God’s New Years Resolutions

I understand that God never changes, and that his plan dates back to eternity past. In that sense, the turning of our earthly year means nothing to “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). However, I also understand that God is gracious enough to stoop down and describe himself in human terms; this helps our puny brains keep up with him.

In that spirit, I humbly offer a dozen of God’s New Years Resolutions, followed by my single New Years Resolution at the end.

God says… “During this coming year…

  1. I RESOLVE to bless you better than you deserve. I don’t give paychecks for your good behavior; I give blessings because of Christ’s perfect behavior. You didn’t earn it; he did. My hand will supply more than you’ll ever realize.
  2. I RESOLVE to continue seeing you just as I see my son, Jesus. You’ve been joined to Christ, and as I label him, so I label you: beautiful, accepted, holy, pure, my child, spiritual royalty, complete.
  3. I RESOLVE to carry you safely through another year. I didn’t bring you this far to let you down now. Great is my faithfulness. I’ve got your hand and won’t let go.
  4. I RESOLVE to never throw your sins and failures back in your face. All your sin and shame was washed away once for all in the flood of Calvary Love. There’s no going back.
  5. I RESOLVE to continue loving you, even when you don’t love me back. I never loved you because of who and what you are or do anyway; my love flows for you because I AM love. I’m glad if you love me back, but never forget the biggest deal of all is that I love you and sent my Son for you (1 John 4:10).
  6. I RESOLVE to keep you safely wrapped in the bubble of eternal salvation. You may see a swarm of worrisome giants on the horizon in this coming year; but losing your salvation shouldn’t be one of them. You are mine. Bank on it.
  7. I RESOLVE to punch the devil and his minions in their ugly little noses as soon as they try to get close to you. You have no idea how many times I shield you each and every day — don’t worry, I won’t stop. And I will “crush Satan under your foot shortly” (Romans 16:20).
  8. I RESOLVE to surprise you with goodness you never saw coming. Your joy is my delight. If a fallen, broken-down race like yours finds joy in surprising your kids with good things, how much more does your Heavenly Father love to give good gifts to his children too!
  9. I RESOLVE to remain the same, yesterday, today, and forever, so you never have to wonder who you’re dealing with. I’m unchanging, and never fickle. As I loved my son, Jesus, so also I will love you forever and ever. You can count on me.
  10. I RESOLVE to keep furnishing your mansion in heaven. Even the tiniest faith in time creates extravagant supply in eternity. Your deepest heartaches will one day fade into oblivion, in the light of eternal joys.  You should see the design I have for you… you’re going to love it!
  11. I RESOLVE to draw close to you in your tough times. You never walk alone. No matter where you turn or what you do this year, I’ll be right there with you. You can’t shake me. I’m happily stuck with you.
  12. I RESOLVE to never shut off the lavish flow of grace coming your way. Even if you’re an idiot. Even if you turn your back on me. Even if anything. Trust me… This is going to be a great year!

So here’s my one and only New Resolution:

I say… “During this coming year…

  1. I RESOLVE to rest my heart and life more fully in the wonderful, infinite, matchless grace of God. “For it is good that the heart be established by grace…” (Hebrews 13:9).[Using the share buttons below makes you extra awesome! Thanks.]

 

GR Combo reduced[If you want to dig more deeply into the wonderful, infinite, matchless grace of God, check out Grace Rehab: The Power of Labeling Yourself the Way God Labels You, with a companion STUDY GUIDE, both on Amazon at www.GraceRehab.net ]

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It’s Okay to be Free

dreamsI’m haunted by the tears of a missionary who couldn’t say what he wanted. This young man had served God for eight years as a missionary in South America. He was frustrated and felt God might be leading him to another place. He didn’t know what to do.

I asked him, “What do YOU want?”

“Well, I just want to do what God wants me to do… and it’s so hard to figure out God’s will.”

“But what do YOU want to do?” I asked again.

“Well, wherever God wants me to…”

This time I interrupted him. He needed a shock. “Forget about what God wants you to do. What do YOU want? What does YOUR HEART want?”

He looked at me like I was an alien from Jupiter’s moons. Then he burst into tears. He covered his face with his hands, and couldn’t speak. Continue reading

Thursday: How is Christ’s Death Remembered?

lastsuppermuralGod is into commemorating because we are into forgetting.

