Legalism and its Antidotes
Deliverance is a wonderful thing.
When a Christian is delivered from an oppressive burden that has weighed him or her down for years, then it's especially wonderful. For such deliverance brings release into the joy of the Lord. There's a sin which takes a peculiarly Christian form in churches. It is burdensome, lethally plausible and, tragically, it's rife. It would be one of my greatest delights if through my years of ministry believers and fellowships are delivered from it to the glory of God.
It's a sin. It always has been and always will be. Like all sins it causes others to suffer. So some of you reading this might be more sinned against than sinning: only you will know that. The indicators, sadly, will be guilt, pain and an inferiority complex that you somehow can't quite believe.
Legalism isn't a matter of having rules, structures, limits or instructions in our congregations or individual lives. While they can be overdone, and often are by people of a certain temperament, they are necessary for godly order in any fellowship: God has given many to us in the Scriptures. The opposite of legalism isn't lawlessness (antinomianism, as some like to call it), which is nothing more than anarchic pride. Nobody is delivered into that. Christian freedom isn't freedom to do whatever you want: down here none of us is safe to be let loose with such a freedom; up there - well, we'll be different then!
Legalism is primarily a God-ward thing. It's a way of making and keeping yourself acceptable to God. From this flows the legalism that is directed towards one another It's a way of scoring sanctity points in our fellowships, and exerting what one postmodernist called a "truth regime" - it's about pride, power and control. It simultaneously glorifies man and "unsecures" man. Thus its true opposites are grace and faith.
Yet it is so plausible. The need for order, structures and boundaries feeds our quest for control. Our very ability to keep some rules feeds our pride and gives us the impression that our relationship with God is somehow founded upon this ability. But in the same day, our inability to keep others feeds our despair, which in turn generates more rules and a more strenuous effort to keep them. Since laws and rules can be helpful, legalism seems to be on to a winner.
It often arises out of a good motive: to be holy. We don't want sin to rule over us, we don't want to grieve God or to stray from his path. And it is a narrow path compared to the one that leads to destruction. So in order to avoid big sins we add rules to God's word - hedging sinful territory around with codes that are intended to keep us from it. It is the well-intentioned, keen and committed who are most prone to it. The half-hearted Christian couldn't really care enough to veer towards legalism (though he or she makes up for it with many other errors). It was the scribes, following good Ezra, who developed "the traditions of men" which people preferred to the word of God: a preference that Jesus blasted in Mark 7.
But all this focuses the mind on self. It takes the mind and heart away from Christ, the Proper Man. It takes our faith away from His sufficiency and misplaces it upon ours. We live to achieve his approval; we forget that we are already alive and accepted in Christ. Ever so plausibly, we are sold a different gospel: one that isn't really a gospel at all. And the desire not to sin in some big way can be little more than a mask to hide our lack of faith in Jesus, "who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption". (1Cor 1:30). Holiness is not a matter of living on eggshells with a God who is reserving judgement on us and might turn us away at any moment.
It really is a deadly false thing, this warped alternative, this lie, this all-pervasive and hideous distortion of Christian living - for at least eight reasons that I can think of. The biblical antidotes will follow.
First, legalism cannot deal with sin.It is utterly powerless to deal with it in non-Christians and Christians alike. Law never reaches the well-spring of the heart; at best it merely curbs the behaviour of the flesh. It never changes a person's nature - it might persuade a man or woman of the need to change, but it cannot effect the change. It will never rob sin of the capacity to beset you.
More; it is useless against the tempter. No law ever defeated him, robbed him of his strength, plundered his domain, released his captives, broke his back. Law never cast him out, never rebuked him, never bound the strong man. It took God the Son, cross and an empty grave to do these things.
Yet more; laws and rules can never yield forgiveness: They are the very written (or spoken, or in some churches subtly unspoken) code that a person breaks. Break it at one point - only one - and you've broken it as a whole. No law can cancel the code. No law can declare forgiveness; it can only declare offence, guilt and condemnation. With respect to sin's power, author and penalty, legalism is utterly powerless.
