Walking with Jesus

Understanding the Appeal of Legalism

Understanding the appeal of legalism and how to overcome it

Do you ever think about your younger self sometimes? I do. I often shake my head, and wonder, “What was I thinking?”

I was contemplating this recently again, as this topic came up in private discussion. Then my thoughts drifted towards wondering why we make certain choices.

What is it that makes things like legalism and religious extremism appeal to people? I wonder how this free spirited hippie at heart became a legalist. How did I come to embrace some pretty extreme legalism for a while there?

Completing the Equations

One of the reasons, I think, is that I love the assurance of equations. Yeah, like math equations.

I’ve always loved Math and Science. I tend to like life with equations that work out, where if you do a + b then c happens.

I approached my Christian walk like this for a long time.

I wanted to have God on my side. I studied the Bible like a Physics textbook as a result.  I tried to make God “have to” like me and “have to” take care of me and “have to” be happy with me.

As if it worked like that!

All this seems silly now, but that was how I viewed life in many ways. I needed some kind of assurance that God loved me

Understanding the appeal of legalism and how to overcome it

Ignoring God-Given Discernment

I can remember feeling like, “This is wrong” when I heard quite a bit of wrong teaching and legalistic ideas. I hesitated to accept teachings about family life and anti-feminism. If someone could show me a Bible verse or two, I usually listened. If they could make a strong argument for whatever their pet topic was, I couldn’t argue back. I felt like I had to deaden my discernment and double down on believing man’s lies.

My main desire was to please God. Too many times I wound up doing what others told me was the right thing to do instead of seeking God for myself. How foolish!

When something didn’t feel right to me, I found many would caution me against going by my feelings. I agree to some extent.

As Christians our theology can’t come from our feelings or else you can wind up in some pretty crazy heresy.

Yet, when the Holy Spirit is living in us, He promises to lead us into all truth in Jesus’ sermon in John 14-16. The Holy Spirit is like a referee blowing a whistle when we go afoul. If we are heading down a wrong path, the Holy Spirit sounds an alarm in our hearts.

The Cure for Legalism

The cure for legalism is simple. A living, breathing relationship with Jesus cures anyone of legalism.

A living, breathing relationship with Jesus cures anyone of legalism. #legalism #quiettimes Click To Tweet

In everyday life, faced with compelling arguments and prooftexts, it’s not so simple. Is it?

When people present some off the wall idea about serving God that feels off, go to Jesus. Read that proof-text verse in the context of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. We must fulfil our primary purposes here on earth to love God and love others. God called us to be an ambassador of reconciliation between God and others.

In light of God’s purpose for our lives, many things I’ve heard taught are pointless.

For example, a favorite example of mine is the Christmas tree topic. The Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:1-5) talks about Christmas trees. At least many think so. I have met people who take this literally. They ban all things Christmas from their homes, viewing it as idolatry, and urging others to do the same.

I reject this idea for several reasons, which I list below. I think it illustrates my views on other topics that get us off topic from the Gospel and walking with Jesus.

  1. Jeremiah preaches about the kind of idolatry of his day, not making a blanket statement. So there’s that — cultural context. If you’re tempted to worship demons and idols because of their Christmas tree, don’t have one. For most people, I doubt this is an issue.
  2. Does obsessing about Christmas tree idolatry help us show Christ to the world?  The world doubts the reality of who Jesus is and what He’s like. Creating a huge issue about Christmas trees does nothing to remedy this. Yeah, nothing shows the unchurched what Jesus is about like bah humbug, right?
  3. Christmas is  THE best time to be missional to those around us. People tend to be more open this time of year. Some Christians split hairs over Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays. Let’s not. The purpose of our lives isn’t “being right” or winning culture wars. We’re here to show Christ to the world in need.
  4. God can use anything, even a donkey. Don’t worship Christmas trees, of course (it goes without saying right?) but ask God to show you how to use Christmas (and anything else) to help others see Him for who He is.

This is just an example of an issue that gets us sidetracked from the real purpose of walking with Jesus.

The disciples turned the world upside down despite living in a culture that hated Christians. How? Click To Tweet

The disciples lived in a day when the authorities killed Christians for their faith. They lived in a culture that was contrary to their morals. Yet they managed to turn the world upside down in one generation. How did they do it? By not getting distracted by weird little issues of their day. They kept the focus where it should be: on Christ!