Legalism and Depression

Depression is a very complicated emotional state. Each person’s depression is unique since it represents his or her particular biology, social history, mental state, emotional response, and spiritual journey. That is why each person who suffers from depression should seek help from doctors, counselors, and spiritual directors in finding out the exact cause for their particular battle with depression.

One element of some depression is legalism. Legalism is the conviction that only those who perfectly obey what is right can be accepted. Legalism bases acceptance on performance. No performance equals for the legalist, no acceptance. Ultimately, the legalist believes that one is accepted by God if they deserve it and have performed well enough to have earned heaven as a reward.

Now this impacts depression because if we have a legalistic approach to live we may well see everything around us as corrupt and not trust worthy. Every friend, family member, and work associate becomes a disappointment as we focus on his or her weakness, inconsistency, and vices. We cut ourselves off from people feeling that none of them can be trusted or really cares about us. We place ourselves into an emotional “solitary confinement” and this will produce feelings of despair and desperation since one of our great needs is to love and be loved.

In addition we the legalist can turn on him or herself and decide that they have not performed well enough to accept their own selves. This leads to “self rejection” and anger pointed inwardly. This inner condemnation sends the person to an inner emotional “hell” where self-accusation and inner torture become the daily experience.

This emotional state keeps the person from performing at their best and when they fall short this just adds more fuel to the fire of self-hatred. This creates a inner “system” that becomes stronger and stronger, and with increasing intensity of emotional pain.

How can we escape this cycle? Only by changing from legalism as the core faith of our heart to the grace found in Christ Jesus that bases acceptance on unconditional love, not performance. We must learn to look for the good that God has preserved in people and institutions instead of focusing on the negative (Phil 4:4-9). We must accept others and ourselves in the same way that Christ accepted us for the glory of God by grace alone (Romans 15:7).

So if you struggle with depression in addition to getting help from many other resources you may also want to do some journaling, meditating, and praying about if in your core you are a legalist. If you are then today is a good day to begin working toward changing your core to the reality of God’ grace in Christ, or “the gospel”.