Second, legalism cannot bring us closer to God - precisely because it cannot deal with our sin and clear the obstacles that sin throws up between us and Him. Our legalistic fellowships only multiply reasons for not ascending the hill of God - in them we are constantly constrained to cry "Unclean hands, impure heart!". And because the keeping of the rules becomes the ground for acceptability with God and the means of access and approach to God, we stay away from the Saviour whose hands were clean for us, whose heart was pure for us, and who has already ascended the hill of God for us. Legalism keeps Christians and non-Christians alike away from God.
Third, it sends us in entirely the wrong directions as we progress through life. The mindset of legalism has four great products. Despair - you cannot keep the rules, and so your self-esteem plummets and your assurance of the Father's love evaporates from under your feet. Pride -you can keep some of the rules, and so you do think that you can keep yourself in the Father's good books and so your assurance becomes grounded on self's performance - performance related pay. Judgemental-ism - you constantly assess people according to the rules and are quick to look down on others on the basis of your negative assessment. Control - the desire to have people tow the line and conform to the regime - nowadays it's called spiritual abuse. Legalism never produces gracious and expansive souls, growing richer in compassion and wisdom as the years go by. You'd never run to a legalist with your moral failure, breakdown, temptation, depression. Unless you're a masochist.
Fourth, it's narrow-minded and sinfully boring. Under the guise of being holy legalism makes the narrow path narrower than God has made it. No non-Christian is going to turn from a life of happiness and apparent freedom to a restrictive, trussed up, dull and joyless life. It carries none of the natural winsomeness that Jesus had in his ministry. Most of the legalistic fellowships, organisations, groups or individuals that I've had any contact with have been more or less negative, down on fun and narrow - you really want to say to these folk "Get a life". God's creation isn't to be enjoyed; much of it is to be avoided, or else it's seen as a light distraction from the really serious matters of so-called theology. Music, theatre, cinema, art - probably sinful, so best avoid them. Nature is only useful as far as has to do with the creation/evolution debate. Literature has to be endured if you really must do English at university. (And if you choose to, you place a question-mark over your faith.) Culture is what you separate yourself from in case it stains you. Admittedly, sex was designed by God but its existence is probably best denied by us on account of its dirtiness, apart from the necessities of reproduction. (Though secretly ...) Intelligence and wit are frowned upon (out of envy). Joy is only a sense of relief that you've got the religious task done. As for holidays!
But the narrowness gets much worse - sinners aren't to be loved, they're to be evangelised and beyond that avoided lest they stain you too. If you can't have evangelistic contact, better to have as little as possible. People, in all their complexity and contradictions, aren't to be understood with compassion - they are to be told what to do: the objects not of love, but of expectations. Boring: seriously and sinfully boring. Boring in a way that diminishes the richness of humanity which is made to the glory of a never-boring, endlessly creative and staggeringly imaginative God.
Fifth, legalism encourages, even protects hypocrisy. How? Well, it provides masks for us to wear at Church. We can wear the mask by keeping a sufficient number of the rules. You can look like a ‘good' (i.e. conforming) Christian, while underneath you're an entirely different person. Beautiful but rare is the fellowship where the really important things are gauged as quickly, seriously and with the same discernment as the obvious, visible things. As long as you keep up the appearances, defined as they are by the legalities, you can be a cruel husband, a tyrannical mother, a lousy employee, a pervert, the list goes on. Or you can just be hard-hearted, bitter, jealous, spiteful. As long as you smile the right way and look right and turn up at the right things. But since legalism is essentially a God-ward problem, the hypocrisy has a deeper and more pernicious dimension: we act with God. We needn't, of course. He knows all that there is to know, accepts us in Christ, and is resolved to present us perfect before his throne at the last. But it is one of the weaknesses of the legalist mind-set that it thinks that we must come to God strong and we define strength; that we must come to him not needing help and we define the limits of helplessness. Who needs a great high priest who is able to sympathise with us in all our weaknesses, when we can with a few adept strokes of acting make ourselves sound strong? Who needs a Proper Man when we can do the proscribed life well enough ourselves. The mask-wearing stops us from coming to God in dependence upon him and it prevents us from ever really dealing with the things that the mask hides - or allowing God to deal with them. Does the legalist feel loved in his brokenness? Is she ever healed from the inner, hidden crippling injuries of sin? Tragically, not.
