Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gray Matters--Response #1

I have gotten many excellent comments on my Gray Matters post. There a couple I wanted to respond to at length so I'm posting a response to each of them. The first one I wanted to address was a comment by Lawrence:

I'm not trying to be legalistic (drum roll please) but it seems to me like some of you might be missing the point of Eric's article. He specifically said that he cannot tell you to do or not to do something that is not expressly commanded in scripture. That would be legalistic. (legalism is placing a law or burden on someone else that is extra biblical.) What he can, and what we should, do is develop convictions on things that are extrabibilical (grey matters) that are rooted in scripture...I don't see how what Eric said was legalistic. But this comment isn't meant to have "violent vitriol" I honestly want to understand where you see the legalism in this article.

First of all, I'm very impressed with the humble nature of the comment. I honestly appreciate people speaking up to disagree with me because it drives me back to God to (hopefully humbly) examine what I'm saying/writing/believing in light of Scripture. So I was awake in bed last night, after searching through Romans and Galatians, asking God how I should answer this question, what made me think the article was legalistic?

Second of all , I'm not sure I would give the same definition for legalism. I would say that legalism is placing any law (even Biblical) on someone or yourself. I spent some time searching for my copy of The Cross Centered Life but to no avail, I've already begun packing up all our stuff and couldn't find the right box. I wanted to check on C.J.'s definition. Anyway, I did some digging on the web and found a great article called "Confessions of a Recovering Legalist" by Steve Reynolds. He gives a definition of legalism that I like:

...legalism is trying to attain or maintain rightness (righteousness) with God by human effort

The part we usually miss is the 'maintain'. We understand that we can never attain righteousness, that salvation comes by faith in Jesus and not by anything we do. And we think that as long as we understand and teach this truth that we are immune to legalism. This is just not the case. The Galatians were saved the right way, but they were trying to grow in holiness the wrong way--through their own trying.

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Honestly, I think what that article was telling us to do would be a complete waste of time. I know that's a very strong statement, but we as believers need to start spending our time doing what God has called us to, namely destroying the works of the enemy and bringing the gospel to the world in power. Jesus told us to go out preaching the good news, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Instead we like to spend hours in introspection trying to figure out which little detail we got wrong. We think we don't experience God the way we want to because we're getting a detail wrong, but I can tell you that's not usually the problem! Whenever I'm feeling distant from God with little or no desire to read the Word, or fellowship, or spend time worshiping him etc..., it's usually rooted in legalism. That is, I've been caught up in performance, thinking that I, and what I do or don't do , is of paramount importance. It isn't. At least, not in the flesh . It's self-centeredness pure and simple.

What I do is only ever eternally important if by the Spirit I see it's what the Father is doing. I don't see the Father trying to decide if I should smoke a cigar or not. If ever I have need of a cigar for the purposes of God's kingdom, surely I'll smoke one! I'm not sure how that would happen, but when we are like the wind (John 3:8) we are free and flexible to obey God no matter what. We don't have any predetermined limitations on what God can tell us to do! I don't know about you, but God has told me to do some things that wouldn't seem right, but later turned out to be obviously his work. For example, when I was 18 and in Bible College, I was home for the weekend and felt God wanted me to go to a bar I was invited to where friends were playing in a band. I discussed it with my parents, letting them know that I had talked to God about it and clearly felt he wanted me to go. It was a very shady spot to say the least, and my parents shared their wisdom but ultimately told me that I was free to go if I really believed God wanted me to. Now, of course I grew up being taught in church that this was not even a gray area--it was plain wrong. We are supposed to 'avoid the appearance of evil' and not be a stumbling block, two common arguments often used to try to legalize legalism. To make a long story short, I was only there a few minutes when I saw one of my cousins who is not saved and we ended up talking outside all night about God. It was one of those divine appointment type things and God's presence was right there sitting on the doorstep of a dark and dirty night club. My point is, what if I had had a rule in place that I don't go to places like that? I could easily be convinced, using Scripture and common sense, that God wouldn't like a place like that and therefore wouldn't like me to be in a place like that. I wouldn't have been open to following the Spirit of God in that situation. I would have been living according to the law of the flesh instead of the law of the Spirit, and this is exactly what I never want to do because then I will miss the blessing God has for me in true obedience.

When I first began really seeing what grace is, I hated the word 'obedience'. I think it's a word that legalists use to justify all kinds of heavy burdens and slavery. But now I love the word. We are truly free and happy in the Spirit when we listen to his voice and do what he says! We can't do that if we set up laws, regulation, lists, rules, guidelines, plans, schedules, etc... and try to live by them. That is a worldly system we are conforming to, trying to control our lives and even God, by changing our behaviour. I realize that in his article Simmons acknowledges some of what I'm trying to say. Many legalistic sermons and articles do that! They bring in some great truth and then add a little law, that's what makes it sound so good and right. Here's a quote from the article:

Sometimes I only want to apply the parts of God's Word that yell at me: "Don't have extramarital sex! Don't lie! Don't steal! Don't covet!" But what about the less obvious things? Things like smoking cigarettes or watching a certain TV show or wearing a certain piece of clothing. In those areas I don't think God yells the answer; I think He whispers it.

