Friday, February 12, 2010

I'm Not a Legalist

Aside from Tommy, Legalist might just be what I’ve been called most recently. The tricky thing about legalism is that it is easy to accuse someone of being a legalist, and it is hard to prove that you are not one. So with my work cut out for me, let me try to explain why I am not a legalist.

A legalist is a person who emphasizes the outward appearance over the inward appearance. For example, a legalist might have a rule that you always attend church on Sunday, but once at church, he may never pay attention. To a legalist, the matters of the heart don’t matter as long as you look right on the outside.

One of the obvious problems with legalism is that the legalist soon begins to demand that everyone else look and act just like he does, even though a lot of what he does is not biblical. There are no moderate legalists; they are all extreme, and they all think they are better than everybody.

To the observer, there is a very fine line between a legalist and person who is simply trying to live right. Why? Because the person who is trying to live right will, like the legalist, shun the things of this world. Neither will drink alcohol, neither will watch bad movies, neither will use foul language, etc. And since no one can truly know another person’s motives, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two.

The opposite of legalism is grace; this is the idea that a person can do whatever they want and causally ask for forgiveness later, citing Bible verses that seemingly put God in check-mate, forcing Him to forgive them because He promised to do so. There is no focus on living a holy life because, “God will forgive me.” The Bible calls this attitude licentiousness, or the idea that we have a license to sin.

I am not licentious, nor am I a legalist. I am just a guy who is trying to live right. When Jesus says to be holy, I actually want to be holy. When the Bible says that pride is an abomination, I don’t want to be proud. And when the Bible says to put no wicked thing before my eyes, guess what? I don’t want to put any wicked thing before my eyes.

Does that make me a legalist? No. In fact, I believe it only exposes the fact that the very ones who call me a legalist are actually licentious. They can put evil before their eyes because God will be forced to forgive them later (please note my sarcasm here: God is not forced, and He only forgives those who turn from their sin, not just casually pretend they are sorry).

I personally believe there is a guilt factor involved here that makes the licentious crowd attempt to decry the ones striving to be holy by calling them legalists. Deep down they realize that they are not holy, but instead of changing, they yell, “Legalist!” This is like the liberal strategy: they can’t win on ideas, so Dan Quayle can’t spell, Reagan is too old, George W. Bush is too dumb, and Sarah Palin is, well, take your pick.

Even if I am a legalist (which I’m not), does that change whether the other person is right or wrong? A legalist can make a good point. One might teach that Christians should abstain from gossip, and if he is dismissed as being a legalist, that does not change the point: a Christian should not gossip. The crowd might yell “Legalism!” but they had better stop gossiping too.

If a person thinks I am a legalist, that really doesn’t bother me. I have my convictions (not opinions), but I am not preachy about them unless I am preaching. I don’t picket, boycott, sign petitions, hold signs, or bomb abortion clinics. Those are the actions of the legalist. But I have been accused of forcing my beliefs on people.

The thing is, if my convictions come from the Bible, then I am right. And when I preach, teach, answer questions, or blog, I had better teach God’s Word. People living in sin might not like it, but they won’t be there at my judgment when I will answer to God for how I handled my ministry. I want to be able to tell the Lord that I never watered down, dumbed down, or put down His Word.

Here is the problem: preachers and teachers today have no definitive answer about what is right and wrong, and they therefore leave it all open for each person to decide for himself. These are the one who get upset that I am forcing my beliefs. The Bible is clear. There is no room for debate. What is right is right. What is wrong is wrong.

If the F word is bad, then the D word is just as bad. If a show with 10,000 cuss words is bad, then a movie with 1 is just as bad. If a movie with full nudity is bad, then a movie with partial nudity is just as bad. Let’s stop giving ourselves a license to decide how much sin we are allowed to have before it’s too bad, or as pastor Johnny Hunt says, let’s stop seeing “how much hell we can have on our way to heaven.”

So if that makes you want to call me a legalist, I don’t care; that is what the comment section is for. That will not slow me down from teaching what BIBLICAL holiness looks like.

And just in case I offended any legalists here, let me point out that I am wearing a tie.


Brian Norton said...

Jesus calls us out of the world to be the salt and light to this wicked and perverse generation, salt burns-we are going to irritate some people. Salt penetrates-it permeates everything, but salt heals-our world is sin-sick and needs salty saints to shed light on the truth of God's Word, and that exposes people's true heart condition that they try to hide, but their not hiding it from God. Jesus teaches us in Luke 14:25-35 that if we follow Him we're not going to have a huge fan club. Love ya' brother.

Sarah Jones said...

Tommy, thank you! I think you did a great job of explaining the difference between legalism and following Christ. Its a heart change! If you are surrendered and living your daily life for Christ, what is right and godly just comes out. Keep speaking truth! Thanks for all the prayers and words of encouragement so much appreciated:)

Tommy Mann said...

Thanks guys!

Val said...

Thanks Tommy! This really helped me today. I have been getting finger wagged on another site that posted an article that was very alarming to me. It took, in my opinion, an extreme view on grace to avoid legalism. The pastor was frustrated with those who emphasized what he referred to as "works" such as wanting to tell others about Christ. He said that good works should naturally flow out of being saved but not for us to judge what those works should be. While this is true, IMO, doesn't scripture also tell us that our hearts will naturally be inclined toward the things of Christ through sanctification? This pastor made the claim that it is wrong for us to question someone's salvation just because they aren't inclined toward wanting to tell others about Christ and similar endeavors. As I read his post he seemed to be implying that wanting to tell others about Christ was a judgment call similar to abstaining from certain meats in the NT. To me, these aren't the same issues at all.

I just found it to be dangerous and unbiblical thinking. Your article spoke to what was in my heart over the issue.