Thoughts On "legalism".It has been a reoccurring theme at my church as of late to make statements about the ills of "legalism". So I asked myself.. "What is legalism?"
According to Wikipedia, Legalism is defined as the following:
"Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God's grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption. Its opposite is the doctrine of Sola Fide, which is the traditional Protestant view that believing in Jesus Christ is the only requirement for receiving eternal life."
Now I don't entirely agree with everything stated there, but I believe that's the general view that my church has taken on the matter. I feel, however, that it has also been taken well beyond that point and [as I've shared previously] I've made mention of it to a couple of people in my church leadership. It isn't that I don't believe in God's grace. To the contrary, I know of His mercy and the depth of His grace because I live and walk in it every single day of my life. But as a person who grew up in the church and who still chose to become a "prodigal son", I see this issue from a completely different point of view.
It is an unfortunate fact that some people have attended a church where they feel they were spiritually abused by the "letter of the law". Like the mob who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, they used the law to inflict harm from a motive of haughtiness or self righteousness. They wanted to stone her to show her to be filthy and unworthy -- not to save her soul. I can understand a person who has been subjected to this kind of treatment taking a very negative stance on following "the law".
My story is different though. I'm a person who lives her life in gratitude for the fact that God did not allow her to live happily in her sin. Yes -- sin. I'm not afraid to call it what it is, because anything that causes separation from God should not be handled lightly or with "Political Correctness" in my estimation. It is because of God's enduring love and mercy that He chastised me.And I thank Him and bless Him for it, despite the fact that it did not feel good and often seemed as though I was so broken, I would never recover. But I did recover and I am still seeing restoration in my life, thanks to Gods unwillingness to allow me to sin without consequence.
Like I chasten my children in order to teach them the value of making good choices versus bad ones, God lovingly chastens His own. To state anything to the contrary of that could lead to many a soul being lost to the clutches of unrepented sin. "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid." - Romans 6:15
When correction, chastisement, or rebuke are done from a motivation of love and concern, they are tools of healing and restoration -- not hate and condemnation. I believe that this is a simple truth that any parent can understand but I wonder often to myself why so many modern Christians have come to need to believe that there is no consequence and no need for repentance now that Jesus has paid for our sins. I believe that theology is un-sc
Here, however, is what I do subscribe to:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.
For what children are not disciplined by their father?
If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—
then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. - Hebrews 12:5-8
So the Bible states very plainly there that if God doesn't chastise us, we are not His true sons and daughters! Is it legalistic of me to take God at His own Word? 1 John 2 in the New Testament goes on to say that although Jesus Christ is our advocate and has atoned for our sins, we are not free to live life any way we please. "We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. "
I just wanted to share this as a lesson learned from experience and also as a warning. I would rather be scoffed at and called legalistic for my obedience to Gods laws or (at the very least), my choice to repent when I have sinned, than to make Jesus death and suffering of no account by continuing to choose my sin.. over my Savior.