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.

God’s Power for God’s People, 2

lightning“God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” So said famous missionary to India, William Carey. We could also say, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s power.”  The question on the table, however, is how do we obtain that power?

I’ve suggested there are four sources, they play together nicely, and we need to know how to use them. The previous post identifies the first two: (1) the Holy Spirit; (2) the Word of God built into our psyches.  Here are the last two:

3. CHRIST IN YOU.  This is the beautiful mystery that Christianity offers the world:  Christ in you, the hope of glory.  We are not simply following a set of guidelines, we are also following a risen Savior, who, in a mystical way, has been united with us so as to indwell us.

  • ““I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:23, NKJV.
  • “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10, NKJV.
  • “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” Ephesians 3:17, NKJV.

jesusshipswheelJesus came into us at the very moment of the new birth. We became one with him, in a new identity. For the rest of our lives, he will exert an inward pressure to transform our lives. The goal is to make us Christ-like, not in our personality, but in our character: love, joy, mission, goodness, courage, integrity, and so on.

Many people fear that Christ will suck their personality out of them, and make them Jesus-people robot clones. Not so. He will only add color to your personality, and dig through the mountains of crud that bury the real you. He will make you sparkle. Christ-in-you is the greatest overlooked truth in this generation of Christians.  Only Jesus can live the WWJD lifestyle, and he intends to do it again, through you.

When Christ comes in, he doesn’t come with an off switch. You can’t make him stop conforming you to Christ. You can either fight him–and go crazy–or cooperate with him–and find your life.

You might say, “If Christ is in me, he’s not doing a very good job.” I’ve felt that way too.  How do you get things moving with Christ’s indwelling power?

  • ““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.

christicon“I live by faith,” said Paul. We should too. It is faith, not magic, not super-piety, not cosmic karma, that makes the difference. Simple trust that when I need Jesus to work, he will. A repeated turning from my own power to Christ’s power. You exchange your power for Christ’s power.

I wrote about The Grace Script in chapter 15 of the Inner Mess book.  As often as you catch yourself doing God’s work by your own strength, you need to recenter yourself on Christ.  You say two words to Jesus: Oops! and Okay!

  • Oops, Lord… I’ve been working in my own strength, and I’m frustrated. I’m scared I can’t succeed. I’m smudging your glory. I’m blowing it…
  • Okay, Jesus… I need your love, your strength, your wisdom here.  So as I go forward, I’ll trust you (faith).

That is what Jesus meant when he told us to “abide in him.” He could have just as easily said, “Confide him him.”

The cool thing is that when you trust/confide/put faith in Jesus — who lives in you now that you’re saved — he NEVER disappoints you.  He never fails you or lets you down. His power immediately goes to work in your present-tense situation.  He works through you, in you, around you. He is there.

And, this is the most important truth… a genuine, bona fide paradox…

His power works in you no matter how you feel.

Because there is no official feeling of the power of God. He works in your weakness, right?

  • “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV.

fireworksNotice… the power of Christ rests on you when you feel like crap. Quit looking for fireworks. Quit doubting God because you didn’t feel fireworks.  Even if you feel weak, scared, confused, or doubting… step forward in FAITH, and trust that Christ is at work in you, through you, and around you. He NEVER disappoints.

That moment of faith is your shining moment, especially when you feel at your worst.

It is your glory.

It is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27).

It is POWER.

Okay… so I baited and switched you.  There is one more source of power, and I’ll post that one next time.

The Insanity and Bliss blog is featuring the Inner Mess book today!  So cool. Kim, the author, interviewed me and is giving away TWO FREE BOOKS.  So check out her blog today…  I’m really honored to be featured on her blog.   (She’s posting at noon, her time, so if it’s not up yet, please check again.)