Here's the problem I have with this quote: we aren't supposed to be applying ANY of the law to our lives, let alone trying to 'discern' new ones. The author assumes that we should be applying the law to our lives, and that is legalism. And yes, I know it looks spiritual and impressive and it's frightening to say 'the law doesn't apply to me' but it's true. We are completely DEAD to the law and we should not ever try to go back to our first husband (Romans 7:1-6). If it makes you really uncomfortable to read this, please spend some time going over those verses asking the Spirit to bring revelation. Then move on to Romans 8 (v. 2):

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

So it's not that we're lawless, which would be a total disregard for God's law without faith in Christ, but we are dead to the law and alive in Christ. And if you feel you need any law at all, I suppose you could try putting yourself under the 'law of the Spirit of life'.

I also disagree with the whole point about not trusting our hearts because of them being deceitful (Jer.17:9-10). ( I talk about this a little in my post on indwelling sin.)This verse if often taken out of context this way, applying it to believers. It is clearly referring to unregenerated hearts, people still living under law and the old covenant. Jeremiah later goes on (ch.31 v. 33-34) to prophecy about the change that would take place when the new covenant came in Christ:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying , "Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Ezekiel says this even more clearly in 36:26:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

And that is all I'll say for now. I'm not sure if I'm making sense or not; I'm being constantly interrupted as a write (which is pretty normal hehe, if you only knew how many diapers I've changed during this process...) but maybe the next response will tie into the same question a bit. I hope to respond to Andrew's comment next about the commands of Jesus and how it relates to our understanding of grace and legalism. Stay tuned in for more on this apparently controversial topic!

* As always I highly recommend reading Terry Virgo's God's Lavish Grace and/or listening to any of his sermons on grace, as well as Rob Rufus's excellent sermons on grace for further understanding in this area. Check the links on the right.


AndrewF said...

The verse "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (KJV) is often thrown as people, but it is one of those classic occasions when the KJV English meant something different. The translators were saying "avoid every place evil appears". In today's English it is much more accurate to translate it as "Abstain from every form of evil" (ESV).
The verse has been used to justify a kind of "fencing of the law" very similar to that of the Pharisees. I.e. if it even looks a bit like evil, or could be construed by some people as evil, then avoid it. Of course Jesus never did this, but was constantly accused of associating with sinners and even allowed a prostitute to touch him.

Robert Ivy said...

Thanks for this post. Sadly... thinking about this issue is kind of new to me. I'm afraid that my background is very law-oriented, but you're helping me to see it more clearly.

I understand and agree with the definition of legalism that you put forward. It does leave me with one question, however: what do we do when we sin? Should we still feel guilty for it since we haven't broken any law? Do we still need to repent?

I realize that's a question for a whole different post, but I would definitely be interested to hear what you have to say about it. And I'm certainly going to get my paws on that Terry Virgo book and C.J. Mahaney book.

jul said...

Andrew, thanks for weighing in with your thoughts. I love getting your free mini 'lessons' from you! Can't wait to benefit much more from your teaching.

Robert, I think the question of sin is not that complicated. It's simply a matter of conviction by the Holy Spirit, whether through a corrective word from someone, Scripture, or just his quiet voice (or a combination). When we sin, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 3:1) Since all our sins are forgiven at salvation, even the ones we haven't committed yet, there is no need for any kind of fear when we sin. We are to come boldly to the throne of grace in our time of need (which can also prevent us from falling into sin) to receive help and mercy. Sometimes when I'm convicted, I feel a deep emotional sense of sadness, something of the heart of God as Father of a prodigal and then the joy of his heart when I return to him (repent). Often, it's not a very emotional experience. It's more like the Holy Spirit saying " look at this, I want to change this" and me saying "Yes! Thank-you!" I'm excited because when God puts his finger on some sin in your life it means he's going to apply his grace and power to that area to conform you more to the image of Jesus. That's not exactly something to mourn about. Many times when I feel really awful over sin it isn't godly at all, it's some combination of condemnation, hurt pride (ashamed of myself, self-focus), and spiritual attack from the accuser. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that when we are dead to the law, there is no more condemnation and that makes a big difference! The guilt of our sin is completely gone, carried by Jesus to the cross and never resurrected, so no, we shouldn't really feel guilty (though an awareness of our sin and a godly sorrow is right) or ashamed BUT we should still repent. I think we've made 'repent' such a negative word when what it means it to turn back to God, we usually only talk about the turning away from sin. When the prodigal son turned away from pig slop and ran into the arms of his loving father, it wasn't exactly depressing. It was a joyful celebration of the Father's love.

I think I should also add, that though we have not broken a law we have still disobeyed the Spirit. We are to live according to the Spirit, and whenever he is trying to lead or direct us and we are not yeilding we are in sin (because we are not in faith Rom.14:23). But the remedy is quick and simple-say sorry and move on in the Spirit!

Hope that answers some of your questions. Feel free to ask anything and disagree if you have a problem with anything I write. I will not be offended at all. I'm still working through a lot of this myself and need all the input I can get.

Robert Ivy said...

Thanks a lot for the response, Jul. I now have much to consider...

And thanks for your comments over on my blog... and for passing my blog on to the Spirit of God compilation.