There's an irony about the sixth distortion. While on the surface legalism is deadly serious (and as I said last month is often a problem that arises precisely when individual Christians and fellowships or organisations are taking the call to holiness and commitment seriously), it ends up trivialising life with God. It fills life with rules that govern non-essentials. Does it really matter if your hair is longer than the fellowship regulations? Is that hat really virtuous (or sinful, depending on your fellowship and the hat!)? Is God actually that bothered by jeans? What if you just don't feel like lifting up your hands on the third repeat of Shout to the Lord? Legalism can introduce layers of conduct that fix our attention on things that the Bible rates as relatively unimportant if not downright trivial. It trips us up with mincing pedantries, when we should be running and dancing with joy in God.
The problem becomes acute in our fellowships when we equate being pedantic with being godly. By doing so we make such so-called godliness an impossibility for those with a more laid-back temperament. Don't get me wrong: it's not that being laid back is inherently virtuous, any more than being rule-dominated is inherently virtuous. It's when a fellowship is set up, in terms of its psychology and values, to portray godliness as something that's going to be unattainable by some simply because of their God-given temperament and personality, or by virtue of their biblical sense. There has to be an expansiveness in our Churches, among the formal and (perhaps more importantly) informal tone-setters, that gives breathing space and elbow room to those whose Creator has made to be ‘laid back'. We can't force the Lords' children into clothes that just don't fit. The expansiveness comes, of course, from love. And there has to be a right-mindedness that allows people not to suffer fools gladly without being labelled as rebellious subversives who, since they don't fall down with awe before rule 48, para. 13, subsection d, are obviously not walking with the Lord.
But more than making us damagingly constrictive or ridiculously pedantic, legalism trivialises life at a deeper level. It shifts the focus of our attention onto something other than God himself. And since He is the highest, best and true focus of all his creation and especially his redeemed, it means that our focus is shifted onto something less than its true ground. Our motives and preoccupations change - no longer is our chief end to glorify God and enjoy him for ever; instead we do stuff for approval from the controllers. But compared to God, the controllers and the devil who lies behind the legalism, are trivial. Legalism always reduces life. The reduced life misses the point, which is to find joy in life-with-God: serving, worshipping (two sides of the same coin), resting in, growing in, learning from, loving and finding glad sufficiency and fullest satisfaction in God.
Seventh, legalism produces a false gospel; one that is, as the Scriptures say no gospel at all. Why is it a false gospel that legalism presents and makes us live by? Because by it we seek to be justified on the basis of law, not faith. And whatever our pride, or the devil, or the fellowship might tell us, we will never accomplish what we seek. It's no gospel because it's bad news. It amounts to "Do these things and you shall live; but by the way, you'll never be able to do them." Now the setting of the teaching in Galatians is that a false gospel that relates to justification relates also to sanctification. Paul writes to Christians, not seekers. Legalists have cut in on believers; they have been bewitched, duped, deceived into another principle by which to live with God. Not only does legalism produce a false gospel message, by which sinners are called to save themselves by a good work called repentance, but it then couches the rest of the Christian life in terms of more works. As if we were saved (present and future) by good works, rather than for good works. The ground for our security thus shifts from Christ - his finished work for us and his ever-living to intercede for us - to our good works. We are saved to serve but not only to serve, and even the service is to be given in a certain way: resting by faith in Christ the perfect servant, and with joy. Paul reserves some of his strongest and least delicate language for people who do this in churches - read Galatians 5:11&12 to see what Paul wishes the circumcision teachers would go the whole way and do to themselves! Shocking!
Eighth, legalism robs God. This is the worst aspect of it, and the sum total of the previous seven. It is legalism's sin. It is this that makes it more than just a problem from which some personality types suffer. God, in his majesty and infinite glory, is glorified by our faith. By faith we say to him that we are insufficient and that he alone is sufficient to save and to keep us. Legalism inverts the biblical order of covenant, justification, law. Legalism robs God of the glory that is due to his name, the glory of the gospel of his redeeming grace in Christ, the glory of his tender and mercifully patient perseverance with us and the glory of the Spirit's sanctifying power. By legalities we rob God of his glory and place it upon ourselves. We assume a power to save and to keep; we usurp the Spirit's office; and we create a life that cannot feel the joy of the freedom of the children of God. No wonder the worship is so mind-bogglingly lifeless. No wonder the legalist's soul never soars with praise. No wonder heaven never rings to the songs of the legalist's heart.
