Legalism & the Fourth Source of Power

petraI started this series with a rant or two about legalism. Legalists never see themselves as legalists. That’s why Jesus was so forceful with them. I met my own legalism in an argument over — this is embarassing — Christian rock.  I was a youth pastor in urban Chicago. We had a large and effective ministry. BUT… I was in a church that frowned on Christian rock music: “There’s no such thing.”

So our youth group used middle of the road music.

phariseeslegalistsThat changed when a senior challenged me. We were driving somewhere in my 1971 Plymouth Valiant. He had been to another youth group in the suburbs at Willow Creek. Their music was current, slick, rocky. Why can’t we use that music in our youth group? I said, “Because” or something brilliant like that. He asked, “Why?” I said, “It’s carnal,” or something stupid like that. He asked, “Why?” I said, “It’s worldly,” or something unfounded like that. He asked, “Why?” I said, “It’s just bad” or something deep like that. He asked, “Why?”

After the fourth or fifth “Why,” I was baffled. He Why’d me into genuine conviction over my own legalism. I asked myself, “Why? Why do I still hold back? Why do I let my church dictate these rules? Why do I embrace them?” I looked at this student and said, “You’re right.”

It felt like opening a window in a smoky room. Suddenly our youth group sounded like… uhh… Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Steve Taylor, Servant, Resurrection Band, and other bands that sound so old right now. I kissed legalism goodbye.

bondagepowerfistPartly. I’m still a Recovering Legalist. But that was my first conscious step away from it. As I wrote earlier, legalism, at its core, is substituting human power for God’s. In this case, human regulations like, “You shall not rock out,” for God’s: “All things are lawful…” and “Stand fast in the liberty…”

I won’t go off on legalism again, though you can see I’m tempted. If we are ever going to conquer legalism, we have practice twin arts of shedding our own strength and walking in God’s. I’ve already covered the first three sources of divine power in a Christian:  The Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and Christ in you.


Here is the fourth one–and it is the pinnacle: (4) UNBROKEN COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER.

This is what made Jesus so Jesus-like. He walked, talked, ate, drank, worked, and served in the presence of his Father. Jesus had unbroken fellowship with God. And don’t go getting all Gnostic on me, and saying, “Of course he had fellowship with God the Father, he was God the Son.”  Yes he was and always will be. BUT… he operated on earth AS  HUMAN using HIS OWN HUMAN POWERS. He did not employ his own powers as the Second Person of the Godhead. He restricted himself to the powers of the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit–the same powers that are available to us today.  Says who? Says…

  • “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8, NASB.

All I’m saying is that Jesus was a whole lot more like you than you’ve ever given him credit for. Same weaknesses. Same limitations. Same temptations.  FULLY HUMAN. And, through the power of the Spirit, and the Word, he maintained unbroken fellowship with God. He said…

  • “And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”” Luke 2:49, NKJV.
  • ““All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”” Luke 10:22, NKJV.
  • ““I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”” John 8:38, NKJV.
  • ““At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” John 14:20, NKJV.
  • ““I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1, NKJV.

The great Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, said, “Live near to God, and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities.”

Andrew Murray wrote, “While others still slept, He went away to pray and to renew His strength in communion with His Father. He had need of this, otherwise He would not have been ready for the new day. The holy work of delivering souls demands constant renewal through fellowship with God.”

Oswald Chambers wrote, “You will never cease to be the most amazed person on earth at what God has done for you on the inside.”

I could go on. The greatest power in our lives with Jesus is a deep bond of affection with God.  We enjoy his company. We respect his presence. We live with a feeling that we would be disloyal were we to ignore him, forget him, or act as if he weren’t present. He is my Father to provide, comfort, strengthen, guide, correct, and hang out with me.

One of my favorite childhood memories is playing catch with my dad. He’d come home from work and say, “Go get your mitt.” And then we’d play catch on the sidewalk. He taught me how to catch with two hands and how to throw with my left foot forward. Having played Triple-A ball for the Cubs in Lakeland, FL, my dad was really good at this. And he was a patient teacher.

jesusbaptismThat same relationship exists between us today and our Heavenly Father.  But we miss it.  Why? Maybe it’s because we don’t look for it. Or because we’re too distracted or immature for it. Maybe it’s because we don’t want it; we don’t want fellowship with the Father. We’d rather have a thousand other things.

John wrote,

  • “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3, NKJV.

Koinonia — shared life, shared community, shared affection, shared fun — with the Father and Jesus.

That’s power for daily living.


5 thoughts on “Legalism & the Fourth Source of Power

  1. Next you are going to be telling me card playing, dancing, and wearing jeans to church is fine also…I noticed you left Carmen off the list of rock bands…perhaps that is because it is sinful to listen to Carmen…

  2. Thanks, Dr. G – fabulous as usual.
    I’ll be sharing your Godly wisdom with others.
    Have a wonderful Easter celebration. We’ll be there in the many…..

  3. Bill…

    As regards the legalism, a thought occurred to me, and that was the vulnerability of younger (less mature) Christians to our grace. In other words, it is the meat-sacrificed-to-idols thing (“meats for the belly, and the belly for meats”) but if our brother stumbles over our “grace” for eating anything sacrificed to idols, then it is better that we abstain — i.e., this is more a gesture of love than legalism. Paul explains this self-restraint (from pursuing-our-rights-as-grace-pursuing-believers) in terse but recondite terms — i.e., “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). In other words, we cross an invisible line when our outward behaviors (based on GRACE) push their limits when others less mature than us start stumbling — i.e., Paul says, “do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom 14:15). I suppose that THAT line depends on the maturity level of the Christians with whom you fellowship and/or with whom you socialize… Use your best judgment!

    The second idea that occurred to me was the kenosis of Christ (voluntary setting aside of divine attributes during first advent) and how there was an emphasis on “learning obedience through suffering” (Heb 5:8). In other words, his relationship to His Heavenly Father occurred through the lens of suffering (most remarkably on the cross).


  4. Once Ted and I were listening to a Petra album, and we heard a suspicious noise. Since backmasking was the faddish complaint in evangelicaldom, we tried playing it backwards only to hear: “Shame on you; you’re looking for Satan when you should be looking for Jesus!”

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