There are far too many who have a theology that is full of it. Perhaps that’s a bit crude, but the facade that people often create under the guise of theology is astounding. The legalist’s eyes turn brown as he disguises himself as a pious Christian, yet rambles on about the good he does. And far too many of us have one foot in the legalistic grave as we think we are far better off than we are. We think, “At least we aren’t like those sinners." Or, equally as dangerous a legalism, “At least we aren’t like those legalistic Christians."
Brandon Bennett, in a post on Mockinbird, introduced me to a brilliant book by a philosopher Harry Frankfurt that helps us define and describe bulls*t. Check out this definition he uses (he uses humbug as a synonym for bull) and see if it applies to the legalism that we often find ourselves trapped in.
"Humbug is necessarily designed or intended to deceive, that its misrepresentation is not merely inadvertent. In other words, it is deliberate misrepresentation.” - Harry Frankfurt
He suggests that those full of it deliberately misrepresent the truth. He’d suggest that it has some similar characteristics to lying but is not always the same. He also states that it’s not just about the things people say but it is accompanied “especially by pretentious word or deed."
Tell me if this seems a bit pretentious:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ - Luke 18:9-12
The Christian life is sadly not too different than the parable Jesus tells. My life is not too different than the parable Jesus tells. I spend time deliberately misrepresenting reality to myself and convince myself that I’m not that bad. I’m full of it when I justify my own failures and look at others with condemnation at their failures.
Listen to this description of a man who runs at the mouth during a Fourth of July party making statements about the history of the US.
"What he cares about is what people think of him. He wants them to think of him as a patriot, as someone who has deep thoughts and feelings about the origins and the mission of our country, who appreciates the importance of religion, who is sensitive to the greatness of our history, whose pride in that history is combined with humility before God, and so on.” - Harry Frankfurt
The Pharisees, the ones full of it, care more about what people think of them than the reality of their own heart. And careful, because if you read this and start thinking, “Yeah, preach to those legalists,” you might be one. Because in the boasting of your success or in the boasting of being unlike the boasters…we’re all the same.
We are broken people who convince ourself that we are good enough, that we know enough, and that we are better than “those people.” We are better than “those sinners.” We’re not like “those Christians.”
If you don’t think you’re the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, you probably are.
May God wreck us with his Word and remind us that we’re not as good as we think we are. May He cut through the crap to make our prayer the prayer of the tax collector:
"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ “ - Luke 18:13