Growing up in church I’ve heard the term legalism thrown around a bit. It is an excessive adherence to a law, that is, dependence on morals and laws rather than personal faith. In the Bible we see this in the lives of the Pharisees (and scribes and Sadducees and so on) pretty much whenever they encountered Jesus. Even though they were face to face with the Messiah, they refused to believe and instead spent their time making sure everyone knew they were following all the laws and loved to point out those who weren’t.
Though many can look and see this example and easily point out the problem of legalism, there are still loads of people in the church who struggle with this, myself included. And not just the ones who are extremely religious with no relationship but the ones at the other extreme as well. This is why I feel it’s one of those difficult subjects. I’ve heard and read people who condemn others who take the legalistic route and emphasize relationship over religion. This is good and all, but I have also see these same people live their lives in obvious sin, using the excuse that it’s their relationship that counts, not how religious they are. This attitude is addressed by Paul in Romans 6:1-3.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”
Yes it is our relationship with Christ, our faith, that is the deciding factor in our Salvation, but that faith causes a change in us so that we no longer want to continue living in sin!
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” James 2:17
Okay, so there’s my views (sort of, I could go a lot longer) on legalism. Now I can talk about what brought me to writing this post. I recently read an article that got me thinking even more about something I’d been ruminating (love that word!) on the past year or so. The article is titled The ‘New Legalsim’ and it talks about how the push to be radical Christians by becoming missionaries and such has actually driven away many people who are meant to be ordinary Christians, living ordinary lives for the extraordinary glory of God. Here are some of my favorite insights from the article:
“Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).”
“I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special.”
“What if youth and young adults were simply encouraged live in pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, education, wonder, beauty, glory, creativity, and worship in a world marred by sin, as Abraham Kuyper encourages in the book Wisdom and Wonder. No shame, no pressure to be awesome, no expectations of fame but simply following the call to be men and women of virtue and inviting their friends and neighbors to do the same in every area of life.”
So, it seems that everywhere we turn, we see churches preaching that you must have a ministry and that ministry is to be a part of the ministry of the church. Again, not that this is bad, but in extreme cases, it can be. All through high school, there were always several chapels during the year that encouraged us to commit our lives to the Lord again for the ministry. Almost every time, about half of the students made some commitment, whether to become a pastor or a missionary or a pastor’s wife… you get the point. And pretty much every time, these verses were used:
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:14-15
I used to think how cool it would be to marry a pastor or become a missionary in a foreign country. Yet, somehow, I didn’t think that that was God was calling me. But how could God not want me to do all those things? I forgot the other passages that said that some people are not called to the ministry of ministry.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” Ephesians 4:11
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1
“And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;” 1 Thessalonians 4:11
This next passage is my favorite in particular. It talks about the body of Christ and how each member has his or her own part to play. Not everyone can do the same thing, otherwise, the body cannot function. Here’s a practical example: If all believers were either pastors or missionaries, where would their support come from? Surely unbelievers would have no reason to give to a church or missionary they have never met. No, this is why not all are called to teach. Yet, we do not teach children and young people to grow up and find good jobs and give to support the church. Instead, we seem to focus more and more on raising more pastors and missionaries and pastors wives. We need to realize there should be a balance in the church. I encourage you to read this passage, though it is a long and familiar one, as well as the article I mentioned earlier. Comment below to let me know your opinions on the subject and if I can improve this post.
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-31