On Thursday of Holy Week, our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, also called communion and the eucharist (which means thanksgiving). Scripture describes the scene: Continue reading

Legalism’s Knockout Blow, pt 1

An Unusual Interpretation of the Day Jacob Wrestled God

Jacob-Wrestles-with-God

“We tried to get into your church, but the ushers wouldn’t let us in.” Two high school girls from my youth group berated themselves for not following my church’s unspoken rules. “Some men at the door told us we couldn’t wear shorts in church. We’re soooo sorry!”

The vein in my left temple throbbed as I told them I was the one who should be sorry. Our youth group had been praying for two seventeen-year old girls who had just joined the group and had never attended church anywhere. They came—on a hot, muggy Chicago Sunday. Two ushers-turned-bouncers stopped them dead. “Oh no. You can’t come into church looking like that.”

The girls turned away crestfallen, and told me their story at youth group. They blamed themselves. They felt guilty for not measuring up to God’s standards.

Score one for legalism.

Anthony snorted and laughed out loud during my sermon, and later apologized for disrupting the service. He reacted to my mention of a chapel in Italy that contained the Scala Sancta. The “Sacred Stairs” were reported to be the very steps on which Jesus climbed to stand trial before Pilate. As the story goes, St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, commanded them dismantled, shipped to Italy, and reassembled in Rome.

I explained that, for centuries, faithful pilgrims climbed up those stone stairs on aching knees, pausing to pray on each of twenty-eight marble steps. To this day, no one may stand on the Scala Sancta. Pilgrims climb up on their knees, and exit via another stairway on their feet. For this act of contrition, penitents are promised a plenary indulgence—full pardon from the temporal punishments due all unrecompensed sins to date.

That’s when Anthony snorted. He later explained that he’d grown up in Italy, and his grandmother made him climb the Scala Sancta every week. He told how she stood by weeping, wringing her hands, and praying for his eternal soul.

I admire her dedication, but can’t agree with her theology. Score another one for legalism.

Every Christian is a recovering legalist. We come from a long line of legalists, all the way back to Adam and Eve who sewed fig leaves to cover their shame. Instead of approaching God as empty-handed charity-cases, legalists approach him as religious success-stories who, through their hard work and sacrifice, have earned a spiritual paycheck. “Come on, God. Pay up.”

God has a way of knocking the legalism right out of us.

Case in point, Jacob. Genesis 32 tells the strange story of his wrestling match with God. Is it true that we must win a contest with God before he gives us what we need and want? Or is this story a biblical case-study on God’s way of delivering a knock-out blow to legalism? Let’s see.

The Context: A Personal Judgment Day

Jacob is about to collide with the brother he cheated years ago. He’s frantic, thinking Esau is out for blood. He dreads the heavy hammer of retributive justice – well-deserved – and scrambles for a solution.

He does so in a schizophrenic way. His first approach to deliverance is through grace. In v. 9, he appeals to the goodness of God, who “promised to prosper” him. The Hebrew word tob, translated “prosper” refers to God’s settled disposition to do good this his people.  Then, in v. 10, he confesses, “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness [hesed] and the faithfulness you have shown your servant…” The word hesed refers to God’s policy of bestowing benefits on those who don’t deserve them and haven’t earned them. Hesed is a part of the Hebrew vocabulary of grace. Jacob prays a grace-based prayer.

Too bad he didn’t stick with grace. Jacob immediately shifted into legalism mode and, by his actions, undercut everything he just prayed.

The Human Solution: Paying the Price Ourselves

Jacob’s second approach to deliverance is through blatant bribery. He sent ahead treasure-laden caravans to buy his brother’s forgiveness. He offered goats, camels, rams, bulls, and donkeys.

We might laugh now, but how many times have we done the same thing? How many times have we sought divine deliverance through caravans of offerings, rituals, good behaviors, self-sacrifice, and religiosity? How many times have we expected God to answer our prayers on account of a week’s good behavior? Every time we try to pay our way out of judgment or into a blessing, haven’t we stepped into Jacob’s dusty sandals?

Legalism thrives in the dank atmosphere of self-atonement. We may not climb up stairs on our knees, and we may not believe in religious penance, but legalism degrades our Christian walk into a moment-by-moment penance. We so easily take onto our shoulders the hulking burden of paying for guilt—a burden than only Jesus Christ can and did bear in full on Calvary’s cross.

