Watch Out for Sneaky Legalism!

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied,“I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”                  John 3:1-8 (NLT)

Nicodemus was a deacon, a leader, a theologian in the local church. All world religions can be put into one of two categories: legalism (works) or grace. Either we humans make the relationship work or God does. Nicodemus thought he had to do stuff to please God in order to have a relationship with Him. He taught others the same principle. But Nicodemus was curious because this Jesus spoke like one with the authority of real truth, real passion, and Nicodemus had lost that somewhere along the way. His religion was dressed up in a beautiful robe with all the “right” words that made him look like he was close to God. But he knew that he wasn’t and he wasn’t connecting people to God with his way. You can’t help the blind see by increasing the light in their eyes. You can’t change the inside of a person by dressing up the outside. You must be born again. Jesus did not sugarcoat His words. He cut through Nicodemus’ questions and spoke the truth.

Religion and the legalism that defines it says that I must look and speak the “right” set of doctrines and belong to the “right” group in order to be saved. Too often we as Christians come through that extraordinary river of grace repenting of our sins and with new insight into the life that God desires for us. And then we impose that revelation upon others who are standing on the other bank of that river still trying to decide if they want to be washed or keep their familiar muddy clothes. Jesus coaxed us into His river with grace and mercy. He showed us, through the power of His Spirit, what being “born again” was about. Do we see the wind? No, only it’s effect. Do I understand the concept of being “born again” or see the Holy Spirit? No, but I know His effect on my life. I am a new creation.

I recently heard a passionate man of God suggest that a person could not be a homosexual and be a Christian. I wondered if that meant that a liar, a thief, or addict can’t believe that they are a sinner in need of a savior and Jesus Christ came to save them! If I had known all my sins the night that I accepted Jesus’ gift, I would never have accepted it because I would not have thought He would really accept me and couldn’t have handled such a terrible person like me. We – the Church – are Christ’s hospital not His seat of Judgment! It is Jesus and His Spirit that will rebirth us and make us new, showing us our sins (like peeling an onion a layer at a time) and the path that will lead us away from our sins and toward God.

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son.”                John 3:17-18 (CEV)

If we believe in Jesus, we are saved. Unlike John Wesley, I do not believe that Christian perfection is possible this side of heaven. I believe that every day I am a work in progress for Jesus to teach and guide me in His way. And that is what the fellowship of Disciples is all about. It is not about condemnation and judgment. We are to be there to encourage each other as the Spirit convicts us of our sins and need for repentance. Let us be diligent to keep legalism out of Jesus’ Church and instead be a haven of healing and fertile ground for the Spirit’s fruit to grow in the lives of all who come to Him.

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One Response to Watch Out for Sneaky Legalism!

  1. Mark Weller says:

    There is also legalism after a person is saved. New believers and even old believers have a difficult time leaving legalism. The law points us to Christ, the law is informative as to what sin is. However, once saved, we are no longer “married” to the law/legalism. Our new spouse is Jesus and He does not like spiritual adultery–our paying deference to the the law/legalism. Our focus is on Christ and no longer on the law as the law served its original purpose. Jesus is now our purpose and whatever “works” that are done are done through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

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