As I pondered the apple, it surprised me to think that legalism is something that finds its roots in the very beginning of the Bible. Our first mother was also the first legalist! You see, the legalist thinks they’re safe from doing bad things because they follow the strictest rules possible. They’ve got the guardrails constructed to keep themselves from going off the road.
You see, Eve did just that. Remember when the snake started talking to her about eating the fruit from the tree? The snake questioned whether or not God really said they couldn’t eat from the tree. Eve responded that they shouldn’t eat from the tree and that they couldn’t even touch it. But this part about touching it wasn’t recorded in what God said to the couple. Nope. Eve had added this guardrail rule to keep her from violating God’s rule. Somewhere along the line it became elevated to the same level as God’s law. Imagine little Eve farming in the garden and always cutting a careful path as far from the tree as possible. Whenever Adam would go near the tree to plant some flowers she would remind him, “Don’t get that close!” But now Eve was the one standing there by the tree talking with Satan about not even touching the fruit or the tree. It makes me wonder if maybe after Eve finished telling him that the fruit was not to be touched, he may have touched it himself or just pushed Eve into it. I imagine the snake chuckling and saying, “See, you can touch it. I wonder what else God has lied about?” Far from protecting her, Eve’s guardrail only opened the door to sin. It was like thin plastic in the face of a flame. The broken image of God was not able to be prevented by a little legalism, what makes us think that it will be restored by a little legalism?
Eve was the first of our family to be a legalist, but she wouldn’t be the last. Throughout Scripture we have examples of people who practiced the methods of Eve. For example, I always find it interesting that when God came to earth, He didn’t spend a whole lot of time dealing with those who went around doing what would seem to be the worst sins of the race. He actually spent most of His time addressing those who practiced the methods of Eve: making up rules to keep them from breaking God’s rules. Why not address those who broke God’s rules instead of those who were trying to keep them? Perhaps Jesus saw something here that we miss. Perhaps Jesus knew that it is as much a sin to prohibit what God permits as to permit what God prohibits. The Pharisees were going around promoting their prohibitions on everybody. They were setting up a standard of righteousness that was choking out everyone around them. You see…legalism is not just a sin against ones’ self. I think this is why Jesus went after the Pharisees so hard. Legalism has disastrous effects on the whole community.