I’ve been a Christian for decades, yet still I catch myself undercutting the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. I know it’s stupid, but I have a mental closet crammed with fig-leaf garments I’ve sewn together to cover my guilt and shame. The essence of legalism is humans by human effort seeking to merit the blessing of God.

It’s time for God’s loving whack upside Jacob’s legalistic head.

The Encounter: Wrestling with God

Jacob prepares for dawn’s showdown with his fraternal Grim Reaper. He splits his family into two caravans, hoping one will survive. He sends forth his bribe. He waits in solitude by a brook.

Enter an Unnamed Somebody who picks a fight with dispirited Jacob. Later, he will worship that Somebody, identifying him as God (v. 28). God comes down to wrestle Jacob.

Should we wrestle God for answers to our prayers? What was Jacob thinking? What do you think God was thinking? What have you heard about this story? How has it been interpreted for you? 

(Click here for Legalism’s Knockout Blow, part 2)

Why Grace-Oriented People Still Need God’s Law or Bring Back the Ten Commandments!

If you know me, you know me as a champion of the grace of God. I have dedicated my ministry to preaching and teaching the truths of God’s amazing grace. Along with that, I’ve dedicated my life to destroying legalism. I hate it, in Christian love.

You also know I haven’t blogged for a while, so this is something important to me. Thanks for reading.

Today’s post is prompted by a conversation with my wife. In her business ethics class at a Christian university, she asked her students how many of them would hire someone they knew was cheating on their spouse. Most students said they would. Then she asked how many would go into a business partnership with someone cheating on their spouse. Most opted out, but still quite a few said they would. When Margi pointed out that a man who would cheat on his most important relationship would find it easier to cheat on you, few were swayed. The class discussion moved on to plagiarism. Most were in favor of forgiving the plagiarist and letting him/her write a substitute paper. When it came to Bible majors or seminary students, most were still tolerant, though a reluctant few brought down the hammer of justice.

Bottom line: grace has been morphed into an ultra-tolerant, indiscriminate leniency. I have written on that before (Why Grace Isn’t Leniency) so I won’t cover that old ground again.

What I want to say today is simple: our culture is dissolving before our very eyes because we have removed GOD’S LAW FROM THE CHURCH. Yep, this is me, a Champion of Grace, pleading for grace-oriented Christians to restore the law of God to its rightful place in the grace-oriented church of Jesus Christ today. Yes, it’s the age of grace. Yes, Christ brings grace. Yes, we are saved by grace and live by grace.

But does that mean we throw out the Law? Does that mean the Ten Commandments no longer have a place in our lives?

No and no. Here’s why:

1. Under grace, the goal of the Christian life is conformity to Jesus Christ.

God is committed to reproducing the integrity and love of Christ in his people. This happens by God’s power; it is not something we work up for ourselves. Only Jesus can live the WJJD lifestyle and he will do it again through his people. If you have been born again, Christ lives in you. He constantly exerts an inward force to make you more and more like himself. And he doesn’t come with an off-switch. Grace is the power of God, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, reproducing the character and love of Christ inside of Christians.

You can’t read the epistles of Paul without bumping into this truth (I use Paul because few would argue against the assertion that he is the apostle of grace). For example:

  • “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NKJV).
  • But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NKJV).
  • For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29, NKJV).

2. Under grace, Jesus Christ was a Ten Commandments kind of person.

He did not come to destroy the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). You can’t understand the life of Christ without accepting his dedication to fulfill every “jot and tittle” of God’s law. His character reflected the character of God’s law, his knowledge reflected the wisdom of God’s law, his actions reflected obedience to God’s law, his preaching reflected the supremacy of God’s law. Nothing Jesus said or did contradicted even a syllable of God’s law. There are two important reasons for this…

3. The Laws of God reflect the heart of God. 

God’s laws are God’s laws because God’s heart is God’s heart. The commandments of Scripture are not random, disconnected requirements — they are expressions of the deepest truths woven into the universe and our psyches by the God who made us. Because God’s laws reflect God’s heart, they share a quality that is absolutely essential for our happiness and joy…

4. The Laws of God describe a life of LOVE.

Don’t forget how Jesus summarized God’s laws: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NKJV).