God is robbed of glory. In this is legalism's most hideous sin. And from this is God's most glorious and wonderful deliverance. Antidotes are marvellous when they work. The disease of legalism, to which the church has always been prone and which infects fellowships, movements, individuals and families, is unpleasant and even deadly. But legalism is not without it's antidotes, and saints are not without their cure. The problem is ugly and the world that it creates is dark; but the antidotes are glorious and light and wonderful. They are not to be hurried over.
The first seems the least likely - particularly to a legalist: a greater view of sin. The legalistic mind has too small a view of sin. It thinks that it can deal with sin with a few rules (more than a few, if they seem to be required: there's no shortage). But these rules are never going to deal with sin. There's nothing quite like an understanding of the depths of the impact and power of sin to awaken a Christian to his or her inability to deal with it themselves. But it was the classic mistake of the Scribes and Pharisees. Reduce righteousness to a technicality (getting the paperwork right) and you do the same with what it's set against: sin becomes a superficial problem, with no root in the heart. If it's all a matter of the details of behaviour, then you can solve it yourself with a few (hundred) rules. It's like taking a paracetomol for cancer.
But see what happens when you superficial-ize sin: you ignore its real corrupting power within and you actually end up protecting it. You give it a safe and untouched haven in the heart. The storms of law can rage on the outside, while the sinfulness of the heart goes unchallenged, unmolested, strong. That's why some of the most legalistic people can be the worst, harbouring really wicked attitudes and practices. It's why you can strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. It's why you can have a whitewashed sepulchre.
What but the truth of God can penetrate the heart, expose pit of sinfulness, lay bare the nature as sinful, reveal the truth about us and our sin? What but the power of God can break the power of sin? What but the victory of Christ can free us from our captivity to sin? What but the life of God can overcome the deadliness of sin? Shake a rule book at sin and Satan laughs in derision. Legalism should quake before the biblical teaching about sin. God in his grace has given us the truth about sin and it should be enough to drive us not to the rule book, but to Christ.
Second, the holiness of God. Legalism can't touch sin; neither can it answer the holiness of God. I keep the house rules about clothing, what I can or can't do on the Lord's day, cinema, music, wine, attendances, witnessing, whatever; but maybe I don't love my neighbour as myself. So God, in all the infinite splendour of his holiness, who cannot look upon sin, who dwells in perfect light, who sees to the very depths of my soul and who knows every thought and word, thinks what? Do I fondly imagine that he weighs the ‘good' bits which my rule-keeping has provided against my bad bits? And as he watches the scale tip down on the good side he declares me to be righteous in his sight? Is that how it works? We know that it is not so, but the legalist functions as if it were. This ‘un-holiness' of God - him being satisfied with a few ticks on our list; him being just a bigger version of us and not actually God - gives credibility to the effectiveness of the legalised life. But get one glimpse of the holiness of God, one tiny, brief glimpse, and any notion of personal adequacy shrivels, withered and scorched by the holiness that threatened to break out upon Israel at Sinai. See Isaiah in the Temple, the hosts of heaven in Revelation, and ask yourself whether such a feeble thing as our legalistic righteousness could last a moment before such a God. He is great and terrible in his holiness. He is to be feared and trusted, not negotiated with. The holiness of God should crush any confidence in the legalistic life. It's no way to live with our God.
I've known some legalists in my time, and the one thing that has never struck me about them is that they really know God in the way that brings silence and awestruck reverence. Except those for whom the legalism is driven by fear-without-trust; who have caught a glimpse of God's great and terrible holiness but have been driven on to try and meet it with more rule keeping. Reverence is there, but so is the wrong sort of fear: fear without trust.
The cures need to work together. So to the third cure - Grace. Grace to save the sinner and grace to keep the sinner saved. Grace to make us holy and grace to bring us to glory. And even as I write the word the sun comes out in my soul. (Writing about legalism is really hard writing. It makes me realise how all-permeating legalism's smog is - it becomes the air that some fellowships and Christians breathe, it gets in the clothes and the furniture, stains the décor, sits in the lungs, clouds every horizon.)
