It is easy to accuse a person of being a legalist, or to assume he only does good works in order to make God happy (as if striving to make God happy were somehow wrong). When we see a person striving to fill his life with the commands of Christ to share his faith or volunteer his time, instead of admitting that we should be doing more, we can shake the conviction by saying, “he is just a legalist.”
I realize that churches are full of people who subconsciously think that if they do enough work around the church then they must be saved. But I also realize that the church is full of people who love Jesus so much that they cannot help but serve Him in any possible way.
The first group may be composed of legalists, but the second group certainly is not. Both groups look the same on the outside, and their deeds are very similar. The difference is the motivation of their heart.
Notice what John wrote in his first epistle: “These things I have written unto you that our joy may be full (1 John 1:4).”
Our joy? John was explaining how the listeners could have joy by having fellowship with the Lord, but how does John get joy out of this? The answer is simple. John gets joy from being obedient to God.
The Holy Spirit led John to write this precious letter, and John’s obedience was a source of joy to him. Some might argue that his joy would come from seeing his friends have a relationship with God, but their relationship would be the fruit of his obedience, so the point is still the same.
Some people celebrate their freedom in Christ by not getting involved in the church’s ministries in any way, and when they see someone like John who stays faithfully busy in service, they shake their heads and say, “that poor man doesn’t realize he is a prisoner to legalism.”
What they don’t realize is that the “prisoner’ is filled with joy.
I did not write this to be argumentative. I am writing this to that faithful brother or sister who has been misled into thinking that God is opposed to their service. It is easy to come to that conclusion when someone says that it is only the legalist who gets involved in church work. And while I fully understand and agree that God doesn’t require us to work our way to heaven, I also know that He commands service. In fact, He told us that pure religion involves ministering to the needs of widows and orphans (James 1:27). That is work, and when your church has a ministry at an orphanage, you are not a legalist for spending a Saturday ministering to the orphans.
God is such a good God that He even rewards us with the gift of His joy when we obey Him. I get unimaginable joy for serving the Lord, and I want all believers to be filled with that same joy that comes through service. So again, I did not write this to be argumentative.
I have written this to you that our joy may be full.