Overcomer #17 – The Burden of Legalism
A young man asked, “I am in earnest about forsaking ‘the world’ and following Christ. But I am puzzled about worldly things. What is it I must forsake?”
“Colored clothes, for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don’t eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against Him who created us, to attempt to improve on His Work.”
To us this sounds peculiar. Yet this was the answer given in the most celebrated Christian schools of the second century.
It seems like every generation comes up with rules of how to live the Christian life. When I was growing up, it was considered wrong to play catch with a baseball on Sundays.
Well-meaning Christians were trying to live out the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
As an adult I learned that following a rigid set of dos and don’ts that go beyond the clear teaching of Scripture is called legalism.
Falling into legalism is always a danger:
• Creating and conforming to manmade rules and regulations that are often petty and rigid.
• Adhering to strict, narrow moral codes and behaviors while neglecting the larger issues of justice and mercy, love and grace.
• Taking our focus off Christ and placing it our performance and the demanding expectations of others.
• Elevating the person who keeps “the rules” and devaluing the person who doesn’t.
Legalism reflects “laws” that we wrote, yet we ourselves cannot live up to.
Charles Spurgeon found in his own spiritual life, the more rules he lay down for himself, the more sins he committed. He believed, for example, that a spiritual habit of morning and evening prayers was indispensable for a Christian.
But he also realized that dictating the length of prayer, and detailing lists of who and what to pray for, could engender bondage and strangle prayer rather than help it.
No wonder Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a [legalistic] yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
~ Pastor Dave