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Posts Tagged ‘evangelical’

It’s becoming so much harder for me to identify as “Christian” while at the same time being a U.S. citizen. I know the difference, but it seems to have been a bad blend of religion and statism since the beginning. Not mentioned here, the history and current plight of First Nations under colonial invasion and occupation. See also Brian Zhand’s excellent post about being a follower of Jesus and supporting human torture. http://brianzahnd.com/2014/12/christian-support-torture/

I share this out of a very deep grief that has been growing over the last couple of years. At times, I have been angry. But that anger was rooted in tears.

Ben Irwin

prison-370112_1280

We’re a nation that uses fear as justification for torture.

Despite the fact that, according to scripture, “perfect love casts out fear.”

We’re a nation worried more about whether torture was effective than whether it was moral, as if the objects of torture are somehow less than human.

Despite the fact that all humanity bears the divine imprint. Despite the fact that torturing human flesh is an assault on the image and likeness of God.

We’re a nation that held a mentally impaired man hostage, using him as leverage to extract information from a relative. We’re a nation of secret prisons, in which roughly a quarter of known detainees, perhaps more, were wrongfully held.

Despite the prophets’ condemnation of those who “deny justice to the innocent,” despite their warning that the Lord’s anger would burn hot against such people.

We’re a nation that engaged in simulated hangings, that forced…

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I recently entered a discussion with someone who expressed concern that I might be a little too heavy on grace and feel-good verses in the Bible and not heavy enough on the requirements of God. He is not SDA or Hebrew Roots, but an evangelical Christian who is zealously living out his faith in a way that puts 99% of us to shame. I have a great deal of respect for him and I understand his genuine concern for Christians to walk worthy of the Name they carry. I am very disgusted to see and hear believers justify their sin on the basis of grace.  None of us are perfect, but a believer should never justify himself in his sin. If he is not grieved, I also have to wonder if his faith is real. Our discussion moved into what defines legalism.  I am not in a position to discern if he is a legalist or not, but am responding here to some explanations he gave me.  I found it interesting to be having this discussion with someone in the evangelical world rather than with members of the various law-centered groups I have belonged to in the past.   I decided to post this so I can refer people here instead of repeatedly explaining my position over and over.

The interesting thing about legalism is everyone thinks they know what it is, but you can’t find anyone who will admit to being one. The very nature of the problem prevents people from seeing they have it. Only by looking to Jesus is this veil removed.

Your assertion that legalism is not defined in the Bible, as well as your own definition of it (that it is simply requiring more than God does) are both the hallmarks of how legalists often defend their positions. Using the phrases “what God requires” and “in order to be accepted by God” also are red flags to me that someone is confusing their legal standing with God, based on Christ’s all-sufficient work alone, and their own success in living up to the righteousness of God they see in Scripture. Even in your explanation that “what God requires is constant repentance for sin” in order to maintain His approval, you are creating an impossible standard that cannot be quantified. I can never know if I am even aware of every sin in motive, action, or omission. The fact that it may be hidden from me makes it no less a sin and no less in need of cleansing from my life. Our justification and approval before God however can be measured at 100% immediately in the moment of our salvation. It does not diminish to 80% or 25% on any given day based on our ability to keep our repentance up to date. If it is possible to fall back into unbelief (big if) then it would go from 100% to 0%. There are no in between states of being. You are in Christ, or you are not.

Legalism – which is coming to God through any other means than through faith (believing ALL He has promised) – is rebuked in its many forms all through the Bible in the Old and New Testaments. People do this in various ways, and for a wide array of reasons.  We often live by the natural reflex of our fallen nature.  We tend to think something has to depend on us, try to do God’s work in our own way, or accomplish what only God alone can do. We try to get around really submitting to God by looking like we love him on the outside, while still following our own agenda and keeping our secret sins. While it often does manifest as a focus on man-made traditions or standards, it’s definitely not limited to that. We most certainly can be a legalist attempting to obey only God’s commands alone. It can also come in an over-emphasis on God’s laws instead of the Lawgiver (a form of idolatry) and man’s efforts instead of God’s work.