I want to look at some of the majestically glorious ways of God's grace shortly - how his grace cures legalism's disease as we are grasped by the truth: the Spirit's gracious regenerating act, Christ's act of grace in justifying us from all sin, the gracious work of God in sanctifying us and what it means to be in Christ. I also want to highlight those cures that come from the Lordship of Christ, which is perfectly liberating; and ask the question again about whose glory I live for.
But for now it's grace felt that I have in mind. Like the warmth of the life-giving sun; like the sparkling exhilaration of the vast ocean, wave-breaking its delight over the laughing child. Like a great swell of sanity and peace; like a resting, satisfied calm of perfect contentment. If one glimpse of the holiness of God can cure us of our self-trust, shouldn't it be that one moment in the world of grace should forever ruin us for the world of law? Doesn't even the sound of the word in your heart silence the legalistic whispers, the proscriptive command and control, the sombre disapprovals of the accountants of righteousness? What hope has legalism's whine before the booming glory of the grace of God?
Doesn't it make you want to read Hebrews to the Pharisees (and to the Pharisee within) and say "Come, see the mountain that you really do live on, for ‘You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.'"?
Fourth, regeneration - the giving by the Spirit of the principal of life to those who were dead in their transgressions and sins - is a wonderfully humbling cure. I wrote last month that a greater view of sin should convince us of our need of the work of God alone to free us from its captivity. Our struggles are futile - we are not spiritual Houdinis. Nowhere is this more clear than when we consider what makes us alive - and continue to be alive. It never was, and never can be rule-keeping. Not even God's law could bring life - it was only ever given as a schoolmaster to led us the one who alone can give life. Of ourselves, we had no vitality for God to work upon with our co-operation. Only the life of God in the soul of man will do. But the mistake of the legalistic mind is to restrict the giving of life to our new birth. The doctrine of regeneration might focus on that, but the life we are given is only and is for ever God's life. We aren't jump-started by the Spirit and then left to ourselves to carry on the whole enterprise. Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4). It's the difference between jump-starting a stopped heart and getting a heart transplant.
Yet what a burden is placed upon believers when the Christian life is presented as the task of keeping oneself alive by keeping the house rules. (Of course, the ‘house' can be the most stodgily conservative evangelical or the most zapped charismatic - the rules will be different, but the mentality and the burden are exactly the same.) What glorious liberty can be enjoyed when we rest by faith in the truth that our life is in fact the life of the risen Christ, mediated to us by the Spirit. Can we add to Christ's life by either dressing up (or dressing down) for church? Is the life of the Son of God deficient so as to cause us a deficit in our life, a deficit that can only be made up by saying (or not saying) ‘Praise the Lord' at the right time? What on earth does legalism hope to add to the resurrection life of God?
How to apply this cure? "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3)
Fifth, the inward work of God's grace in regeneration is matched by his ‘external' act of justification. It happens quite without our help. We do not contribute to it at all. However much our flesh might want to have the satisfaction of doing something to justify itself, and however much our view of the conversion experience might make us emphasise the importance of our decision, justification is something done by God for us but without our aid. It is a declaration by God, on the basis of the cross, that we are clear of all the charges and condemnation that the law could impose upon us. It is done once and for all - no accusation will ever separate me from God! All the sins that I will yet commit were carried then on the cross. It is done by the Father through the blood of the Son. Put negatively, it means that your guilt and condemnation are gone (Romans 8:1). Put positively, you are restored to your proper family relation with God and all its many blessings - peace with God (Romans 5:1); salvation from death (Romans 5:9&10); receiving the Spirit (Galatians 3:1ff); adoption/sonship, (Galatians 4:4-6); the inheritance, which is eternal life (Titus 3:7).
If I can mix the theological terms a bit, you have a covering from the terrors of the law - the covering of Christ's blood. Why live as if it were too small a covering? Why stitch onto it a few rags of your own righteousness? Why do we do this in our churches? Mad! And also ungrateful: isn't it a bit of an insult to Christ? And doesn't it call into question the Father's declaration? The legalist lives as if God were too lenient! Christ's work is enough for the Father to declare you as being justified in his sight. What an antidote to the spiritual insecurity that legalism creates!