Translation: TO CAST ASIDE GOD’S LAW IS TO CAST ASIDE THE ONLY SURE GUIDE TO LOVE WE HAVE. We are fallen, depraved people. We have no clue about what true love is. Until God explains that love means honest scales at the butcher shop (Lev 19:26), not sleeping with another man’s wife  or another woman’s husband (Ex 20:14), and not committing incest (Lev 18:6). Love means kindness to widows and orphans and maintaining your own integrity. Love means true worship, true speaking, true care for others. All of these things and more are in GOD’S LAW — covering every aspect of life. God’s law is a book of love, the New Testament even says so:

  • Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NKJV).
  • Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9, NKJV).
  • So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. (James 2:12, NKJV).

5. Jesus lived a life of love because he obeyed God’s laws. 

He was a Ten Commandments kind of person. The Ten Commandments, along with all of God’s laws, are like an FBI profile of Jesus. That’s how he lived. That’s what he was like.

If you want an emotionally healthy life, if you want great relationships, if you want good boundaries in your life, you will keep the Ten Commandments. God’s laws describe the LIFE OF YOUR DREAMS. God is not interested in constricting your life; he wants to set you in a realm of true freedom and perfect liberty. His laws describe the heart of Christ… which leads us back to #1…

6. Under grace, God is reproducing the life of Christ inside you — and he lived a life in perfect harmony with God’s laws.

If Jesus lived a Ten Commandments lifestyle, and if God is reproducing the life of Christ in us by his Spirit, then God is reproducing a Ten Commandments (Law Affirming) life in all his children today.

We desperately need to know the whole Bible, including the Old Testament, including the LAW, if we are to ever have a clue what Christ is trying to reproduce in us. We need the Law as our map, our guide, the lamp to our feet. We need to know where God is taking us so we don’t fight him. We need to know what God has said so we exercise faith in accordance with his Words. To throw away the Law is to throw away THE ENDGAME AND OBJECTIVE OF GOD’S GRACE AS IT FUNCTIONS IN OUR LIVES. Says who? Says Paul himself:

  • that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4, NKJV).
He is saying that what God has been trying to create in your life since the beginning is what the Law has always taught.

What does this mean? It does NOT mean that we live UNDER the law. We don’t. “UNDER” is the wrong preposition. It does mean that the law is fulfilled IN US through Christ. As we abide in Christ, as we turn to him in dependency and faith, we will put into practice the laws of God day by day… which will produce a life of love… which will produce the life of our dreams… which is what the age of grace is all about.

It is not legalism, because it is not our power. It is not legalism because it is not external, it is Christ, by his Spirit, from the inside out. It is not legalism because it is not UNTO justification, but FROM justification, unto sanctification. It is not legalism, because it is not a demand on us, it is a demand on God. It is not legalism because it is a gift put into us through Christ himself at salvation and every day thereafter.

Jesus, Paul, James, Moses, and all the writers of Scripture were ANTI-LEGALISM but PRO-LAW. LEGALISM is humans by human effort seeking to merit the approval of God. But GRACE is God, by God’s effort, doing in and through us what we could never do for ourselves: making us like Christ.

We Christians made a big fuss about how the government has censored the Ten Commandments from our classrooms and the public arena. But haven’t we beaten them to the punch? Haven’t we so misconstrued Scripture that we’ve censored the Ten Commandments FROM THE CHURCH? We need — our young people especially — a return to the Law of God as a guide into a life of grace.

Have we as Christians become so tolerant in our attempts to be PC that we are hard to recognize as Christians?  Do we live as if there are no rules, no laws, no absolutes?  Have we morphed grace into bland leniency? Have we adopted antinomianism? The general rudeness in society, the lack of moral values, the embrace of any prodigal while still in the far country, the mushiness of our faith, and the miniscule difference between our lives and the lives of unbelievers, can all be traced to a departure from the whole counsel of God, including the Law of the Lord, which is perfect.

God bless Tim Tebow, Kirk Cameron, and those in the public eye willing to stand up for Jesus, for the Bible, for truth . . . For the law of the universe which happens to be the law of God recorded in Scripture.

Bring back the Ten Commandments, not as a way of salvation, but as a way of self-respecting love for God and others.

How do we reconcile grace and works? Simple: being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:6, NKJV). God’s work — not ours alone– will create a life of love, a reproduction of the life of Christ in our lives. A life of God’s good, holy, and pure law which is, by definition, a life of love, which is by definition, the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Grace and law have kissed each other in Jesus Christ. May they kiss each other in your life too.

Let’s preach GRACE as the only means of fulfilling the law through the power of Christ in us.

Let’s preach LAW as guardian and guide of a life dedicated to God and his heart of love.

