Shift From Grace to Legalism

Christian Theology

Note: In yesterday’s post I may have given some the impression that Col Thieme taught that we have to feel sorry for our sins in order to be forgiven. He did not. In fact he taught the exact opposite (which was what I was trying to communicate.) I’ve since revised the murky paragraph to reflect this:

Updated paragraph: Col Thieme and others taught that this need to feel sorrow was yet one more means of inserting human effort into the equation… The feeling bad or sorry or broken-hearted becomes the currency by which one tries to earn or buy forgiveness, and is not commensurate with grace.

Now, on to today’s post.

In the process of all the thinking and researching I’ve been doing on the matter of confession of sins, I came across this quote by Roger E. Olsen in his book The Story of Christian Theology:

“Occasionally these fathers of the generation after the apostles gave the gospel their own unique interpretations that began to turn it away from the great themes of grace and faith so strongly emphasized by Paul and  other apostles and more toward the gospel as a “new law” of God-pleasing conduct and behavior… one senses a distance between the Christianity of the New Testament — especially that of Paul — and that of the apostolic fathers (2nd century). References to Paul and the other apostles frequent (in their works); but in spite of this the new faith becomes more and more a new law, and the doctrine of God’s gracious justification becomes a doctrine of grace that helps us act justly.”*

“Of course this shift was subtle and not absolute. It was a barely but definitely perceptible turn in these second-century Christian writings toward legalism, or what may be better termed “Christian moralism.” Although the apostolic fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp quoted Paul more than James, it was the latter’s spirit that breathed through them. Perhaps due to a perceived moral and spiritual laziness and decline among Christians, they emphasized the need to avoid sinning, obey leaders and work hard to please God more than the need for liberation from bondage to the law.”

*Roger E. Olsen quoting Justo Gonzalez.

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2 Responses to “Shift From Grace to Legalism”


  1. 1 savedbygrace August 6, 2013 at 2:11 am

    man, whether under grace or law, will need a form of feeling that he is forgiven. that is an integral part of being human. we all need to be loved, need to be accepted, need to be forgiven.

    the struggle, usually is to make sure you actively believe all your sins are, were and will be forgiven.

    it is ok to feel sorry, it is ok to confess, it is ok to cry, be sad. but the worst one can do is actually merit forgiveness through self effort. self effort via feeling pity, confession, restitution and the likes.

    so yea, even in the midst of sinning, let us declare and believe “all my sins has been forgiven”

    – grace and peace

    • 2 karenhancock August 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Thanks, savedbygrace. You’re right… the struggle lies in truly, “actively” believing our sins have all been forgiven on account of our Lord’s death.


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