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.

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.

There’s sin in the water.

S_glass_of_waterAt what point are we repulsed by sin? More specifically, our own sin. It seems we are more sickened by the sins of others doesn't it?  As a matter of fact, it seems our level of repulsion is higher toward sins that are committed against us, others we love, or those we deem innocent and undeserving. 

By God's grace, we have seen the damage sin causes and are sickened by it, yet we often fail to see it in it's incubated state within our own hearts.  When we begin to contemplate the broad range of evil against humanity from shoplifting to genocide, and we feel the anger and physical nausea that arises from it, we should stop right there and attempt to view sin from God's perspective.  We should be mindful that God is repulsed by sin and not just the sins that offend us! In fact, God hates sin infinitely more than we could ever hate it. He doesn't require a public manifestation before finding it repulsive.  God sees sin in its seed form firmly planted beneath the soil of our hearts.

The inability to be repulsed by his own sin is the overwhelming characteristic of the depravity of man.   Which is not to say that he never experiences guilt, worthlessness, and emptiness, as these are the initial consequences. Even the vilest of criminals deal with these feelings without true repulsion and inevitably repeat their offenses.  Biblically, true sin-repulsion occurs in the heart that has seen the glory of Christ,  and results in a gradual recognition of  everything else as inferior.  God sees sin and rebellion in this way because He sees them as a corruption of His holiness.  It is the reason Adam and Eve were physically removed from the Garden of Eden and why everyone born since can not enter heaven unless clothed in Christ's righteousness.

Mountain stream

Let's pretend it's the middle of the Texas summer.  It's 100 degrees and you have cotton balls forming on your tongue.  You are thirsty beyond comprehension.  Someone pours for you a tall glass of pure spring water, ice cold!  Right before you pick up the glass to drink, they add a thimble of toilet water.  They assure you not to worry, the toilet was flushed prior and the water is clean.  I'd suspect that you would prolong your thirst before ever drinking that water.  No matter how crystal clear that water appears to be, you find it difficult to remove the thought from your mind that there could be a particle of feces floating around in there somewhere. 

As crude as this illustration might sound, it offers a glimpse of how our invisible sin and hidden thoughts affect us in relation to God's holiness! God sees our sin, our condition, though veiled by our deceptive and desperately wicked hearts, as floating feces in a glass of pure water. (If you think that is crude, then you should reflect on how the scripture says God views our righteousness!)

A couple of summers ago, I had the privilege of drinking from an ice cold mountain stream in Colorado.  I'm not an environmentalist, but I pray that humanity never does anything to defile that purity.  If our mountain stream water became corrupted, the consequences would be sad, but even if the world's water supply was filtered and chemically cleaned, the loss of the utter enjoyment of drinking pure mountain spring water would be tragic!  Likewise, the greatest tragedy of Adam's sin was not the resulting curse, but rather the loss of true companionship with God!  The greatest tragedy we face in our lack of repulsion by our own sin is not the consequences of the sin, but rather the absence of pure living water!  The consequences of sin such as death, sickness, immorality, and injustice, while tragic, serve intentionally to point us to the realization of the greater tragedy!  Only when we treasure and value Christ in the light of the empty pleasures of sin, can we begin to enjoy the sparkling water of companionship with Him!