Monday, May 14, 2007

What About Gray Areas?

I know I just shouldn't do it, but sometimes I do anyway. I was reading a blog which referred to an article called Gray Matters: Five Principles of Discernment by Eric Simmons (I have no idea who this is)and I want to scream out "stop the legalism!!!!" It's nothing personal, I just can't handle it. But it's EVERYWHERE. You just can't get away from it and no one seems to notice. This article opens with:

"Gray matters. We all deal with them ... those places in our lives where the line between "right" and "wrong" gets fuzzy. Or even disappears.

Is it OK just to fast-forward the sex scene and watch the rest of the movie?
Should I smoke a cigar with my unbelieving father?
How tight is too tight?
Can a Christian play poker?
Can I have a beer with dinner?"

The whole point seems to be that while there are many laws and commands clearly laid out for us in Scripture, sometimes thing are 'fuzzy' and we need to use discernment to figure out what God meant the law to be for us in this area. We seem to miss the point: we are dead to the law! And I'm sure people who think and teach this way have the best of intentions, but there is no mention of Christian freedom in all of this. What about grace? Thankfully there are a couple of other articles on the site that are about grace.

I think there is a deep misunderstanding of God and his holiness and our standing before him. We say yes, we've been made holy, but we don't believe it. We think that God in his holiness is still angry about our sin. Not our sin from the past of course, but if and when we sin now as his children. He is holy and hates of course isn't happy with us when we sin. The problem with this is that is goes against Scripture (and the very nature of God as our father. We still don't get it!!! HE LOVES US HE'S OVERJOYED WITH US HE'S PLEASED WITH CHRIST AND WE ARE IN CHRIST 100% OF THE TIME. We are in a new covenant now. We should not read the Old Testament looking for judgement, but looking for mercy (because we trust in the finished work of Jesus). I've been reading through Isaiah and the redemptive purposes of God are revealed there in amazing clarity. He is a God of great compassion toward his people. He is not disappointed with us. Don't you think his heart breaks to see us unaware of his love? To see us rushing around trying to figure out what pleases him, living in constant anxiety plucking our proverbial daisy petals "he loves me , he loves me not" ?? I could list many many examples of this kind of legalism being published all over the Internet, and sermons, and books and conferences...I'm saddened by it. I'm very very concerned for the people who are buying into it and the leaders who are sincerely but blindly leading them. And it sobers me to think how easily I am drawn into the same thing. I'm not being self-righteous I just feel I must tell the truth. I can't pretend legalism isn't serious and fatal and I can be quiet about it!

Of course I'm not saying it's o.k to sin, I'm saying we have the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want if we're living according to the Spirit. I like what Ryan Rufus says in his book "Do Christians Still Have a Sinful Nature?" :

"...if the way we preach grace does not provoke the question, 'Shall we just keep sinning if grace will keep increasing?' then we are not preaching true grace!"

I'm praying that the church will begin to embrace true discernment and will uncover and destroy legalism wherever it's found. I'm praying we stop acting like the Pharisees coming up with new laws to try to please God and start celebrating the reason why God left so many areas 'gray'--FREEDOM!!!


Viscountess said...

Oh man, I read the same article, referred by the boys over at The Rebolution. I immediately posted a comment referring to Romans 14, and was so overwhelmed by the violent vitriol of the responses I got that I removed them from my blog roll.

I am appalled! You are right. This is the epitome of legalism, and it breaks my heart.

jul said...

It's good to meet people who can see it. For some reason, I find it extremely encourgaging and hopeful. Not to say anything of you, but I guess I feel that if someone as 'dense' as moi can finally get it (by the inestimatable power and grace of God) then so can others. And we who are heartbroken , as God is, can do something about it. We can pray, pray, pray, and never give in to fear of man when we need to speak out.

dogimo said...

To my way of thinking, sin is one thing and one thing only: to choose against God. That is, to choose that which puts more distance between us and God; to choose that which pulls us away from God's grace. Some of those choices are very obvious, some, less so. But in each case, it is the deliberate turning away, the deliberate distance we put between us and God, that truly hurts us. And surely, saddens God.

It should not be, but God's grace can be terrifying. We erect boundaries, barriers between ourselves and God's grace, we set laws in between ourselves and God because we are more comfortable with laws than we are with God. But surely this too is sin! Why can we not feel confident in God's love? Why must we try to place intermediaries between us and God?

It is because, despite the gifts we have been given - of life, of faith, of family, above all of Christ - we still feel ourselves unworthy of God's love. We are all too aware of our inadequacies. We know that God sees them! And we fear.

It's as if we keep forgetting that despite our fear, despite our failings, God does love us! At some point, we're going to have to trust God. God knows better than we do.

And God loves us.

jul said...

dogima, I like your perspective on why we set up laws. And your words about God's love and grace are beautiful. thanks for commenting.

Peter Day said...

All your posts on legalism (starting with the doctrine of indwelling sin) are excellent. I have been very moved by your honest testimony on the impact of legalism in your home. How we need to be free from the performance mentality for our own sakes and for others around us. Legalism is a terrible slave-master, and we need to be free from it.

I am still learning, but I have been greatly helped by a book by Neil T Anderson called Victory over the Darkness. One of his main points is that we behave consistently with what we believe we are. A dog barks, a cat mews, a failure fails, a sinner sins, a saint is holy.

As long as we believe we are failures we will continue to fail; if we believe we are sinners, we will continue to sin. But we are saints! Saints that sin, but our nature is that we are saints. We have been set apart, made holy and are children of the living God.

I have also been deeply helped by three scriptures.