The worst forms of legalism in my opinion are those that teach you cannot be saved (and/or stay saved) unless you successfully meet God’s requirements in your Christian walk. They say, “Yes Jesus died for your past sins, but you better toe the line from now on or He may throw you back out.” There is an element of uncertainty here that can never be overcome and does not bring the “full assurance of faith” described in Hebrews. First of all we can’t find a clear picture of how high the bar is because people come away from Scripture with so many different conclusions about what our obligations are; and secondly, we can never truly know if we have “arrived” or if we have fallen. Even if you do not believe “once saved always saved” there is still much more assurance available in our relationship with Christ than this form of legalism allows. The opposite danger is for the legalist who has not received Christ to take comfort in his obedience as his assurance, filled with pride at his own performance. He is the Pharisee who prays, “Thank you Lord that you have not made me like this pitiful sinner I see over there.”

The New Covenant is conditional only in the sense that God’s covenant with Abraham was. Belief. Read what happened when God made the covenant with Abraham. God did it all, promised it all, and performed it all. He made the oath with Himself. Abraham was involved only to the point that as a bystander, he believed what God had promised. God called it righteousness. He wasn’t perfect either in living out his belief. He fell into doubt and works and tried to make the Promise come about how he thought it should happen.  Galatians equates this action of Abraham with the Sinai Covenant.  Both of these examples are demonstrations of the failure of works.  Works can’t bring about the Promise of God, and works don’t ever hold up our own promises to God.   In Christ, we are of the faith of Abraham. We believe the promise of God, but neither are we always perfect in walking in the Spirit when we find opportunities to do it our way.

Sinai was a temporary covenant intended to show man he can’t fix himself, and to foreshadow the perfect finished work in Christ.  He made this covenant with Israelites and all those who would agree to be circumcised and join them. (God’s principles are not temporary, but this contract and many details within it were.) It contained conditional blessings and curses depending on their obedience – having to do with the temporary physical realm. Salvation was never promised through this covenant, only earthly blessings and the status of being God’s Chosen People.  (Even though Israel broke the covenant, God promised them they would never cease to be a nation before Him.  He has kept that promise.  He has also promised to completely restore them.  God never breaks a promise.) The conditional nature of this covenant based on performance is never implied in the New Covenant. Obedience in the New Covenant comes as a RESULT of an unconditional promise, not a prerequisite.  Some legalists see the New Covenant as nothing more than the very same terms and laws as the Old Covenant – except Jesus gave you the power to keep up your end of the bargain now so you have no excuse for failure.  This is completely out of line with Hebrews, Romans, Galatians.. Acts..    Short of quoting the entire New Testament, this is trying to live for Jesus under Mt. Sinai, still making promises we can’t keep because like it or not, we are still living in fallen human flesh.

What God requires is absolute and complete perfection. No less. To say He demands less is to find a loophole somewhere (maybe another form of legalism?) I fully admit I can never meet God’s requirements. Only in Christ are they met. In Christ I stand fully and completely forgiven, past, present and future. If this is a dangerous truth – it would be only to those who have not truly known Christ. No one who knows Him can take Him for granted and respond to this flippantly. Result, not Requirement. It’s what God deserves from us, and develops in us – our reasonable service – a living sacrifice. There is no fear of condemnation in failure, but hope and victory when we give it to Him. If we are stubborn, He is faithful to discipline, not reject. (speaking as one who has been more stubborn than submissive). Can I fall into unbelief and throw His gift back into His face? Theoretically I guess it would be possible, but I can’t imagine it. Paul says the “The Love of Christ controls us.” That’s a pretty strong power. It flows from Him to Him and through us to others.

Jesus commanded us to obey Him and He said if we abide (not strive) we will have fruit. I have heard sermons detailing the “to do” list of how to abide in Christ. But Jesus gave a very simple explanation of His own command. “And this is my command, that you love one another as I have loved you.” To have the love of Christ – that is our command. “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” But we don’t trust love. We run back to the many details of the letter of the Law, not realizing that Love IS the highest law. It covers morality, justice, compassion. It speaks to every situation. It raises the definition of sin considerably higher as well. I Corinthians 13 shows love is a more excellent way in every way. Self cannot exist on the throne in its presence.  It is the very essence of God Himself.  But this is not a reason to reject the Word of God which reveals He is also a God of wrath against wickedness and sin.  God is full of paradoxes we struggle to balance out. But children do not fear his wrath. We may need to stand in fear of his rod, but not his wrath.

