I grew up in an environment where many people would today call it “legalistic.” I am sure many of you would perhaps give that same label to your background. What is most often meant by that label is we were instructed to live a certain life style, have our devotions, get our hair cuts (if we were male) or not get our hair cut (if we were female), do not go to movies, do not, do not, do, do, do not…etc. You get the drift.
In all of that doing/not doing there was a sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit teaching that we were then accepted, or we were “good” and well favored. Really very few questions were ever directed to the heart and accountability was most always a surface accountability, meaning, dealing with only what was on the surface of your life. I could go on and on, but that is not my point. God was good to me in my past and I am grateful for where God has brought me and am constantly learning His glory in my weaknesses and the weaknesses of those around me.
There is a lot of talk in just about every “circle” about legalism. I have noticed some things about this chatter. It has been bit by the “pendulum” bug. In other words, in running from legalism there seems to be a jettison of many of the clear commands and disciplines of the Word.
This is really nothing new and shouldn’t surprise us. In his book, “Living the Cross-Centered Life” C.J. Mahanney explains legalism: A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s forgiveness through personal performance. (p. 112) [Legalism is] a danger that we’ll never outgrow in this lifetime. The tendency for legalism exists for each of us each and every day—because of the pride and self-righteousness of our indwelling sin. (p. 114)
But as the pendulum swings on our Grandfather clock in our living room, so do reactions against certain things. Sometimes they swing needlessly too far. Fear usually is what drives this. The fear of being legalistic has swung over to the point that anything that looks like discipline and self-control or pursuing holiness and actually seeking to live out the righteousness of Christ is seen as legalism. This is unfortunate. It is almost like those who live in fear of legalism are legalistic about their not being a legalist.
Paul exhorts his good brother Timothy to be strong in the grace in Christ! He then explains it in 2Timothy 2:1-7 to:
- endure hardness
- don’t entangle yourself with the non-essentials
- strive for masteries lawfully
- labor as a good husbandman
All of this falls directly in line with the grace that Christ provides. These must be done in the grace, but they must be done and they take careful disciplined work. We cannot automatically assign legalism to following the commands of Scripture. We do so joyfully not in order to gain forgiveness but because we are forgiven!
Don’t be swinging the pendulum, but be Spirit-filled–and pursue it!