Flip a coin

8408TwoFaceAs a fan of the Batman movie franchise, I'm reminded of one of my favorite villains, Two-Face.  Originally a moral hero and combatant of crime, Harvey Dent suffered a horrible fate when half of his face was burned off.  As a result, he was not only left with a badly scarred face, but a loss of sanity as his mental instability caused him to waver between good and evil. In an effort to settle his indecision, he carried a coin in his pocket that was scratched on one side, and pristine on the other from which all of his decisions, good and bad, derived.  Whenever a situation presented itself, he would flip the coin.  If it landed on the marred side, he would commit the crime, and if it landed on the shiny side, he would refrain from the offense.   Interestingly, the fate of the coin flip did not have any affect on the very character of Two-face.  No matter which side came up, he was still a demented threat to society because it takes only one crime to make a man a criminal regardless of all the right decisions he makes along the way.

The natural man faces a similar dilemma in the pursuit of goodness. Likewise, he carries a coin defined by the two sides of legalism and moralism.  The legalistic side is scarred perhaps because his soul has been crushed not only by its excess of human requirement, but also an accompanying attitude that enjoys it!  Although he is already naturally blinded to the glory of Christ, he is tragically driven deeper into darkness by the venomous spirit of legalism.  Superstition seems to be his disposition as the "things he wears" and the "places he goes" equate to the broken mirrors and black cats of divine acceptance.

By grace alone, he will wake up and escape from this satanic philosophy, but in an unwitting attempt to run and never look back, the moralistic side of the coin inevitably appears which is usually preceded by a season of liberation.  Indeed, in his desire to be freed from legalism, he goes to great lengths to decontaminate himself as he engages in the activities once considered iillegal.  One thing is for sure, he has no intention of going back to the dark side of the coin again!  Eventually at the end of short-lived freedom he will be entranced by the allure of the shiny side of the coin.  It's moralistic identity assures a kinder and gentler human striving. It doesn't focus as much on impermissible action but rather on pragmatic action.  It preaches the need to reach his human potential as opposed to a lingering of human failures.  This philosophy often proceeds (behind the guise of Christianity) with a technique for goodness, but ultimately it is proved to be mere human endeavor and the result is not unlike that of legalism! Why?  Because moralism and legalism are just different sides of the same coin!  Legalism promises acceptance through rule-keeping while moralism promises self-improvement through pragmatism.  Both in stark contrast to biblical Christianity, legalism views the Bible as a rule book while moralism uses the Bible as a handbook. However, the damning effect is not attributed to either side of the coin, but to the coin itself! For no matter where the coin lands after it is cast, the exertion is innately human, and until then it remains deep-seated in the pocket of human raiment. 

Conversely, the Gospel is a completely different coin where divine revelation is rendered from both sides.  First there is the revelation of our spiritual non-existence that is the sheer human inability to achieve divine goodness. By it, we are informed of our corrupted nature with which we have no chance apart from grace to cause our own existence.   Just as an infant cannot bring about the cause of his own conception, we are not the cause of our own spiritual birth!   The other side of the coin affords us a glimpse of the Glory of Christ displayed predominately on the Cross.  Together, the two sides illumined by the Holy Spirit give us true spiritual sight!  When you begin to really "see" the glory of Christ against the backdrop of the ruined human soul the Gospel increases in focus, igniting faith, and leads to genuine goodness! 

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.

One Thing

One of my favorite movie characters by the name of Curly from the movie "City Slickers" with his Marlboro Man finger skyward pointed asks Mitch Robbins "do you know what the secret to life is?" to which Mitch replies, "your finger"?  "One thing" Curly exclaims! "You stick to that and everything else don’t mean ****!" 

Although I’m sorry to allude to such a crude movie quote to make my point about the gospel, I’m not sorry to say that the church has "one thing" to stick to!  Once we do, everything else…well…never mind.

I admit it.  I fell into the trap years ago.  In order that I might rebel against the spirit of legalism, I nearly threw the baby out with the bathwater.  The water of fundamentalism as I experienced it was a horrible stench.  Even the lost world came to this conclusion well before the very church that bathed in it.  Once the church at large started to smell herself, she went to great lengths to clean herself up.  (therein lies the problem) 

"The world won’t hear the gospel because of our pride and our attitudes" we rightly recognized.  So we pursued solutions instead of God.  We tried techniques and methods, instead of a prostrate position before Christ.  We blamed our fundamentalist, legalistic preachers instead of standing up and taking responsibility ourselves.   We abandoned the pastor-shepherd for the Administrative CEO/Manager.  In hope that we might not be as offensive as the ones before us, we took the offense out of the message.  To compensate for arrogance from the pulpit, we painted God as sin-tolerant.  Instead of proclaiming the gospel that tells us we won’t get any better, we supplanted it with a message on how to be a better you. (morality) 

Instead of telling the world that there is "none righteous, none that seeks after God", we informed them that they were "seekers".  Instead of preaching the relevant gospel we sought the counsel of the ones we called seekers and served up messages they find relevant.  Instead of equipping Christians with the Gospel so they can evangelize the world in which they live, we are preaching morality so they can actually have NO effect on the world in which they live. 

Does our music need new wine skins?  Yes!  Must we know our culture in order to reach them!  Yes! Do we need to better communicate the gospel so that it is accessible (understandable) to the un-churched?  Yes!  Should we keep an open mind to technological advances as they relate to improved communication of the message?  Yes! Are any of these things the gospel?  NO!

Do our pastors love people or the culture?  Where is their passion?  Is it invested in their careers as Pastor/CEO,  or is it invested in the scripture, in Christ! 

Let me leave you with the words from a sermon by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  As a church, we must get back to our God sanctioned role as proclaimers of the Gospel.  We need to proclaim "One Thing".  All other messages of morals and principles are powerless.

Blessings, Rob

"Our only message to those who are in the world is to repent and to believe the gospel! Nothing else. There is no hope for the world outside Christ, none whatsoever! There is no improvement predicted or prophesied for the world, none whatsoever! There is no greater error or heresy than to think it is the business of Christian preaching  to improve the world somewhat!  It’s a denial of the gospel!  The idea that it is the business of the church to recommend Christian principles to the world and plead with it and ask to put it into practice. To send messages to statesmen and ask them to put it into practice, I say is a denial of this. The only message of the gospel to the world is to tell it to repent because it’s under the wrath of God and unless it repents it’s lost eternally!  There is no message I say but repent and believe! The world that is without Christ is entirely without hope!