Deliverance from Legalism

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:

John 8:31-36

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.

Rom. 6:6-7

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.

Gal. 5:1-10

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

Deconstructing Legalism

Note: this post is constantly being edited, but I’m making it public anyway.

Series Introduction:

Jesus’ feelings about legalism are revealed in his dealings with the Pharisees. Jesus railed against the Pharisees. He clearly communicated that their way was not the right way. Why was he so hard on them?  The Pharisees were the essence of what it meant to be devout. Their strict belief in observing the Law caused them to want to not only observe it, but to observe it with such vigor that they would not only forbid themselves from crossing the line, but also to forbid themselves from even approaching the line. Their motivation was their belief that disobedience caused separation from God. Therefore, they committed themselves to not coming close to disobedience. They implemented this belief by creating new restrictions in the hope that such restrictions would insure they did not break the Law. Over time, they began to observe these man-made restrictions as Law. Jesus had a problem with this because they had created a new set of laws that were not from God. They bound on others what God had not bound.

Jesus walked through Galilee teaching a message of freedom from the legalistic worldview of his Pharisaic brothers. Scripture says that he fulfilled the Law with all its requirements. Jesus satisfied the Law by offering himself as the supreme sacrifice – a sacrifice worthy enough to not only cleanse the Jews of their centuries of sin, but also worthy enough to cleanse all people of all cultures through all of time. His sacrifice ripped the veil separating God and man bringing the two together.  Jesus restored humanity’s direct access to God by removing the blood guilt of sin – he made us white as snow. By his sacrifice, we have become God’s children, adopted into his family and made heirs to kingdom which now exists in part and will be fully revealed one day.  Because of all Christ has done, we no longer have to cower in fear of God’s judgment.  We no longer have to hold ourselves to an unachievable standard.  We are free to boldly and with confidence walk into the presence of God as his sons and daughters.  Without fear, we can look directly into his eyes.  With confidence we can point to that man sitting at his right hand – the one with holes in his palms and feet and proclaim that Jesus, the firstborn, has made us spotless for the glory of his father.  And God smiles.

Sadly (and I mean sadly), some in the church have not embraced this message of grace and freedom.  Some have not heard it because it is simply not preached in their churches.  Others refuse to hear it because the message implies that their long held legalistic beliefs are wrong – a realization being too difficult to accept leaving rejection as their only option.  Still others have overtly rejected the message because they simply cannot fathom that salvation could come so easily – as a gift. Lastly, others reject Christ’s freedom because they enjoy control – controlling themselves and others.  They arrogantly see a world where everything is so easily defined and comprehensible.  They love the status quo, their traditions and want to keep their world the same forever.

This series of posts will explore what legalism is and the cultures it creates.  Also, the series will offer a lay interpretation of the psychological affects of a legalistic culture over time.  All of this will be approached from a biblical perspective supported by scripture and personal experience and interpretation.  The goal of this series is not to stir up division, slander brothers or project a sense of personal and intellectual superiority (Lord knows there is far too much of all this already).  Rather, the goal is the opposite of all those things.  I hate division with a passion.  I want for my legalistic brothers to be free from their yoke of slavery to an imaginary law and to experience the joy of life in the kingdom.  And I realize that I have no claim to authority or superiority because my circuitous way out  of legalism was strictly by the direction of God.  Without his leading, I might still be there.  So, this series is intended to rescue and reconcile not rebuke.

Series Topics:

What is the culture of fear that legalism creates?

What does God think about obedience?

What does God want our motivation for obedience to be?

How does God want us to respond to him?

If it is not through the keeping of a set of Laws, what is our response to be?

Where does agreement on doctrine fit into the mix?

What is the difference between life being a journey and life being about the destination?

What is the difference between view the kingdom as a reward to be received later verses the kingdom being something to experience now?

What is  “conventional wisdom” and how did it affected the Pharisees and us?

What is the transformation of the heart through the power of the Spirit?

What is the word of God?

