In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Legalism


Today I need to think through the implications of a conversation that I had with another Believer, a young man.

Usually when I hear the word "legalism" a picture of a judgmental religious person comes to mind. But, unfortunately, it is not always so.

Just today as I was talking to this sweet young man, I could see that he is struggling deeply with this issue. This young man wants so much to please God and is so worried about doing the wrong thing and not doing everything right, that he's in bondage. As we talked today I saw the inner turmoil and pain. I know that we each must walk our own path and that sometimes we must go through the inner struggle to arrive at our own truths so we can be steadfast. But I also know that sometimes God brings people across our paths so we can can provide some direction. I believe I was just in the right place at the right time to be able to talk with this young man today.

During the conversation I kept stressing that any time we believe we are hearing something from God we need to check it out with the bible, the written word of God. This young man was concerned that perhaps I was well meaning but in error and I approved of this thought - he should indeed not take what I or anyone else says at face value, but should compare it with scripture. Due to time and schedule constraints, we had to end our conversation. Afterward, as I was praying I came upon a scripture that I want to share with him. It's from the book of Romans, verses 1-11 (The Message version):

1-2 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

It helps to see this passage in context; in the 7th chapter of Romans the author, Paul, had been writing about the internal struggle we all have between doing what our flesh desires and what we know to be right. He talks in Romans 7 about how the law of what is right and wrong and all the things we are to do is heavy and hard upon us, but that Jesus can offer freedom. Then we come to these words above.

The law is all about doing the good and right thing, but it can be burdensome because we can not always keep it. In these first verses here it talks about how the law is like a "low-lying black cloud". It causes us to despair because we just are not able to always do that which is right. The more God sensitizes our spirits and removes those callouses, the more we see all that is really wrong with us. If that was where it ended, we would indeed be doomed to live under a heaviness (just as this young man I was speaking with today is dealing with).

Scripture here explains that the "law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature" is unable to lead us to that place of right doing that we desire to achieve by the law/right actions. The crux of the issue is, as said above, the "law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it". Sin, wrong actions/thoughts/motives, flows from a heart that is not good. Every human being has a heart that, on it's own, is not good; we have this propensity toward sin (even good people are selfish; ask their children, spouses or close friends! NO ONE is perfect all the time.) So, to really live in freedom, each of us needs heart healing - not law heaping! Not more rules put on top of other rules to show us the right way to act. This is certainly helpful to assist us in seeing the best way to live and to convict us of our need for God - but if it stops there we are still in that black cloud.

Thank God it doesn't stop there!

I love the way it is explained here: "God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. " No matter how long we've been a Christian it always comes back to Jesus. Once we've chosen to ask Jesus to be our savior, and God has re birthed our spirit and we have His spirit within us, we can simply cooperate with His work. The scripture above says that "instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us." God is working in those of us who choose to follow Him and we don't have to become discouraged. Just like it says in Philippians 1:6: "the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears." I want so much to share with this young man with whom I talked today that it is a process, we won't have it all together all the time and God is OK with that. As it says in the beginning of the passage above "Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud." We are not under condemnation; Christ is here with us helping us, not condemning us.

I also think that the scripture above points out a powerful and important truth that "
Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.
" When we are bound up in legalism, a set of things we must do and not do, the focus in on us and what we are doing/refraining from doing, instead of on God. The thing is we can be followers of Christ and still be led astray into legalism as this young man I spoke with today. He loves God and wants to do good so He's started focusing on all these actions, yet he messes up and then feels guilty. He's under that "low-lying black cloud". He needs to, instead, trust and cooperate with God's work in him.

How encouraging are these words: "
But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!
" It is very clear here that we "still experience all the limitations of sin"; but there is the implication that it is a process and that God, through Jesus, is "bringing you alive to himself".

We really have such a good deal in Christ; we can live in the "
spacious, free life
" and look forward to the ongoing process of God working in us and conforming us to His image. May we just be patient with both ourselves and others in this process.

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