easterners have an easier time with this because their theological development was generally less ‘legalistic’.

I think the problem is that we tend to approach Christianity by thinking of “getting to heaven” as the goal. Which… it IS, kinda, but not really. The real goal is theosis, becoming closer to God, or God-like. If we approach our faith as a journey of becoming closer to God (primarily through His Son, but also with the sacraments, our Blessed Mother, etc) and as a relationship (which it certainly is!), then the lists of things to do and the obsession with “getting saved” fade away.


Perhaps it is not beneficial to focus on trends.


You are right, BlestOne. Protestants probably do this because they have a preconceived notion (whether innocently or not) that the Catholic Church is just a salvation-by-works-checklist church. Some Catholics may do this because they have the same misunderstanding. :slight_smile:


I think it’s part of hte western scientific/academic mindset. If you want to understand something, strip away everything else and break it down into parts.

That’s not bad as far as it goes, but then they forget about the parts they stripped away and never put them back or even that they were there to begin with, so they think that those who still have them must have added them.

I love how Scott Hahn will relate how he thought he had discovered amazing new ideas through his bible study, only to find that the Catholics already believed that.


That is a great point! I think not only do we want academic/scientific proof, but we also don’t want to do the work to get there ourselves so we have a tendency to believe scientists like they are infallible.


Indeed, I find it odd how many seem to think that what Christ called us to was somehow less difficult than what the Jews were called to do under the Law. Christ’s challenge was more difficult, as he demonstrates time and again (for example, telling the rich man that he would have to not only keep the Commandments, but give up everything he had and follow Christ to be “perfect”).

There can be no checklist; there can only be actions which tend to draw one closer to God and ones which pull one further away from Him.

Moreover, when we ask for a checklist we demonstrate a hardening of the heart which may be an indication we’re not Christian enough. What good Christian seeks to do the minimum? Good Christians seek to do God’s will—all of it.




I completely agree that some want to create lists that they can follow. They are almost always about making it easier, but not always about doing the minimum. I think they are about trying to obtain a guaranty. Christianity is easy because there aren’t that many absolute rules. I count only two. Christianity is hard because the two deceptively easy rules are sometimes hard to understand and apply, and sometimes hard to accept.

So people build grandiose lists to gain some assurance that they are ‘earning’ salvation. They would not call it that, but that it what it often is. It is a shame for a lot of reasons, but two in particular. One - it is an attempt, even if an unconscience one, to bind God. To draw up a contract that will force Him to love us. Second, it allows some to avoid the true import of Christ’s two new commandments, by allowing them to believe that if they check all their blocks they need not worry about all that wishy ‘love’ talk.

Having rules and laws and so forth are an aid as long as they help us to follow the new commandments, when they seek to replace them they become an impediment.

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