Romans 6v1 - "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound." Ryan Rufus is absolutely right - if our preaching does not provoke this question then we are not preaching the gospel (I think Martyn Lloyd-Jones said this first!!).

Romans 8v1 - "There is therefore now no condemndation for those who are in Christ Jesus." If I am feeling condemned, then it has not come from the Lord. Legalism condemns - so it doesn't come from God!

Ephesians 4v30 - "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit." Here is a clear motive not to sin. It doesn't say "do not anger the Holy Spirit". It speaks of grief (hurt, pain) to the Holy Spirit. All the time the Lord sees us in righteous in Christ, but we can grieve Him. I don't want to grieve the One who has given so much and is giving so much for me. So I try not to sin, and to sin less. But if I sin, I have an Advocate before the Father. The Father cannot condemn my sin twice, once in Christ and again in me. So I am completely 100% free from sin - I am a saint.

So legalism must go. In fact it has gone - it is nailed to the cross, so why should we dig it up again?

Sorry, I have gone on for too long! But I hope some of this is helpful. God bless you richly. Thank you for your marvellous posts.

jul said...

Thanks for your great insight Peter. You didn't go on too long at all. We've read and gone through some Neil Anderson material before and it was excellent. Recently, I've been wanted to get hold of some of his books again to go over so thanks for the recommendation.

Ahh, you gotta love Romans! I have a song that begins the chorus with the line "there's now no condemnation, washed in his blood". It seems to need to be shouted out or sung... I'm definately with you: down with legalism!!

AndrewF said...

Here is a question for you Julie: I fully agree with what you say about legalism, but when I read the gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time giving commands. He says things like "If you love me, keep my commandments", "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love." (Jn 15:10) and then "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (Jn 14:21). My problem is how to relate this to grace. I firmly believe that God's love for me is not conditional on my performance, so how am I to understand these verses?

AndrewF said...

I have just posted a blog on my response to the question I asked above. I would be interested in your thoughts, Julie. (And any one else's for that matter!)
Are the commands of Jesus just legalism in another form?

Baxter's Boy said...

Eric Simmonds leads the singles ministry at Covenant Life Church - (I think you mentioned you didn't know who he was). Like all the other comments my heart sinks deeper and deeper as I read this. I think surely Andrew F's comment about relating the commands of the Lord to grace resounds with us all - and really points to the church's total misunderstanding of grace.

I remember when Terry Virgo preached a 3-part series at Stoneleigh Bible Week on grace and began it by telling a story about a pastor who had a co-habiting couple in his church who wanted to get baptised. The question to Terry was "Should we apply grace or law?". Terry was appalled as he went on to point out that it was not a question of one or the other.

Just so - surely it isn't a question of relating the commands of Jesus to grace. That's why the Holy Spirit has been poured out!! To equip us and enable us (as John Piper puts it) to "dance away from temptation!"). Yes the commands of the Lord Jesus still stand and always will. God's love isn't conditional on our performance and never will be. God's love is conditional on Christ's past - or what He did on the Cross and then in the Resurrection.

I don't think we are capable of keeping these commands unless we are truly overwhealmed by the amazing grace of the Lord. I dont think we can keep the commands to not sin unless we have received and know "grace to say no". I dont think we can keep the commands unless we truly properly understand grace!!

I liked what one person wrote on your comments; "grace can be terrifying". Exactly!! Grace isn't the soft alternative to law!! Grace IS terrifying! Because it has been given for a purpose - to enable us to become more like Jesus Christ! And grace's presence in our lives and in our churches means we DON'T have to rabbit on about stupid o-clock in the morning clubs, or grey areas or modesty checklists, or commuting in the morning checklists. I'm not swiping at anyone in particular, I'm swiping at legalism!

Oops ... didn't mean to go on that long. But like you Julie I HATE legalism!!

James B said...

Hiya just been reading the whole "Grey Area" article. It made my blood boil so I had to go put some Brighton music to calm me down!! I think its a shame that this and other articles were written on the site with no room for comments or come-back. Therefore no room for discussion. Grr.

jul said...

For those of you (James hehe..) who would like an opportunity to comment back, you would be able to do so at the Rebelution blog. But I warn you, Coralie already tried it! I came very close to leaving a comment and may still do so if my concern gets the best of me. I warn you though, be prepared to need your music for weeks if you start hunting around over there lol. Here's the link:

I hope the Spirit of God compells all of us to have compassion on those deceived by the enemy into living in legalism and we begin to pray like never before for the church to rise up in the power of his grace.

lawrence said...

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 extrabiblical.) What he can, and what we should, do is develop convictions on things that are extrabibilical (grey matters) that are rooted in scripture. Scripture doesn't say not to go watch X rated movies. However, it does talk about "making a covenant with my eyes" etc. that would seem to indicate that movies are wrong and should not be seen.

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.

lawrence said...

sorry, it should've said "such movies are wrong and should not be seen" not "movies are wrong and should not be seen." I love movies I don't think they're wrong :-).

dogimo said...

The point for me is that no human being commands me: except for one. He is the one who will come again in judgment of my soul.

Those who try to tie back their own guidelines and commands to scripture to give them equal basis, or even, any basis - are missing the point. The point isn't whether laws or commands are legitimate, or have basis. Heck, Christ taught us to honor even secular law! But that is not what saves your soul.

1. Putting law before Christ will lose you, utterly.

2. When you are in Christ, when you have the Grace of God in you, you will not fear such trivialities as whether a thing does or does not fit into some law. Instead you will leap joyfully to do God's will!

This joy, this freedom, is what gets lost by a too-punctilious concern for the painstaking fine points and niceties of law.