Sixth, what God has begun in regeneration and justification, he completes in our sanctification. And here the legalist has his or her firmest foothold. Here our co-operation is vital - we are involved in our increasing Christ-likeness. We worship him with our renewed wills by surrendering them to his will. We are in the position of being holy because we are in Christ, who is our righteousness, holiness and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), but we still don't practice holiness - well, not for long! So how about a bunch of rules to help us and God along a bit? Well, it certainly seems like a reasonable idea, and it certainly seems a whole lot better than not bothering about holiness - which is what every legalist suspects this article of mine is encouraging!
But to resort to our rule books in order to help God along is, as Paul almost put it, to ‘lose the head'. "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." (Colossians 2:16-19) Your holiness is sourced in the Holy One. The freedom which that brings us is from a holiness that is sourced in a largely social setting. The problem with legalism is that it defines our holiness with reference to standards of conduct set within a particular social group. We lose sight of that too easily, ending up with a notion of holiness that is earth-bound and parochial. So we question the sanctity of Luther because he enjoyed beer! Or Calvin because he played bowls on a Sunday. Or Gertrude over there because she let her daughter wear two earrings in the same ear; or Norbert over there who doesn't always seem joyfully victorious in his Christian walk and didn't go on a mission this summer; or Ralph who smokes a pipe. Since holiness is bigger than our local boundaries can encompass, his work of sanctification enlarges the horizons of the heart: legalism narrows them.
The ironies of God grow deeper by the day. The seventh antidote to legalism is the Lordship of Christ. ‘What?' ‘Isn't that just authoritarianism writ large - rules and do this and bossing about and style being cramped and where's my individuality now?' Panic not!
Consider these medicinal words, balm to the oppressed soul, from the Westminster Confession of Faith: "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also" (Chapter 20). To bind the conscience to Christ is to liberate it from the tyranny of man - and of the devil. The historical legalism that the authors of the Confession had in mind might not be the one that many of the readers of the Record have suffered under, but the principal applies just the same. It expresses so much of the New Testaments teaching; read, for starters, Matthew 7:1ff; Romans 14:1ff; Galatians in its entirety; Colossians 2:16ff; James 2:12ff; and 4:12. Herein lies the corrective for those who would run from legalism into license or libertinism; and herein lies the rebuke to those who would label as sinful or rebellious anyone who rejects their legalistic control.
But this is not an easy cure to apply. Legalism works best upon those in our fellowships who are youngest in the faith and/or insecure and needing the acceptance and approval of those leaders to whom they look up. It takes a measure of brass neck to refuse to tow the line, knuckle under and conform. But the wonderful thing is that having a mind that really reckons on the Lordship of Christ can give the strength of character and wisdom to know both when and how to be yourself without using that as an excuse for being selfish. Resilient refusal to be judged by another's conscience comes easily to some but not so easily to others. And not to be swayed by what others might say - and they will say! - can be psychologically difficult without simply being thoughtlessly unloving. Paul, who wrote "why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?" went on to write "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God." (See 1Cor 10:23ff.)
The final antidote is the best. Eighth, live for the glory of God. If His glory is your goal and delight, then you will learn to spot those false spiritualities which ultimately glorify power- or control-hungry Christians. And you will spot those same tendencies within yourself. Live for the glory of God and that which is less than God will neither satisfy you nor master you. There is nothing like the upwardly-mobile life (a life moving heavenward) to make the legalism of church life clearly apparent and transparently false. It's not real holiness; it never produces the largeness of heart that Christ produces; it has no glory; it gives no delight to the soul; it is so obviously not what you were made for; no-one would have died to save you into that. Live for the glory of God. Therein lies your point and purpose in life; therein lies your true freedom; and therein lies your own true glory.
This article first appeared as a series of Minister’s Letters in the Gilcomston South Church Record and appears here, in edited format, with permission. The right of Dominic Smart to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted in by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 John
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Timothy
- 2 John
- 2 Kings
- 2 Samuel
- 3 John
- Biblical Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Old Testament Theology
- Song of Songs
- Wisdom Literature