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Posts Tagged ‘legalsim’

I have already written quite a lengthy post on legalism.. but had more thoughts on it recently.

One day Jesus was teaching a house full of scribes and lawyers.  The account (Luke 5) says  they were from every village in Israel so I am going to take a little bit of speculative license here and assume there probably wasn’t room in the house for many regular folks.  They were conducting an investigation it seems.  Outside four men are carrying a friend on a stretcher who is completely paralyzed.  They want to bring him to Jesus, but they can’t get through the wall of lawyers.  The lawyers would have summed up this man as a hopeless sinner, judging from his physical condition.  Their evaluation would not be questioned, but they would have not offered to help, nor would they have been able to.  Indeed no one was even foolish enough to ask them to help.  The only way around this obstacle seemed to be to come down from the top, through the roof.  These four men took their friend directly to Jesus.  They knew without any doubt He could do the impossible.

When Jesus saw their faith He simply told him, “Your sins are forgiven.”  The Law was appalled.  It said… “How can you DO that?”, outraged at this breach in procedure.  Then Jesus proved out the authority to forgive by healing his body as well, and the man walked out on his own.  They were speechless.  The law can say nothing in condemnation of healing (unless of course done on the Sabbath day..:)).  It can only watch in amazement.  Grace does not just forgive, it heals and makes all things new.  A changed life proves out a changed heart.

To me, this miracle is a parable in a picture.  The paralyzed man represents our fallen condition – totally helpless and condemned.  His four friends have no names and I believe represent the the Holy Spirit as He inspired four written testimonies,which bring all of us directly to Jesus.  The lawyers represent the “ministry of sin and death” – (2 Cor 3) – the thing which tells the truth, but cannot help us.  And the act of forgiveness and mercy that Jesus shows the helpless man is God’s heart toward all who seek His Son for their righteousness … by faith.

I wonder how the healed man conducted his life from that point on, and how he treated others he met who were lying helpless in a bed.  Did he look on them with contempt like the Pharisee or bend down to let the love of God flow through him to heal others?  A parable Jesus told about a man who received forgiveness of an enormous debt he could not pay, then afterward demanded payment from someone who owed him a small mount, without mercy,  indicates to me we can fail to extend to others the Grace we have received.

Our new life in Christ is manifested not only in seeking to live an upright life to the glory of  God, but also by the love of Christ flowing through us to others.  If the “new life” simply succeeds in adhering to a moral code, it is honestly no different than the thing which failed to help in the first place, and according to I John, is not new life at all, but a farce.   But sadly Christianity (not just cults) often defines this new life only as “being good”  (refraining from doing immoral things), or adopting a pious lifestyle with lots of churchy activity, rather than being love.  Some people can fake good, but you can’t fake real love.

Paul gives us only two options for the motivating force in our lives; flesh or Spirit.  If we do not walk in the Spirit (which manifests in purity AND love – Gal. 5) then we are in the flesh and no matter how upright, moral, well-versed in scripture we are, respected of men, or applauded for our integrity – we are still in our own inadequate righteousness.  We will not forgive others their shortcomings while we boast of our own accomplishments.  We won’t talk about Jesus and how He changed our lives but about our church or denomination and why it’s the best of all.  Because we do not sense our need for mercy we don’t extend it to anyone else.   We harbor resentment and encourage others in theirs, especially if it sympathizes with the direction of  our own.  We can be thorough Bible teachers but only relay information.  We cannot give living spiritual food because we have none to give.  Our houses may be immaculate, the picture of hard work and godly self-discipline.  But we probably wouldn’t want any unseemly people hanging around to mess it up.  We are pragmatic in our relationships and don’t have time for people who can’t further our agenda or make us look good.  We can tell everyone about right and wrong, have an impeccably orthodox doctrine and a spotless Biblical worldview when it comes to politics and social issues.  But we are strangers to love.  This kind of legalism is simply an outward righteousness devoid of  mercy, forgiveness, and compassion.  I John says this falls short of what we as children of God will exhibit in our lives.  Jesus said above all things, to love one another as He loved us.  When he said our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, this is a major  key difference.

We all have a potential legalist living in all of us.  Before we receive grace, we either rebel against God in total, or strive to reach Him on our own terms.  But even after we come to Christ we can still fall into this mindset so easily, because it is our natural tendency to focus on ourselves and become puffed up in what we see as our own success compared to others we know.

A person who has fallen into this trap will be a person that gives many others an opportunity to practice the love, patience, and forgiveness of Christ.  We cannot shun this brand of legalist and treat them as they treat others or we will become just like them.  We should take the opportunity to demonstrate to them what unconditional love looks like as we respond to them in a way they don’t understand.  They have seen a false standard of righteousness and thought themselves up to the task rather than seeing themselves as they are without abiding in the Vine of Jesus Christ and the  Spirit.  This is why Jesus came with new authoritative teaching.  I heard a sermon on the radio recently that had me cheering as we were driving down the road.  The teacher was pointing out that if you want to truly recognize your depravity,  study the Sermon on the Mount more than the Law.  What Jesus taught confronts the deepest inward motives of our heart, our secrets.  There is no wriggle room there for the Pharisee in us.  We have no choice but to cry “I fail” and go away in despair or to accept the grace that totally forgives and transforms us to be able to in any small measure, exemplify the life that Jesus describes.

Having begun in the Spirit, are we perfected by the Law (from any source, Moses or Church)?  – a rhetorical question asked by Paul, who knew both paths intimately. (Gal. 3:3)  Rather the answer is.. “If we live by the  Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25)

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

For the law was given through Moses;

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:16, 17

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