Relational Legalism

By Caitlin Pifer
Podcast Episode

We continue our series on Jesus & Compassion by looking at two stories that highlight how we get legalistic in relationships — starting with Mary & Martha.

"Martha is not saying ‘Ok, my doing this job frees Mary to go to Bible study. That’s wonderful!’ At this moment in the story, Martha loves respect and efficiency, and she’s not getting either. This leads to a demanding spirit, the harshness that comes out above the surface. What feeds that demanding spirit is a disordered love. And Jesus, when he responds to her, he goes after her disordered love."

"Usually when we hear the word legalism, we think of legal structures or rules that are rigid, but legalism has a way of inhabiting our relationships."

"Relational legalism is hard to see because there’s almost always a good principle involved. But when that good principle gets married to, for want of a better term, a soft idolatry of efficiency or respect or you eating well or the perfect meal or any of those things, then that demanding spirit comes out. It’s just lovely to see Jesus go right after Mary’s heart. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards, my affections shape what I want. Ultimately repentance needs to kind go all the way down to where our loves are out of order."