This post is a continuation of our series on the Call to Obedience. In previous posts, I have addressed the heresy of “cheap grace,” and began discussing the opposing heresy of legalism, starting with the trap of “brinksmanship.”
While brinksmanship is the foolishness of trying to define specific boundaries of sin’s cliff and then standing at its edge, rigorism creates fences to avoid the danger of ever approaching that edge. And while those fences sound and indeed at times may be prudent, rigorism is simply another side of the brinksmanship coin. Both are beliefs that we can achieve holiness by defining the stone-chiseled letter rather than the heart-inscribed word.
But where brinksmanship trusts in human wisdom to be able to skirt the boundaries of those letters, rigorism trusts in human strength to abide by them. It is in its essence the heresy of works-based salvation, and if brinksmanship is the absurd notion that we can stand with safety at the cliff’s edge, rigorism is the equally absurd belief that, having fallen off that cliff, we are able to flap our arms hard enough to avoid the consequences.
Having fallen into the pit of sin and confronting its implications, we respond by trying to work our way out of it. Rigorism is a twisted theology in which we convince ourselves that we are able to earn grace. It is, at its heart, a reduction of the blessings of saving faith into animist or transactional religiosity – the belief that we are able to direct the divine by our own actions.
By idolizing our human power, we dismiss Jesus’ crucifixion as unnecessary, because we assert our own ability to earn salvation rather than trust in the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice to pay its price. That may sound hyperbolic, but I don’t mean it to be. If we were somehow able to work our way out of the chasm of sin’s consequences, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection would be unnecessary.
If brinksmanship is blaspheming God’s wisdom, rigorism is blaspheming God’s power. We are saying we are confident in our sufficiency to overcome sin and thus have no need of God’s grace, but God’s Word says otherwise:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
– Ephesians 2:8,9
We must pray for those (including ourselves) who are caught in this trap of rigorism to be released from the striving for works-based salvation. Yet those blessed to be so freed must be careful not to run from the jaws of this deadly trap into those of another – hopelessness – which I will discuss in the next post.
What do you think so far? Do you agree or disagree with my claim that rigorism is blasphemy? What are the common “baits” you have seen for the traps of brinksmanship or rigorism? Please join in the discussion!