“…have we become selfish and individualistic to the point that we would rather “have our own way” and cloak it with a spiritual “freedom in Christ” sermon, than to submit in love to those around us?”
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and thought the blog would be a great place to “think out loud”, get your ideas on it, and clarify some of my own thoughts. So here goes…
I hear the word “legalism” getting thrown around an awful lot these days. By Christians, of course. And the more I hear the accusations of this group, or that person being legalistic, the more I wonder if we really even know what legalism means, and why we are so prone to label someone (in our spiritual tone, no less) as legalistic.
Maybe I don’t have a complete understanding…thus this post.
From my standpoint, and from what I read in Scripture (“legalism” is not a word used in the Bible), legalism, or “Phariseeism” (I think I made up that word!), is the act of ascribing salvific merit to my works. In other words, to believe that my salvation is dependent upon or improved upon something that I do, instead of the free gift of grace from Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.
Having set forth the definition of “legalism”, then, I want to consider some practical examples of where I think we are wrong to apply the label.
If you are a “dresses only” lady, you will most likely be labeled as legalistic. Now the way I see it, the “rule” or standard one has in NO way makes the person legalistic, regardless of the rule. I think it is the intention of the practice of a standard, (which no one can truly judge), that makes a person legalistic or not.
“Obedience and holiness, striving to please the Lord, is not because his death on the cross wasn’t enough; it is because it WAS enough, and that overwhelming reality calls me into action for my Savior.”
If I only wear dresses because I love them, I love feminity and believe that dresses are more feminine than pants, I desire to do all I can to demonstrate beauty and grace to a world where beauty and grace are diminishing, I’m just not sure about how the word “apparel” translates in Scripture and want to make sure I’m being obedient, I want to err on the side of caution when it comes to modesty, if I have a conviction that defiles my conscience to wear pants–if these are my reasons for wearing only dresses, I am not legalistic.
However, if I wear dresses because I believe I cannot be saved otherwise, and I imply that everyone else must follow suit or they are not really saved, now I am being legalistic.
(Just for your curiosity, I am not a strictly dresses only, although I wear dresses a large percentage of the time.)
But I have heard people refer to those who are “dresses only” as legalistic. Unless they have heard them make the statement about dresses somehow adding to their salvation, how can a person accurately label them so?
I think we live in a day where “freedom in Christ” has become an enemy of obedience. What I mean is, we are scared of “doing” anything, for fear of being labeled legalistic, when the Bible is FULL of warning to OBEY, and to “add to your faith works”, etc. Works, obedience, pleasing God, whatever you want to call it, is NOT to be confused with legalism. It is only the wrong intention behind those things that make it so.
A person whose heart is merely seeking to please the Lord should not be deemed legalistic, even if he has a standard that is higher than your own. For no one knows the heart of a person.
Consider this: a family makes a rule that they will not own a television. Others looking in may be prone to accuse of legalism. But perhaps before this father was saved, he had a tremendous weakness for pornography, and he has vowed to “cut off his right hand if it offends you”..i.e., not watch television. The person accusing stands in danger of serious judgement, in my opinion.
I could go on with other examples…but I think as a Christian culture, we’ve slid into the “spiritual relativism” that I’ve mentioned before, and have become people more concerned with figuring out how CLOSE we can come to being like the world, instead of being honored to be SET APART for His glory.
Another thought…have we become selfish and individualistic to the point that we would rather “have our own way” and cloak it with a spiritual “freedom in Christ” sermon, than to submit in love to those around us? (“This is the way I am, or the thing I prefer, and if it offends you that is your problem.”) Or are we called to submit to one another in love? “Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food (or dress, or ______), you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.” Romans 14:15
Does this make sense? Am I missing something here?