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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grace and Legalism

When Christ saves us, he saves us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Christians acknowledge and believe this without a doubt. It’s how we live in this world that becomes problematic for many Christians.  On one side there are those who believe they are now free to do anything and thus abuse the grace of God (Romans 6:1). Many have the idea that once saved always saved (which I do believe) and thus if you sin, then you just have to ask forgiveness and move on. It becomes their pattern and continue to use it as an excuse to justify their behavior which they know is wrong (e.g. similar to the statement: “I’m not perfect just forgiven.”). Others do it, not with the intent of doing it, but due to the lack of discernment.  They just continue to follow the cultural trends without much thinking which often leads them to unwise and even sinful choices.

On the other side is legalism. Legalism as it appears in most churches today is not what the New Testament often speaks about (e.g. book of Galatians) and yet it is applicable to us today.  In the New Testament legalism was related to salvation. Many believed that in order to be saved you had to have faith but there were additions to it such circumcision and keeping the Law (Old Testament).  All of these related to commands given to the Jewish people. In essence, they were black and white issues. Once those Jewish and Gentiles (non-Jewish) became believers, they were faced with questions as to how to live (see Acts 15). Some Jewish believers commanded others to live by the Old Testament Laws or else they were considered “not saved.”   They were turning the grace of God into a system of faith+works.  The Apostle Paul wrote letters to clarify these issues (see Galatians, Colossians 2).  This was mostly a Jewish-Christian problem.

Nowadays, the issue of legalism is that many have created rules by which Christians ought to live by (faith+man-made rules).  These are mainly what we call “gray “ areas.  Areas where there is no clear teaching in the Bible. I have a lot of experience here. I have been part of these churches in my early days as a Christian.

Here are a few examples of legalism:
  •          Dancing is wrong
  •        Going to the movies (especially rated R movies) is wrong.
  •        Being friends with non-believers is wrong (you can have contact to evangelize them but they can’t be part of your “friends”)
  •        Celebrating Halloween is wrong (It’s Satan’s day and it started  back to the time of the Druids).
  •        Rock and Roll (and any music except Classic) is of the devil and contains backward messages from him.
  •        Smoking or drinking beer is wrong.
  •       Skipping church on Sunday for any reason is wrong.

Here are some “must do’s” that were also part of the “system”:

  •        You have to come to church every Sunday, Wednesday nights and all special events.
  •        You have to be involved in the church, passive attendance is not allowed.
  •        If you a young person and desire to “court” a young lady you must ask permission to the youth pastor and follow the “Philosophy of Courtship” (a list of do’s and do not’s). If pastor said no, you were out of luck! If you were “approved” then you were asked to seek for the full blessing of the believing parents (non-believer parents were not considered!) if you did not have their “blessing” then you were out of luck.
  •        You must never question what your pastor teaches, says or does. If he asks anything even if it’s money, give it to him. Don’t expect to be paid back.

I can go on an on but you get the point. So what is the point of all of this? As Christians we are called to live by grace. Living by grace does not mean living by a “new” set of rules derived from out of context passages in the Old or New Testament.  The Apostle Paul said it quite clearly: “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1). Living by grace means living guided by the Holy Spirit. Living by grace is not living for yourself either. Living by grace is living for and in Christ every single moment of your life (Philippians 1:21).

Reading the biography of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) has helped me understand what it means to live a life of grace, dependent on the Father. When I have a question about something not clear I ask myself what He said or what He would have done (WWJD?). I want to imitate Him. I want to honor Him. I want to live for Him. 
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