After reading a book called “Gospel Amnesia” and doing some reading on “anti-Vision Forum” sites (some of which have valid points), I’ve been doing some thinking on legalism. I couldn’t seem to organize my thoughts into a coherent post, but here are some bullet points:
– Legalism isn’t just something that you think will save you (or condemn you) if you do/don’t do it – it often masquerades more subtly as thinking doing or not doing something will earn you more of God’s favor, or that the opposite action will make you or others less favorable to God.
– Looking down on someone because they don’t have the same conviction is often a sign of legalism. While our outward works are a sign of our faith, we have to be careful how we monitor the fruit of others. Just because I didn’t go to college, courted, and want a lot of kids doesn’t make me more holy than the sister who went to college, dated recreationally, and has one child.
– Rules in and of themselves are not legalism. People in gospel-centered camps would err on this side, but having seen the other side – very conservative Christians – I can understand why. To balance that out, we have to remember that the New Testament is full of rules. But the rules always come linked to the gospel – what really saves us and what allows us to receive God’s favor. Living a certain way won’t save you, but there is a certain way of life that brings honor to His name. That’s the purpose of the rules given in Titus – that the gospel may not be reviled.
– When dealing with legalism, we shouldn’t be reactionary. Instead of saying that because someone made a rule legalistic we should be done with it, we need to look at scripture and go from there. And instead of saying there’s no way said rule is legalism, examine yourself and make sure it’s not (or instead of countering cheap grace with only rules, counter it with true gospel!).
– Because someone makes a rule (women need to dress modestly) and someone else makes it legalistic (if you don’t wear a jean jumper you’re not as godly as those who do/only long skirts and button up blouses are modest), doesn’t mean that any guidelines for that rule are going to be legalistic.
– However, often rather than a rule (women cannot work outside the home), it’s better to exercise and encourage others to exercise godly wisdom (the Bible says women should be keepers at home. Can you do that while you’re working outside the home? – and judge each situation from there). I don’t think making a rule from that is necessarily legalism, but it is unhelpful and often takes things to a level that goes beyond what scripture says.
– Don’t make godly wisdom law. It just makes people ungracious and upset. (and yes, I’ll admit it, that is a reactionary statement. So is this: Don’t avoid sharing strong convictions of wisdom in order to avoid accusations of legalism. And note that that wisdom often stems from an underlying, beautiful law of God, which is absolute).
– Legalism leaves scars. Often they’re small, like having to learn how to seek holiness without being legalistic. But sometimes they’re worse, when legalism twists good, biblical things (male headship) into horrible things (emotional and physical abuse), causing people to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think this kind of twisting happens because people lose sight of grace in their own life and have no grace for others.
-If you fight sin because of legalism, sin is suppressed and then it eventually will come out (hence people who grew up in conservative homes and when they leave get into all sorts of immorality, or who were harmed because their parents went at behavior and not the heart – or because their parents’ hearts weren’t changed). But if it’s a heart change, then you can fight those sinful desires with a greater desire and the help of the Spirit.
– Many of the people opposed to “fundamentalist” teaching say that courtship, skirts, large families, etc. aren’t the answer. And they’re right. Courtship isn’t the answer. Fathers leading isn’t the answer. Following scripture to a T isn’t the answer: Christ is. CHRIST needs to be first, not Vision Forum’s 10 things, not a certain way of living, or anything else.
– When living a certain way becomes our gauge of holiness, that lifestyle becomes the center, not God. And this shows yet again why the gospel needs to be first. Holiness based on a set of rules alone leads to children being forced into lifestyles they don’t want, courtships controlled by parents, hyperpatriarchy, and all sorts of other problems – and problems are always many when the gospel is set aside. We want an extreme – to say “rules are great!” or “rules are evil.” But that’s not the path we’re given. We’re saved by grace, but then our works show our faith. That’s somewhere in the middle. Our ability to follow rules isn’t what makes us holy. We are holy in Christ, so we should live that way as a response.
No – we love because He first loved us; we have the fruit of the Spirit because He has given us His Spirit; we live differently from the world because He has redeemed us from the world.
– We need the gospel. That alone is what saves us. Our lifestyle doesn’t save us, nor is there only one right way of living. But when we’re saved, we need to know how to live as regenerate people. That’s where the law of God comes in, and that’s why the first half of Ephesians is on salvation and the second is on how to live as His children. We’re new people; we need to walk in newness of life.