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The Dangers of Legalism April 5, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Random Musings.
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Joe,

Thanks for posting that poem earlier, that was good stuff!

I wanted to return to what you wrote yesterday concerning the struggle with legalism.  There are some major things that you said that I agree with, and yet I am concerned that some of it also requires qualification.  When you write, ‘Sadly, many within the church miss out on the fruits of greater fellowship with God b/c they are afraid of legalism.  Therefore, they run from tough decisions of the conscience.  They flee from any external acts that might be interpreted as radical or counter-cultural,‘  I think I am in total agreement.  It is possible for a person to flee from a radical choice because they are concerned it is legalistic, like getting rid of the TV.

But I think the overall flow of your musings yesterday seems to me to be treating the dangers of legalism a bit too lightly.  You asked, ‘Who among us is going so hard after the Lord that we are ‘giving up’ too many things?‘   I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘going so hard after God’, but there are certainly many people who seek to obtain favor with God based on what they are doing instead of based on what Christ has already done.  Legalism can send a person to hell, and while many (probably most) true believers will also struggle with legalism, I don’t think I would counsel someone to enter into a period of legalism in order to come to a stronger sense of Christian freedom on the other side.  The damage that it does could well be irreparable

When legalism takes hold of a life, it is very hard to overcome.  Those roots run deeply.  I have seen it in those who I minister to, and I have seen it in myself.  You wrote,

 ‘I have had people come to me and say that they were afraid to take various external steps (i.e. television being thrown out the window, not watching certain movies, whatever) because they thought it would lead them into legalism.  My response to many (not all, but many) has been, “You are right.  This probably will lead you into legalism.  However, I don’t think it will lead you into permanent legalism.’

Rather than say what you said, I would simply ask, ‘Why are you concerned that (the removal of TV, not listening to secular music, etc.) will lead you into legalism?’  Maybe it is rooted in a flawed understanding of what legalism is.  If their answer smells of legalism (trying to obtain favor with God by keeping rules) then I can confront it.  If their answer indicates that they are doing some external thing because they want to honor and love Christ, then it is not legalism.

I don’t know if I am making any sense.  I just know that when I read your post, I agreed with many things but felt that overall you were treating legalism too lightly.  Is legalism a necessary struggle in the pursuit of Christian freedom?  I’m not sure that it’s necessary, though I know many do go through it.  I think we should labor to kill legalism at all costs, by continually lifting up the truth that we cannot earn favor with God by doing things.  We only take radical steps of devotion rightly when we do it out of the desire to honor and exalt Him as infinitely valuable.

The more I have gotten involved in ministry, the more I interact with people who have a wrong understanding of the Gospel.  Legalism is a big reason why.  So I would say that personally I am wanting to labor extra-hard to kill the roots of legalism for the sake of a greater delight in the Gospel.  If people are going to take some radical step of commitment, let them do it for the sake of the Gospel.  If it’s perceived as legalism that is one thing; but I don’t think it’s safe to tell them, this may be legalistic, but don’t worry about it because you need to struggle with this to find your freedom.  Maybe that’s not what you meant, but that’s how I understood it at parts.

Larry

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