The Hebrews in Egypt were enslaved for hundreds of years. They cried out for a deliverer. Generations later, the Israelites in Babylonian captivity prayed for a deliverer. Years after that, the Jews under Roman occupation hoped for a deliverer. Today, legalists are enslaved by fear, ignorance and conceit. Yet they do not cry out for a deliverer. The Jews before them knew they were enslaved and needed a deliverer. Yet the legalist doesn’t know or understand his need. Should deliverance be brought to the legalist even though he does not ask for it?
My first instinct (and the instinct of many others I’ve talked to) says No! Deliverance must be desired. There is truth in this. Yet, there is also truth in the fact that before I could accept Christ as my deliverer, He had to first show me that I was enslaved to sin. I did not know it. I was ignorant. Jesus shone his light on my life and revealed my darkness. Only because of this revelation was I aware of my slavery. Adding another dimension… when Jesus initially cast his light on me revealing my sin, was that light complete? Did it display the entirety of my corruption once and for all? Or did the light, like the creeping rays of the sun, only illuminate the first aspects of my guilt – those that I was ready to see at that time – not revealing all on my life’s depravity, but only the portion needed to germinate my infant desire for Him?
The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and imbalance with God, not in one great sweeping revelation, but in degrees and moments of revelation. We’ve often heard people say life is a journey. Our initial conversion is the first step of that journey – the beginning of God’s working within us to reveal, through his ever-increasing light, the dark spots on our souls. Throughout our lives, God engages us in a process of renewal and reclamation, encouraging and convicting us to increasingly surrender more and more of ourselves to him. He continually shows us that we continually need a deliverer. God did not intend for our initial deliverance through the new birth to be the goal, the end, the destination. Our first trusting of God resulted in our being born again, but for the rest of our lives God spends his energy building greater and deeper trust of himself in us so that we increasingly rely on him. With great patience and love, God casts more light on us revealing our need. With this light, he also whispers his promises and works his wonders to continuously assure us throughout this process that we have our deliverer.
If we consider God to be acting mercifully toward us as he walks with us through this process, should we not also show the same mercy to our legalistic brothers (as they walk on their own journey)? Or should we, unlike God, abandon them to their slavery? In spite of the people who say there is no hope or that it is a waste of time to approach the legalist, I simply cannot reconcile the idea of abandoning my brothers who are trapped in legalism with the gospel message of Jesus. Jesus came to set men free. Consider these scriptures:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
2 Cor. 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Perhaps rather than abandon our legalistic brothers because we view their plight as an insurmountable obstacle, we should recognize their situation for what it is – enslavement. Perhaps our response should be one of holy discontent. Rather than be apathetic, perhaps we should grow angry at their imprisonment. Perhaps we should commit ourselves to their rescue – finding ways to scale the walls of their prison and deliver them from bondage.
What was Jesus’ response to the Jews screaming for his blood, “crucify him, crucify him!” He showed them mercy – rescuing and delivering them. He laid down his life for them.
* All scripture quotations from the NIV