We cannot be transformed to resemble the life of Christ by gazing at the ministry of death (the Law engraved on stones). It serves to show us our depravity, but does not offer any help or hope. (hence the name Paul gives it)

2Corinthians 3:17, 18: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

You cannot behold the Glory of the Lord and not be changed. Isaiah’s instant response was, “I am a man of unclean lips…” We realize our need AND we get the coals from the fire under the throne of God – to cleanse us – the power of our death to sin and a resurrected life!(Romans 7 & 8 )

The legalists in Judaism asked Jesus,

John 6:28, 29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The very next word a legalist says is “But…” There is no but. As with Abraham, so with us.

Everything else grows out from there, and the Promise of God does not depend on the level of maturity we achieve from this point onward. Our rewards in the Kingdom are, but not our destiny of eternal fellowship with God.

If we belong to God I believe we will love Him and bear fruit, but I also think we need to be careful in judging the fruits of others. Not only can we be fooled by fake fruit that looks real, but we can also sometimes miss genuine fruit and pass judgment when we have no right to do so. I do believe we need to be accountable to one another in humility, with a great deal of discernment and love, not being puffed up – remembering what we are without Christ. Very few people can hold others accountable in love and humility. Paul said he wrote to the Corinthians, those hard sounding letters, in tears. I don’t see that too often in those who wish to expunge sin from our midst.

I am deeply grieved as you are by “believers” who live as if they have been set free to sin. I don’t know how anyone who has truly seen Jesus and realized the gift of God could not care if they spit on Him an bring shame to His name by calling themselves a Christian. But as I’ve already stated and continue to be redundant, this horrible situation is not cured by placing external demands on people. They must see Jesus as He is and fall on Him in brokenness, either as a lost person, or an immature believer either one. The solution is the same. It is the only way the heart is changed.

Where the Spirit has fruit (Gal. 5:22) legalism also has fruit which is cold, hard, unmerciful, and demanding. It is also often arbitrary because when rules are the focus it becomes impossible to be consistent. It doesn’t understand “exceptions” as Jesus tried to explain to the Pharisees, reminding them of how David ate the bread that was only for the priesthood. It can’t bend for mercy. Judaism has written volumes of Talmud trying to clarify and protect the Law. Legalism of any form always has to do this. People react to the the FRUIT of legalism without realizing the root problem. That’s why they can’t put their finger on what it is.. they sense something amiss, but the root is hidden deep. Often people who are the most disturbed by it have the same problem and they don’t even realize it. There are few things more fierce than legalists battling each other! 😀

After I had lived as a believer for several years, I came to a place that felt like spiritual death, in spite of all my fervent religious activity. I was in misery and thought I must need to try harder. I lost all desire to worship, to reach out, and wanted so badly to just give up because I saw no transformation taking place in myself or anyone else around me in the group we were in. We were very proud of some aspects of our “obedience” but it had not done anything at all to change the things that mattered the most. Finally through reading the gospels and hearing the words of Jesus I was terrified to realize the fruit I valued and was striving to produce had nothing to do with the kind of fruit Jesus said His followers would have. Mine was based on performance, His were centered in having my heart motivated by love – no fake imitations. I was so far from what I saw there that I knew I couldn’t even claim to be His follower at all, even though I appeared very religious, and led a very upright, moral life. It was a time of intense grief and repentance, but I am so thankful God revealed this sin to both me and my husband independently and nearly simultaneously. My deepest sorrow was that I had put Jesus in the backseat and had my “obedience” riding up front with me for all to see, and I was driving!! Now I endeavor to let Him drive, and I try not to be a backseat driver.  (He is now my chauffeur.)

Since then I pray for real fruit and God is continuing to answer. He is changing my heart and attitudes. I love people I couldn’t love. I am becoming less cold, hard, and judgmental. Instead I say, “But for the grace of God, there I am. Father help them!” It’s not the old me.  Because of the love He is pouring into me and through me, I read I John’s words where he says, “I write these things to you so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” and agree – not because of what I do, but precisely because I know I didn’t do it, and none of it has come from me. All of God, none of me. The litmus test in I John, in context, is love – over and over he says this. But for some reason, people see the word “commandments” and run back to a list of rules on stone tablets. Those rules fall so short of what God wants to create in us. We are not without law. We have a higher law and a better promise.

Some legalists are not saved because they have never trusted the work of Christ, but believe they earn their way to heaven. But I know some have received the gift, but are not aware of what they possess. Both the legalist and the freedom-loving antinomian spend most of their time pointing out each other’s faults, but both need to see Jesus and the fullness of the Promise and the Sacrifice.

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