Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why do Others Want us to Join in their Legalism?

A few weeks ago, when Katie was home for Spring Break (while it was yet winter, and snowed twice that week), our Pastor Ken and his wife Kit visited for dinner. It turned out that he had questions for Katie. He'd been lent a dvd made by Vision Forum, in which they present how vital they think it is for daughters to stay at home under the protection of their father, helping with the father's work and learning from him. We had seen the dvd, which had been lent to us a few months previously. A girl going to college was said more than once to have selfish motives in doing so, and they made no allowances for a girl to attend college for any reason.
Katie and I believe that the makers of the dvd hold to a legalistic view, presenting Christianity as being bound up in what you do, rather than what you believe. There was little actual Scripture in the presentation, and they twisted Proverbs 31:10-31 to defend their view, which seems entirely contradictory to its true meaning. They put living for family purposes above the Scriptures, yet refer very vaguely to the Scriptures as the foundation of why they believe as they do. I think that they take what may work for their family, and assume that it must therefore work for everyone else in the same way, with the same benefit. They don't even touch on various aspects that could make the scenario unworkable for others: If the father doesn't have his own business, and/or can't take the daughter along with him to work; if the father is not a Christian, and might be, in some ways, more of a hindrance to the daughter's spiritual growth than a help; or if the father has died or left or is otherwise not able or willing to have her participate in his work. One of these scenarios might very well apply to most Christian girls, but there is no explanation or provision regarding what a girl should do in that case.
The dvd's message assumes that a girl in college is going after completely selfish gain, and doesn't take into account the possibility that she might be attending a Christian college, or a secular college with God's direction and a goal of being better able to serve Christ with an equipping that might not be available by participating in her earthly father's work. A girl also can't necessarily assume that she'll be married and supported by a husband all her life; maybe God puts it in her to learn to support herself because she might never marry or because she may become widowed, or to not only serve her family, but to serve the community, whether in the work world, in volunteer work, or as a missionary. In condemning the possibility of college when that's where God might be directing her, they risk causing her to stumble in disobedience to Him, in an attempt to seem righteous before them instead.
Pastor Ken asked Katie something to the effect of "What do you think is their motivation in presenting this approach? Why do they want others to live this way?" And I think it's a good question about legalism in whatever form it takes.
In our study of the Gospel of Mark, we've been seeing time and again how the Pharisees could not understand why Jesus insisted on remaining totally unencumbered by the traditions that they held to so tenaciously. They had so lost sight of living according to the Scriptures that His scriptural teachings only angered and threatened them. I think such is true of the modern-day legalist, as well. He holds tightly to outward trappings that he thinks make him more righteous, more holy, more acceptable to God, even though there's nothing in the Scriptures that would say he must embrace those ways. Not only does he do so, but he tries to gather others to do the same thing as well. If others do so, it affirms him. He gets the feeling that if he has their approval, maybe he has God's as well; it adds to his earthly security, which he mistakes for security in Christ. Legalism takes as many forms as there are individuals who try to please God in their own way; it takes the form of other religions, and of variations on scriptural teaching. I know I've tended toward it, and I would be surprised if most people don't have to struggle against trying to make themselves right with God by merely human means, or as a "Jesus-Plus" approach--not just Jesus, but Jesus and human works of outward righteousness. It's the human way, and the American way: Don't leave it in its simple form; that can't be good enough. Supersize it.
So it's important for the believer to examine himself. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?" What would the test be? Romans 8:9 says, "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." How do you tell whether a person has the Spirit of God? Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." If this type of fruit isn't showing much in a person's life, chances are, if he has the Spirit of God, he hasn't learned to let Him reign like he should in his life. There is another possibility too, especially if these things are never really showing: Maybe he doesn't have the Spirit of God at all. Then he may exhibit more the fruit of the flesh; Galatians 5:19-20 describes them this way: Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. And yet, I feel that these lists, Scripture though they be, could lull a person into falsely believing that he is saved even if he is not. There are also so many warnings in 1 John along the tone of 4:20: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." There are the uppermost commandments about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. We can assure ourselves that we do, and yet I warrant it's more than any earthly lifetime getting these things really right. So we can examine ourselves, and honestly admit dissatisfaction with our assessment based on any of these and other Scriptures, but all we can really do in response is confess our lack to Christ and be assured that He is able to forgive us, and make us right with God. Nothing we add in works can fill the gap of anything wanting in us.
I don't think being legalistic is a sign that you definitely don't have Christ, but it might be a warning regarding what you know of salvation. How are you good enough for heaven? Is it by anything that you have ever done, or thought, or said? Not by anything you'll find in the Scriptures! All the goodness that gets us into heaven belongs to Christ; it's from Christ, and it's in spite of ourselves that He has seen fit to save us, not because we ever earned it! I like Romans 4:2-3: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" We can try telling people, or showing them by what we do, that we're good enough, but it doesn't fool God. It's trusting in Jesus Christ alone that is adequate to make us right for heaven. Here is what Jesus did: Colossians 2:13-14 says, "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." I don't know about you, but that description points out to me that it was entirely out of my realm of ability to cancel out any of my sins by anything I could do. If it wasn't, don't you think He would have told me how I could do it on my own, rather than surrender His life on my behalf? Don't trust in your earthly ability to please God as a way to cancel out your sins and get to heaven. Don't try to get others to join you in some non-scriptural means of righteousness. Just place your trust on Jesus Christ, who alone is adequate to the task of making you right before God.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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