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Monday, December 29, 2014

The Epidemic of Legalism

I've been wrestling with this post for awhile in my head.  There's a lot of wrestling that goes on up there.  Sometimes there is a disconnect between what I'm thinking and what actually comes out of my mouth.  And that's why I am not a very good public speaker.  And that's why I love to write.  I get to think and pray over what God has laid on my heart before I share it with anyone.  With that said, please know that what I am about to say has been on my heart and my mind for awhile. It's been pressing on the confines of my soul and God woke me up at 3:30 am to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, if you will.

There is a major epidemic spreading like wildfire among Christians today.  This epidemic is not a disease of the body but more like a disease of the heart and soul.  It goes by the name of legalism. Legalism is the dependence on religious law rather than on personal faith and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I've been in a deep study through the Gospels and one thing that has stuck out to me like never before is just how much Jesus despised legalism. Legalism flowed out of the hearts of the Pharisees like water from a spicket. Over and again they criticized Jesus for things like healing people on the Sabbath. The Son of God was in their presence, the One who had come to fulfill the Law, but they couldn't see past all their rules. They missed the forest for the trees.  

But before we condemn the Pharisees further, we need to take a good hard look at our own lives...lest we speak as hypocrites. You see, we have something that the Pharisees did not.  We have the New Testament as our guide.  We know that Jesus was the King prophesied about in Isaiah 700 years before His birth.  We know that He was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day.  We know that He has gone on to prepare a place for us. We know that all the prophesies of the Old Testament were fulfilled through Him.  Yet, I'm afraid that even with everything we know, we too miss the forest for the trees.  We miss Jesus.

We fall prey to legalism when we fight with fellow Christians over grey matter.  And what I mean by that is that there are things that are NOT explicitly outlined in scripture that I believe God deals with each of us on an individual basis about. Things like homeschooling, family size, church worship style, women pursuing careers, etc.  It's not that these issues can't be discussed. It's quite the opposite actually.  We can sharpen each other when we discuss these issues.  A healthy conversation is not a bad thing.  It becomes a bad thing when we get so hung up on these issues that we cause strife, strained relationships, gossip, church division, etc. It becomes a bad thing when we quit caring about people. It becomes a bad thing when our beliefs trump our faith and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  

We like to have methods, plans, lists, and rules to live by and follow.  We cling to our beliefs and least I do. These are not bad things in and of themselves. However, there is a fine line that we easily cross and find ourselves in the realm of legalism when we start believing that what God has called us to do (or not do) in this life is what he has called everyone else to do (or not do). This is a dangerous place to be because legalism leaves no room for the work of the Holy Spirit.  

Satan is all over this.  He loves to see God's children fighting with each other and getting hung up on issues that divide and destroy.  It distracts from the big picture.  The big picture being that God has called us to carry out The Great Commission by being Kingdom advancers.  How are we advancing the Kingdom of God when we can't even find unity within the Body of Christ? 

Now I would be at fault without pointing out that there are MANY things that we should take a stand for.  I am by no means a liberal.  There is a balance there between legalism and liberalism. And that balance is Christ.  These are things that ARE explicitly outlined in scripture.  There are things in the Bible that God explicitly makes clear.  Things that we should not be doing; things that we should be doing. Things that cross over thousands of years into our culture.  Truths that time doesn't change.  Truths about homosexuality, adultery, murder, etc.  Things that we should take a stand for but in the right way with the right motives. And our motive should never be out of arrogance to be "right".  Our motive should be to win that person for Christ.  

You see what we are up against is not sin itself.  Sin is just a symptom....A symptom of a sick heart that is getting closer to death with each beat.  And what lies ahead of that sick, dead heart is an eternity of pain, torment and separation from Christ.  What we are up against is souls that are lost and hearts that need Jesus.  Our desire to be the messenger of His Good News should trump our opinions, rules, and laws any day! You see when we are fighting over issues that do not have eternal significance, we are doing exactly what Satan wants us to do.  We are being distracted from the big picture.  We are off chasing our desire "to be right" instead of our desire to carry out The Great Commission.  

Where do you fall? 

If you take anything away from this, let it be this: 

*In grey areas, seek out God's will for YOUR life.  Don't fall prey to believing that what He has called YOU to do (or not do) is what He has called your best friend to do (or not do). 

*Know this: We are here for His glory.  And He wants to use you.  He wants you to be led by the Holy Spirit and not by your opinions or your desire to be "right".

*Ask yourself this:  How will I break the chains of legalism? 

*Remember this: Legalism leaves no room for love.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:1-3