Where is the power of the word of God?

What about the prophesy to make living stones?

What about putting the law on their hearts?

These are some questions I’d like to explore in future posts.  I’ll post these under the “Transformational Living” category.

What is an open mind and how can I get one?

One can receive no value from anything in life unless one maintains an open mind. An open mind is like an open door. It allows new information to penetrate our mind which currently only houses old information. This new information actually penetrates the old information and stimulates a synthesis of the old and the new to form a new framework that was not there previously. New information forces change and adaptation to occur. It stimulates the thinking process. One cannot think “adequately” without processing new information. Without the consideration of new information, one can only think or process old information. By nature, this would be a closed system – uninfluenced by the new information.

Those having a closed mind often have it because they fear new information. They fear the change the new information may cause in them. They desire to cling to only what they know because it is a comfort to them. Yet, by closing their mind they rob themselves of the richness of life.

More importantly, by having a closed mind, one chooses to ignore truth. Information yields truth. To say that another way, the increase of information moves one closer to truth. Of course this assumes that one has the mental and intellectual capacity and analytical processes in place to properly analyze the new information in order to synthesize it with the old information – one must be able to think and think logically.

An open mind is the product of a decision. One decides to be open and actively pursues and welcomes new information. One does this because he does not fear the change that new information brings, but rather accepts and embraces the fact that change happens and is inevitable.

Overcoming fear of change is the first hurdle to cross in order to achieve an open mind. And this hurdle must be repeatedly crossed throughout life because new fears arise with life’s events and one must make a continual decision to remain open.

The rewards of an open mind are many even though such openness has its risks. Openness will mean constant challenge to ones mental framework and world-view. However, the risk is worth taking because the alternative is a life that is self-contained and closed off from the reality we live in – the world around us.

The first step to achieving an open mind is humility. I admit to myself and myself only that I do not know everything. This seems a simple admission, but it is not. If I believe within myself that I know everything, then my world seems secure. It puts me in control. Everything seems to operate within the bounds of my knowledge and understanding. Therefore, anything that happens can be explained according to the way I think about the world.

While this seems like a nice and comforting thought, it lies far from the truth. Reality and the world says that we are the opposite of this. We do not know everything. In fact, we know very little. We are finite creature that are born and die in the span of only a few years. The vast majority of time passes outside the scope of our lifespans. Therefore, there is a majority of information that we cannot possibly attain. Additionally, even if we somehow were to obtain all this information, out finite brains and intellectual powers would be vastly insufficient to grasp and understand all this information.

Therefore, what we are left with is partial information and a very limited capacity to understand it. So what do we do?

First, we admit to ourselves that we have these limitations and that we do not know or understand everything.

Second, we admit to ourselves that while we do have minds to process information, we are limited to by our own bodies. We, that is the personality and mental capacity of who we are is encapsulated or contained within a physical body. Information can only pass through our bodies and get into our minds by the physical “doors” that our bodies contain. Information passes through our eyes, ears, fingers to our brain where it can be processed and assimilated into our mental image of the world. There is a natural limitation in this and sometimes even a distortion of the information because of our physical senses.

Yet, we also admit that there are millions of other people around us, equally limited like we are in their ability to understand the world around them. However, an important fact exists. Each of these people have their own unique collection of experiences and understandings that have made them who they are just like us.

Therefore, when we admit to ourselves that we do not know everything (and cannot) our mind begins to open. It opens to the fact that there are other sources of information and understanding available to us. We realize we can learn from other people; glean new understanding of ourselves when those others share their understanding with us. Once we open our mind, we can begin to look for new information that will make us more whole. We look to other people to teach us about their experiences so that we may understand ourselves better.

By admitting we do not know everything and realizing that no one else does either we begin to realize that all people are in the same situation – we are all trying to figure out life together and we all possess the same limitations.

This humble admittance creates a grace within us. We become more graceful to others because we realize they are just like us and we are just like them. We are all collectively trying to understand life as best as we can.