Jesus assures us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. St. Paul asserts in his writings that a freedom exists in the life of a Christian. Wouldn’t it make more sense that St. Paul was not inviting us to abandon a moral and holy lifestyle but to embrace love instead of legalism?
“God did not ask us to follow Him because He needed our help, but because He knew that loving Him would make us whole.” -St. Irenaeus of Lyons
I think it’s important to consider that religion (adherence to a set of beliefs) and legalism (the position that obedience to the law is the pre-eminent principle of redemption) are not the same. Religion, for most Catholics and orthodox Christian traditions is very much rooted in love and devotion to a merciful God. Additionally, there are many cases when a believer proclaims “Relationship!” over their view of religion with an ulterior motive in mind. It is no secret that the downside to the common, misguided view of religion exists in all of the restrictive rules and regulations.
Love, in its purest form is the gift of self to another, a sacrificial lifestyle. When we choose to view all of the sacrifices required of us in Christianity as obligations and not as acts of devotion, our views take on a legalistic identity. Furthermore, throwing out all of the ‘rules’ for a more basic, free-form gospel is not the remedy for religion but a perpetuation of misinformed opinions. Maybe, if we gave up everything, took up our cross, and followed Christ we would experience true freedom? All because we did it out of devotion and not of duty? As we continue to walk with Christ, we will find that a life lived in Christ is much more demanding of us than a life lived in obligation. All Christians would do well to ecumenically say “it’s not legalism, it’s love” as opposed to “it’s not religion, it’s relationship”. As these two statements are not the same in any regard.