Grace in Action

So, if you watched/heard/read last weekend’s sermon, you might ask, HEY BILL, HOW DOES THIS WORK OUT IN REAL LIFE?

Great question… let’s dive in.

I’m suggesting that we replace the phrase GOOD WORKS with the phrase GOD WORKS THRU ME. What comes to mind when most Christians think “good works” is NOT what God intended. It is not a burden on your back. It is not the production of your own power.

It is, rather, the work of God through you.

But how does this happen? And what does it feel like?  St Paul nails its (as always):

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. (Colossians 1:28, 29, NKJV).

Let’s break it down:

  • Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom… To this end I also labor, striving… Who is doing the action of the verbs? Paul and his friends (“we”). He preaches, he warns, he teaches, he labors, he strives.  This is Paul’s work. He puts forth effort. He breaks a sweat. He goes home and collapses in the Lazyboy at the end of a hard day’s ministry.

    And so it will be for us. Again, do not accuse me of advocating passivity. I don’t. The Way of Christ is mightily active, and full of struggle. We must, however, frame both the activity and the struggle as Paul, following Jesus, did.  He worked, and so should you, and so should I. We strive for holiness. We seek to do good in the world. We seek to love as we have been loved.

    But how, in that pursuit, can we avoid the trap of legalism? How can we avoid the duty-based life that has been the church’s death of a thousand cuts for two thousand years?

  • …striving according to His working which works in me mightily… There’s the secret. Paul never viewed his herculean efforts in isolation from the monumental work of God. Paul broke the sweat, but it was God’s working working in him mightily. Paul got tired, but it was God who actually did the work. Paul needed a nap, but the credit for the effort went to God, not Paul.

    Perhaps this paradox led Paul to call “Christ in You” the MYSTERY of our faith (v. 27). Christ is working through him, but he still gets tired.  What’s that about? Let me try to pull this all together.

1. There is no official feeling of the power of God. You can feel tired, mad, sad, energized, scared, invincible, weak, or small.  Doesn’t matter. GOD WORKS THROUGH YOU no matter how you feel.

2. The fact that God works through you doesn’t exempt you from feeling tired. It’s not a sign that you’re  bad Christian if you feel worn out at the end of the day. It’s normal. You are a frail vessel filled with the excellency of God.

3. We’re supposed to turn from Self-effort to Christ-effort. From what I produce to what God produces. This is a frame of mind and faith above all else. It is viewing your best efforts the way Paul viewed his: NOT I, BUT CHRIST (Gal 2:20).

4. Grace means that God does the work… that is what I believe. That is where I stand. That is what I remind myself of. That is what I say to any person who asks.  God does the work. God gets the credit. I’m a vessel. I’m a channel. I’m a mouth. I’m arms, legs, feet, hands, and wallet. It is God’s work through me…. and the second I doubt it, the second I forget it, I land myself in the stiff working boots of the prodigal son’s elder brother.

5. The surest signs I’m counting on my own power instead of God’s power: inflation (arrogance), deflation (self-contempt), boasting (taking credit, playing “mine’s better” or “mine’s worse), whining (as if God’s grace isn’t sufficient), and quitting (as if God’s grace isn’t sufficient). In short, when faith evaporates, the channel of grace fizzles.

I want to do good works, but I want them to be God’s work thru me.

You?

that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5, NKJV).

Here’s a previous post on this topic: https://maxgrace.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/gods-power-for-gods-people/

How to Handle a Legalist

phariseeslegalistsI am loving the discussion in the comment section on the previous blog (scroll down and read it if you’re interested).

I’d like to add some fuel the fire.

SITUATION: Titus, a pagan Gentile, has turned to Jesus Christ. He is on the fast track to leadership in the church…

COMPLICATION: …but he isn’t circumcised. Most people don’t care, but some do. The “Judaistic agitators” make a big deal about Titus’ status.  If he’s going to be a leader in the church of the Messiah Jesus, he ought to at least be circumcised, right?

CAVING IN: In the interests of peace and love, a lot of Christ-followers were going along with the pro-circumcision agitators.  “Why not get circumcised and we’ll all just get along.”

HECK NO!: Enter Paul, with fire in his belly:

“And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Galatians 2:4, 5, NKJV.

MORAL OF THE STORY:  In my humble interpretation of Scripture, we are commanded to defer to younger believers who might bruise their conscience or might slip into sin by copying our liberty.  We yield to our truly weaker (i.e., younger, newer-in-the-Lord) brother and sister.

