Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Poisonous Effects of Legalism

Legalism is such a deadly poison. I think in many of us, there is this desire to make and to follow rules, a dangerous, underlying subconscious desire to make Christianity more about works and doing good things rather than on knowing Christ and growing closer to Him.

We read of this sin in the Bible when we read of the Israelites committing it over and over again by obeying all of the regulations and decrees God gave them, so they looked good on the outside. But they also served and sacrificed to other gods. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees did an excellent job of this committing this sin by turning the Law inside out and making the purpose of life to obey all of the rules rather than to know Him. The Roman Catholic Church also did (and is still doing) a splendid job of making faith more about man-made rules and traditions than on knowing God.

I know from experience what it is like to be legalistic. I used to be very legalistic when it came to romance. I was full of ignorance and indignation, and I fueled that with a strong legalistic streak.

I had this view of romance because I had an unrealistic view of how love and romance work. Because of that, I simply had an ignorant naivete.

One of my best examples is that I used to say that I wouldn't tell a girl "I love you" until I was married. But as I gave it more thought, I backed it down to not saying it till I get engaged. But this summer, I thought more and more about it and asked my girlfriend Abby what she thought. After we talked about it, I decided that if you mean it, you have no reason not to say it. Isn't it just legalistic to wait?

Another quick example I'd like to share with you is of how I planned on starting a relationship. I planned on not dating until I able to financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready to be married, which sounds great, it really does. But I have since learned you will never be truly ready for marriage. It just isn't something you can be completely prepared for.

I was basically saying that I wasn't going to date till I got married. I literally said that I didn't want to date again till I had found my future spouse. That's dangerous for a few reasons: 1) I wouldn't be ready for a mature relationship, and 2) it would have been putting way too much pressure on my relationship. This kind of mindset essentially elevates dating to the same level as engagement, and that's an issue because that's not what dating is supposed to be.

In Colossians 2, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of legalism. Writing the church of Colossae, He says, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." 

I place emphasis on that last verse because of how straightforward and blunt it is. It embodies the exact point I wish to make. And my point is that the truth we often miss is that we no longer have to live according to any law. I know that may sound sacrilegious, but Jesus died so that the law, with its codes and written regulations, would be canceled. Christ died on the cross so that we can have a personal and intimate relationship with Him, thus forgoing all of the sacrifices and rules and regulations. As such, we are no longer required to follow a set of man-made rules or human traditions. We are set free from those things!

Our obligation is no longer to follow the law, but to follow and obey the Spirit. To know God and to know His heart, we must walk daily with the Spirit. To please God, we won't succeed just by obeying a law. God desires an intimate relationship with us, and we must walk in His Spirit to know Him. Paul writes in Galatians 5, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." We are called to live by the Spirit, not by any law or code or set of rules.

So how can we know we are walking in God's Spirit? We know we are following His ways based on the fruit we bear.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells us that we can recognize people by the fruit that they bear. He says, "Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." So we will recognize people based on the fruit they bear. And what kind of fruit should we want to bear? Well, since we should be walking in the Spirit, we should be bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." ~Galatians 5:22

1 comment:

Shay said...

You know I went through the same thing with the I love you thing...but I got to thinking about it too and I too came to the conclusion that if its true then say it but also SHOW IT! (by that I don't mean in a romantic intimate way but by your selfless actions and well basically 1 Corinthians 13 :D ) Plus, I don't feel like people tell each other they love them enough!

I also thought the same thing about marriage and being ready for it in relation to dating but now I am just waiting on God's perfect timing. I trust that He knows when the time is right for me to get into a serious relationship and He will provide.

So yeah...I can totally relate to these things! Good thoughts and discussion.