Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Psychological Legalism

It is ironic, but secular legalism can be worse than theological legalism. Most theological legalists will settle for obedience to a set of moral standards. We cannot obey these because we are sinners (Romans 3:23; John 15:5), but they generally are not in principle impossible (Romans 7:7-13). But secular legalism often prescribes things that we may not have any control over. We are required to be successful: to have money, fame, power, and be appealing to the opposite sex. One particular form of secular legalism is connected to the field of psychology. 

Now I want to be careful here. There are people who have clear psychological problems that need help. In my opinion the current state of psychology is similar to the state of medicine before the discovery of microbes. It is still trying to establish which parts of its various theories are correct. But I would not discourage such people from looking for help were they can. What the right answers are to these situations may be debated, but there is here a legitimate need. But there is a deeper problem.

Psychology puts forth a standard of a well-adjusted, psychologically normal person. If we do not meet it we have psychological problems that need to be fixed. Given that we are sinners in an imperfect world, it is not surprising we do not meet the standard. Therefore people who do not have serious psychological problems can still have psychological abnormalities that produce feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Now sometimes these can be Biblical sins and need to be dealt with on that basis. If these quirks can be cured on other grounds, I certainly would not forbid someone from doing so. But we should not carry around a load of guilt based on something that is not a Scriptural standard.

This psychological standard is based on being considered normal by others around us. But Scripture states that while there is a place to fit in with society (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 13:1-7), there is also a place to follow God before what others think (1 John 2:15-17; Acts 4:19,20). Psychology frequently claims we must accept ourselves and let out the true qualities we hide inside. But Scripture says we are sinners and there are things inside us that should not be let out (Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). Psychology frequently advocates an ideal of independence. While there is a destructive kind of dependence which amounts to idolatry (Isaiah 43:10-13; Romans 1:25; Colossians 3:5), the Biblical standard is one of interdependence (Romans 12:3-8: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; 1 John 3:13-24). But the big problem with setting up something other than the Biblical standard is that it evades grace. Under the Biblical standard we have forgiveness of our sins in Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 Peter 2:24,25) and God at work in our life to change us  (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 3:12-14). Therefore, we must avoid erecting a new standard in opposition to the Law of God, or we are placed back into bondage.    

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