Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Reluctant Legalist: Every Christian

Every minister of God walks this particular tightrope, though some might aggressively disagree. Our human nature’s, apart from God I mean, dictate that from time to time we cross the line, plummeting in the sins of judgment, prejudice and wrongful discrimination, however subtle.

And we’re bound for this as there are an abundance of situations where our judgment and insight could be lacking. We’re not God and we so rarely think like him so how can we expect to be Jesus-like and ‘universally’ compassionate?

We think ourselves so compassionate--yet we’re not. Given the test, there are many situations that God himself would find us wanting in this area. The most legalistic person reading this will scoff, but it’s true. The most compassionate person will, however, see the irony of their weakness for judgment and predilection for legalism. And this is their ally.

This is why we need grace. This is why we, of ourselves, cannot add anything to it. Are we ‘good’ people? A good friend of mine asks this of people all the time. The base message is, no, we’re not inherently good people. Not even Christians (especially Christians!) are good people. This is no slight on Christians for I’m one, but it is about the church being a hospital--a place for the spiritually-sick; those who know they’re sick go to church to be ministered to and be healed--we go to the Healer. We have a lifelong sickness called ‘given to sin.’ Yet, there are so many who do not recognise their symptoms.

Given a second to depart from the high standard of love, we do. We do it without thought. We do it even when we’re highly trained in a moral sense. As J. John says, ‘the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.’ We’re incongruent and need grace.

So, how can any Christian (especially Christians!) get on their high-horse about legalism and self-righteousness without seeing themselves right there in it? I mean, that viewpoint is bewildering.

Every time I read about someone having a dig about self-righteousness and legalism and pride, I read myself right there in it. I start to search myself; God searches me; I panic for a moment... they’re onto me! I’m just being honest before God. And I hope he keeps me aware of this weakness for the rest of my life.

Awareness is the key. Awareness of this problem can thrust us headlong into grace every time; for it is by grace alone by faith alone that we’re saved, and not through any good or right doing on our own parts! All this, more and more, to the praise of God. Amen!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve - I actually wrote about this topic the other day - not sure if you saw it?

The thrust of my post was the sad irony of legalists who get on their high moral horse about all manner of sins that matter to them, but never in regard to the issue of self righteousness. (it comes out of some difficult recent experience)

I would consider myself a recovering Pharisee - but hopefully no longer one. Do you think that is too ambitious?

I also think we need to get in fight mode when legalism is rife in our churches. Self declared righteousness is a totally blasphemous act and needs to be called for what it is otherwise Christ died for nothing and Paul wrote Galatians for no good reason'

Does that make sense?

Andrew Hamilton

S.J. Wickham said...

Hi Andrew - I'm actually very grateful for your post. I did read your post the other day and I read myself right in it, as I know I'm given to legalism... (part of the thrust to my post). I was grateful for it because God searched me immediately.

A recovering alcoholic gets over his or her disease 'one day at a time.' i.e. is never fully-recovered. My belief is we Christians can only get over legalism the same way... through continual awareness of grace.

My personal approach when I see legalism is to see how close I am to it... in this breeds a tolerance (hopefully) and a gentle goading of the other person if I have good rapport with them (through questioning to raise awareness) at best.

It's my belief (from my own experience) that God sorts out the legalist in his time... I'm a big believer in "Vengeance is mine, says the LORD." (Rom. 12:19-21, Prb 25:21-22, Deut 32:35)

I know my position is the softer side, and it won't fit on all occasions... some of which do call for a firm stance.

My personal view is we are only a minute or so away from Pharisaism and I do not believe we can be recovered from that this side of heaven.

For me, awareness is the key; when I'm most aware I'm least Pharisaical. Again, that's why your post was a timely reminder.

But, that's only my opinion.