Legalism?

Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with the Ten Commandments, and people who were raised in the church know so many shoulds and shouldn’ts that we often struggle with legalism and perfectionism. No one wants to be accused of legalism.

Legalism has become such a distasteful concept in society that modern Christians tend to shy away from anything that could make them look as if they are rigidly following the rules. In fact, contemporary Christians often exhibit behaviors that make them appear just like the rest of the non-believing world. Their underlying message seems to be, “Live how you choose, but carry a Bible, go on the mission trips, and make sure you have the right “look” to be accepted as a modern Christian.” Who wants to be a Pharisee, right?

While living a life by the letter of the law or to fulfill our need to look perfect can trip us up, the thought behind those actions is a holy one: it’s important to live a life obedient to God’s dartboard target aim goal achievement conceptword. It’s as important to play this game of life perfectly as it is to pitch that perfect game of baseball or to get that shut-out in football. No, not as important – more important. In fact the Hebrew word for sin in scripture (chata’) means “to miss the mark.” We tend to give ourselves credit for getting pretty close to the mark. In the game of darts that doesn’t fly: a miss is a miss. In reality, it’s the same way with sin. A miss is a miss; a sin is a sin.

In John 14:23-24 Jesus tells His disciples, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Our level of obedience to Christ clearly reflects the depth of our love and commitment to Him. It’s not a bad thing to want to live a totally obedient life and follow the rules! In fact it is a precious, loving gift to the Father to walk uprightly and honor Him!

If we dig into scripture and really look at Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees, we find it isn’t because they are rigidly obeying laws, it’s because their inside didn’t match their outside!

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without dishes-197_640neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.'” (Matthew 23:23-28)

Dirty dishes! White-washed tombs! Their behavior didn’t reflect their heart. They put on holy masks and tried to look good before people, to be acknowledged, and to be honored publicly. They obeyed the laws, all the while having hearts full of selfishness, greed, envy, … sin. The Father had chosen His people, the Israelites, way back in Genesis. He had intended them to bring blessing to others (Genesis 12:3), but now these Jewish leaders were looking out for themselves instead. 

And so we come to us. Today. We are to be Ambassadors for Christ. To spread the Gospel. To show God’s glory. To bless others.

In this world of darkness, living a life filled with the light of Christ is more important than ever. If we only offer our stories, scripture verses, and other words of encouragement we are short-changing the people God has placed around us to minister to. Don’t get me wrong, our testimony and uplifting words are very important; we are commanded to share the good news in Matthew 28:19-20! However, if words are all we have to offer, with no obedient lifestyle to back it up, we’re presenting a half-hearted gospel. Our obedient life is living proof of the change the gospel has on a human heart. The world needs what we have, not just what we say. These words of Jesus Christ enlighten us:

pexels-photo-262042“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

How many souls have rejected Christ because I spoke the story of the gospel, but I lived out another story: the same story of fear, depression, worry, desperation, sin, and failure that they were living. While my words seemed hopeful, the reality seemed like a myth. Instead of being a light on a hill, I was like a flashlight with no batteries – not effective for the job I was created for. A help to no one.

Today scripture charges us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) We are a representation of Jesus to the world. Are we reflecting His humility, gentleness, patience, and love for all in our behaviors?

In Colossians 19b-14 Paul calls us to live out a worthy life. He states, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into His kingdom of light! Let us live as children of light as Paul lays out in Ephesians 5:8-20. Let us not fear living blameless, pure lives above reproach in this warped and crooked generation. (Philippians 2:14-15)
 
Following the rules only becomes damaging legalism when we equate adherence to the laws of scripture with salvation instead of offering the grace and love of Christ to ourselves and those around us. Therefore we must speak up to share the gospel with the lost world: Jesus is the only sacrifice for sin. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” (John 14:6) We must walk uprightly in every behavior. We must also get involved in people’s lives to love them well instead of standing back and pointing out their error, but offering no help. We must be patient, offering grace and mercy to those who fail, but also calling others to a higher standard of obedience.

Walk as children of light!

 

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