Friday, January 14, 2011

Christian Legalism Pushes Out Christian Love in Relationships

Legalism can be descriptively defined as "the expectation you have for others to meet a specific standard of behavior, that when unmet, leads you to denigrate those people who fail to adequately perform."

To meet the definition of legalism there must be both an expectation (standard) and an attitude (superiority or pride). The denigration of other people for their failure to perform to your expected standard of behavior is the sore that surfaces from the cancer of legalism. What's odd about legalism is that it can infect both the liberal and the conservative, the evangelical and the liturgical, the radical and the traditional, the young and the old. Legalism is no respector of persons.

Legalism is not discipline.To set a standard of behavior for yourself and meet it is discipline. Legalism is not accountablity. To set a standard of behavior for others who fall under your responsibility (children or employees), to love and encourage them when they don't meet the standard while enforcing stated consequences for their failure, is accountablity. Legalism is neither discipline nor accountablity. Legalism is cancer.

Legalism kills life. It destroys the marrow of Christianity. Rather than leading others to rest in the Person and work of Christ for their righteousness, legalism leads others to work to obtain their favored status with God. Oddly, the worst kind of legalism is that which finds its standard from the Bible. Whether it be the words of Christ, or the law of God, or an interpretation of a verse that leads to a demand for others to live a certain way, legalism that sounds like radical Christianity destroys.

The truth of grace is revolutionary. God's grace is given without measure to those who trust His Son. To the person who fails, the grace of God is sufficient. To the person who is weak, the grace of God is sufficient. To the person who lives life differently than I, the grace of God is sufficient.

Some might ask, "But is there not any standard to which God calls His people to live?"

Sure. He calls us to love others. To love those who are different. To love those who don't see eye to eye with me. To love those who fail to perform. "By this (love) all people will know that you are my disciples." Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Legalism pushes out love in Christian relationships, including an understanding of God's love for us. With all our might, we ought to fight legalism. We should see it as THE enemy. We should recognize it as the stealthy, deadly spiritual ninja who sneaks up on us when we think we are safe. The legalists were the only people upon whom Christ used His whip and drove them from His Father's house. There is no room for legalism among the people of God.

The best defense against deadly legalism is to contemplate the incarnation of God in Christ and His work for us at the cross. In those moments you begin to think that you must do something to prove the radical nature of your love for God, it would do you well to remember what Charles Spurgeon said of God's love for us:

"We could almost think that God loved us more than He loves his Son.”

Until Spurgeon's statement becomes part of the imbedded fabric of your mind you may be losing your battle with legalism.