Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Legalism Isn't (and Is)

This is not exhaustive, of course.

Legalism ISN'T equating Christianity with conformity to Christ. But it IS equating Christianity with a particular "brand" within his movement.

Legalism ISN'T any preaching of the Law or of moral exhortations (in their biblical context). But it IS preaching "do's and don't's" as if they are the essential message of Christ or of the Bible.

Legalism ISN'T any expectation of obedience. But it IS an expectation for all Christians of uniformity of conscience and culture.

Legalism ISN'T applying the demands or the spirit of the Law to one's conscience. But it IS extrapolating one's personal conscience out to require the same of another's conscience.

Legalism ISN'T just a preaching of "Don't do this or God will be angry." It IS ALSO a preaching "Do this and God will be happy."

Avoid and rebuke legalism with a dogged insistence on the all-encompassing sufficiency of Jesus Christ.


Jason said...

Well said.

John said...

I would love to get some feedback on this.

So is this legalism?

1. Exhorting women to dress modestly to keep others from stumbling. This might include some dress suggestions, but keeping in mind that just because you dress modestly on the outside doesn't mean you are on the inside. At the same time making the point that if you are modest and pure on the inside then that will be reflected on the outside.

2. Exhorting a person who uses "improper" or worldly speech to make sure that "no unwholesome word proceeds out of their mouth."

As I see it, if someone is doing something spiritually detrimental to themselves or someone else, they should be lovingly confronted. If some thing is spiritually detrimental to someone, then it should be addressed.

Taking the issue of modest dress, I am not in favor of stating "All women should wear a dress down to their ankles." But I am in favor of encouraging women to wear long dresses so others (men) won't stumble with their eyes, thoughts and heart. Is that wrong? Is that legalism? I don't think so, I would appreciate some other input.



Jared said...

So is this legalism?

1. Exhorting women to dress modestly to keep others from stumbling.

2. Exhorting a person who uses "improper" or worldly speech to make sure that "no unwholesome word proceeds out of their mouth."

Chris, as you've stated these examples, I would say, no, neither is legalism. The Bible commands modesty and forbids unwholesome speech.

As for your last paragraph, I think your use of "encourage" there is crucial, as it is different than "command." It's also different than saying that women who don't do what you're encouraging are sinning or desiring for men to stumble or worldly, etc.
And of course your reaction to whether or not your encouragement is heeded can reveal whether you mean it from a place of legalism or not, as well.

Good questions.

Spherical said...

@ John:

I love the thoughts, because it is so easy to confuse what is legalistic and what is not.

I a recent conversation I had, a woman in her 30's told me of her experience with church during her teen years. It was all about what to wear, what kind of movies she shouldn't attend, who to hang out with, etc. All of these things are good things for a Christian to know, and do not amount to legalism in themselves. But it becomes legalism when this is what we preach INSTEAD of preaching Christ. It becomes legalism when we demand conformity rather than see these behaviors as a RESPONSE to knowing and seeing the glory of God.

Jesus did not come to replace the law, He came to fulfill it. That should be our attitude as well. We do not replace the OT code with one written to apply to our times, rather we fulfill the ultimate command of love by loving God and others above ourselves in all circumstances. And that includes loving an individual who perhaps isn't to the point where there dress or language reflects what WE think would be appropriate or please God.

Paul W. said...

"Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."
(1 John 2: 6 )

God's word doesn't leave any wiggle room, if we claim to be a Christian we must live our life like Jesus did.
Jesus was a single man and was sexually pure right up to the day He died, no sex outside of marriage. Jesus didn't lie to people, so we must be truthful. Jesus didn't gossip about others behind their backs, we need to tame our tongue.

In fact Jesus' life was all about glorifying His father, we need to ask ourselves is what I'm doing in my life bringing glory to the Father? Are our actions and words counterculture to the accepted norm of the world, or are we being conformed to this world?

"The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:"
(1 John 2: 4-5)

It's not legalism to tell people to live like Jesus.

Jared said...

Paul, did anyone here say it was?

Re-read the second sentence of my post, the first "what legalism isn't" phrase. It basically says the same thing as your last statement.

Paul W. said...

I wasn't saying that you were not telling people to walk like Jesus. Sorry if my comment came off that way. Only, it seems if we encourage folks to walk as Jesus did, we are labeled as being legalistic. The word grace is thrown around fairly loosely now-a-days, and some interpret that to mean we are free to follow Christ as we see fit.

I heard the phrase yesterday, " God created man in His image, and we returned the favor". I think the correct way to assess our actions and words is to ask ourselves is what I am doing with my life bringing glory to God. Perhaps that's the correct way to go about measuring our lives against God's word.

Jared said...

Paul, I see.

I don't know who the "we" you're talking about is. I'm sure there are antinomians out there; there are places where "sin" is a bad word but the worst sin you can commit is making someone feel bad. But your comment still seemed oddly placed under the post without context.
Sorry that I misunderstood the reasoning, however.

Paul W. said...

I once read where Billy Graham thought that up to 50% of folks attending church on any given Sunday were not truly saved. If that figure is close to being true it's pretty scary, that's the "we" I'm talking about. I don't know who is truly trusting Christ in the body, so I would rather error on the side of appearing kind of legalistic like James does. There should be some works (and changes) to prove we have the right kind of faith.

By the way I do read your blog daily, I really enjoy your writing, I'm not picking a fight brother. I hear what you are saying about legalism, but some folks think grace means we don't have to have "any" works to go along with our faith. I know our works don't save us, but they prove we have a saving faith.
God Bless.

Jared said...

I would rather err on the side of grace -- although I don't think that's an error -- because I think the Holy Spirit can be trusted to produce fruit in the truly born again. The gospel empowers it's own implications, I am convinced.

Aside from that, I agree with the rest of what you're saying. Legalism isn't the expectation of obedience to God.

nhe said...

Sorry, I'm hung up on one thing Chris said - "encouraging women to wear long dresses".

Really? Are you saying this to any woman at the church with a "form fitting" shirt and jeans or Chinos?......or just the one's you know? Assuming Chris is a guy - is that really a man's place?

My wife was once confronted by a close friend about our daughter wearing a form fitting top at church. We were pretty deeply offended for a few reasons. One, our daughter was wearing what all the girls were wearing (which doesn't make it right, but she certainly didn't stand out at all for her choice of outfit). Two, we knew that this woman was dealing with her husband's struggle with pornography and it "felt" like she was misdirecting her (understandable) anger toward our daughter. It is sad to say that my wife's friendship with this gal has never been the same.

My point is I guess that, in some cases, some things like form-fitting tops and jeans are so widely accepted that it's difficult to call them out without falling into what Jared has rightly called "an expectation for all Christians of uniformity of conscience and culture."

Jared said...

I tried to take Chris's statement at as face value as I could. So I was picturing "encouragement," not criticism or singling out or belittling or cynicism, and I was picturing generality or some such thing, not going around telling every female in the church they should wear long dresses.

I think application of commands from Scripture is warranted, and while I might not be that specific -- I don't think there's anything wrong with women wearing dresses/skirts that are shorter than ankle-length, for instance -- I think encouraging modesty and providing practical ways for people to apply it is a good idea.

But, again, this assumes a spirit of grace and not an attempt to bind the conscience of others.