The Spirit of Legalism

I’m not going to worry about writing a grammatically perfect blog post. I’m not going to sweat out the form too much. I’m just going to blurt out what I have on my mind. I am a legalist.

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Pharisee
I'm not going to worry about writing a grammatically perfect blog post.  I'm not going to sweat out the form too much. I'm just going to blurt out what I have on my mind.   I am a legalist.  And here's the part you're not going to like too much.  You also are a legalist.  Obviously, this is going to be a post for Christians because the unbelieving world will have no idea what I am referring to, albeit they're legalists too. They just don't know it yet.  They will read this and think I'm talking about courtrooms and lawyers.  For that matter, there is probably a great segment of Christianity that will not know what I'm talking about either. 

Legalism is a term I came to know late in my teenage years although I can't pinpoint the event or place I first heard it.  What I did learn quickly was that I was surrounded by legalism.  I was, in fact, immersed in it.  My mind was legalistically saturated like a chicken leg in Crisco!  I came to understand that to be legalistic meant to be "rules driven".  Even though salvation was preached as a free gift of God, you found out after you "get saved" that apparently it wasn't free after all.  Now after you make a decision and get baptized, you are required to jump through hoops of fiery legalism one after the other until the end of time or eternity, whichever lasts longer.  When I tell friends of mine who didn't experience this growing up that these hoops were things like hair cut above the ears, prohibition of movie theaters, no drinking (don't even let it touch yer lips!!) no slacks for women,  no mixed "bathing" (they meant swimming, but somehow it turned into a bath…yucch!) and certainly no dancing of any kind and  Oh, no card playing either, not even gin rummy, they stare at me like a statue.

Thank God for the truth of His Word that teaches that I am not morally capable to meet God's standard of holiness! Thank God that He made so clear that there is nothing I can do to earn His love!  It is by Grace that I am being saved through faith!   It's not due to my self-righteousness, but his righteousness transferred to my account that I am considered in right standing with my Creator! 

In my zeal to run as fast I could from legalism the past 20 plus years, I really thought I was making headway.   What I failed to realize was that I was becoming a legalism legalist!  In other words, escape from legalism became my religion!  Distancing myself from the self-righteousness of my past resulted in another form of self-righteousness!

What I've come to realize in my journey, is that legalism comes in many forms.  There's legalism in every religion and denomination.  Case in point, there are churches who are anti-religion so they become non-denominational, but in reality have become their own denomination. "Non-denom" has become their "denomination".  How silly! 

There are many forms of legalism, yet one spirit that drives them.  It is the human spirit.  When you get down to it, legalism is really superstition.  Superstition is the idea that good things or bad things happen to you because of external circumstances like a broken mirror, a black cat and/or human actions like crossing your fingers or carrying a rabbit's foot.  

By nature, we think that external circumstances like illness, tragedy, natural disasters are indicators of our own personal lack of Godliness.  We also naturally think that there is somethng we can do in our own power to earn God's pleasure such as church activity, moral behavior, or good citizenship.  As Christians we are quick to dismiss this because we all believe the Bible about these things.  Yet, our actions indicate otherwise.  This is how the Pharisees lived.  They viewed lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, women, and children as spiritually destitute.  Their cup was clean on the outside and a toilet inside according to Jesus.  That is true of all of us.  Our natural selves are unflushed toilets that need a good scrubbing!  (there are legalists who don't like that I said toilet)

As I search the scriptures, I have found only one solution to the human dilemma of legalism.  It is painfully simple.  Receive.  Receive Grace from God.  Receive the gift of His righteousness!  Receive the preached Word of God! Receive receive receive!  Don't do anything.  Just sit down and trust Christ to serve You!  Christianity is not driven by Christians serving God.  It is driven by God serving us!  Sounds selfish doesn't it?  Don't hear me wrong, God is not our butler.  In reality, it is more self-serving and dishonoring to God when we reject His gift.  Since Eden, mankind has been rejecting infinite joy and choosing self serving emptiness!  This is the highest offense to God imaginable.  Imagine, choosing an apple over the creator! 

Be careful when you become a fugitive of legalism.  It might be the very spirit of legalism that sustains your fleeting steps.

In training

What_is_a_kettlebell_good_for
I Timothy 4:7-8 "train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."

You are probably already thinking about getting in good physical shape as the new year approaches as well we should.  But what about spiritually?  Shouldn't this be the starting point?  Whenever we are dissatisfied with our lives in any way, we gravitate to the physical things, the things we can see.  Rarely do we make a plan for the unseen, our own souls!  Paul encouraged his protege Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus, to train himself in godliness.  While Paul acknowledged the value of working out physically, he was much more concerned for Timothy's soul.  Isn't it strange how many of us were brought up to view the soul as something you scoop up from the reaches of hell as if it was some kind of object the size of a breadbox, some type of tangible material.  So after we come to Christ, the soul goes unattended and uncared for.  The only explanation that I can come up with is bad theology.  The sanctification process of salvation gets reduced to moral deeds to be fueled by sheer will power.  Our constant new years resolution failures should have informed us by now that we don't have what it takes to sanctify ourselves.  Phillipians 2 tells us to "work out our salvation" and "it is God who works in (us)".  So, this doesn't mean we don't participate in sanctification, it just means that our own strength (willpower) is NOT the source we draw from.
Paul tells us that godliness is of value in every way as it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come!  He goes on to say we toil and strive in this training.  It makes sense that there would be work involved in training right?  Remember this, however.  There's always a motivation behind everything.   Why do we work so hard to train in godliness?  Because, Paul says, "we have our hope set on the living God"!  God himself is why we train!  It's not so we can be better people.  It's not so we will look better in the mirror.  It's not to ease our guilty consciences.  We train because we are preparing for a great wedding day where we will be wed to our Creator God who we will adore forever and where we will be supremely loved by Him!