BUT WE SHOULD NOT BUDGE AN INCH FOR LEGALISTS WHO AREN’T TEMPTED, AND JUST WANT TO CONTROL US.

RATIONALE: To quote Paul, the truth of the gospel is at stake!  Don’t yield to legalists. Don’t waste your breathe, your time, your emotion, your energy.  Tell them to go wind their hair buns and leave you alone.  In Christian love.

Sorry for shouting.

Legalism Revisited (Guest Blogger)

innerphariseeI have great readers and an amazing circle of friends, both in the real world and the virtual world. I received via email this outstanding description of legalism, and share it with permission… I know you’ll enjoy it.

Thoughts on Legalism

by Mike P, Atlanta, GA

Legalism speaks the language of “must, should, and ought”; creating rules and regulations that create bondage and rob freedom.

Legalism is man’s attempt to flowchart the work of the Trinity so that by replicating the steps, we demand specific results without submissive hearts.  Box God up, package him, place him up high on the shelf where we can ignore him while feeling righteous.  This makes it OK to get away from God.

Legalism attempts to polish the exterior that others see without concern for the interior; like polishing a cow chip.  Despite the appearance, the aroma remains constant.

Legalism allows men to justify ignoring the unexpected activity of God

Paul speaks of this in Romans 7:25b that “I myself… am… in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”  Legalism tries to breathe ‘spirit’ life into the ‘sinful nature’ instead of allowing it to die by crucifixion.  It feeds the ‘sin bacteria’ instead of sterilizing it, creating a whole new deadlier strain than existed before.  Legalism permutates sin into hardly recognizable new deadly strains of selfishness and self-righteousness that propel us further from the health-giving, life-sustaining presence of God.phariseeslegalists

What is the opposite of a legalist?  No single word comes to mind (or would it be a Label?)

Instead, I recognize the times in my own experience where legalism has been apparent.

My legalistic prayers sounded well-phrased and mentally stimulating soas to evoke men’s admiration; authentic praying desired only to carry me into the intimate, passionate presence of heaven (and when in corporate situations, served the Holy Spirit’s purpose as an usher to others, seating them into that intimate circle).

Studying the Bible legalistically was for competitive achievement proving my greater knowledge and position – “See what I know!” was my cry.  And my knowledge became my power to tell others what they should do, ought to do, must do if they wanted God’s/my approval and if they wanted to achieve God’s/my lofty position.  Legalism allowed me to look at truth without allowing truth to look into me.

Tithing – now there was a painful act for me as a legalist.  It can’t be perfect unless it’s off the gross instead of the net.  And it must include EVERY monetary resource.  Frankly, I often had to grit my teeth while writing that check.  Nowadays it’s not God’s 10% – he owns it all!  Now writing the check IS an act of worship – joyously given to his pleasure, in amounts small and large.  The act of worship supersedes the placement of the decimal or other considerations.  I just want to know his smile.

In truth, legalistic thinking dominated much of my early religious AND spiritual life.  As a child growing up in church, legalism took away many alternatives by applying restrictive measures that created a barren place.  Eventually I was so sick of the religious that had I not met Jesus (instead of hearing about Jesus), I would have dismissed true church.  Legalism leached all minerals from the soil of my soul and left only self-righteous nothingness; empty and hollow living that held no joy or pain or much-of-any feeling.  But for all that I sure looked good!  The patterns of legalism lingered well after I met Jesus, too.  Legalism raised the ‘expectation’ bar further in how perfect I was to be and how to judge others where they lacked.  “Work it out for Jesus!”

Eventually the barrenness of legalism was for me a planter for seeds of bitterness.  After taking root, these manifested themselves as anger against God.  Only after a decade of wallowing in sin like a fool did I profoundly experience grace.  From the vantage point of freedom it is easy to look back across at legalism and refuse to return to that hellish prison.  But how to free the others?  That question remains.

Boxing’s Main Event

jacobwrestlegodFor today’s post, I’d like to interrupt the series on the Fundamentals.  I want to invite you check out my article in this month’s In Touch Magazine, a publication from Charles Stanley’s ministries.

It’s about legalism.

It’s an unconventional approach to Jacob’s wrestling match with God.

Click here to read it.  If if you like the article, please share it with your friends, your blog, your twitter, and your facebook.

Thanks.