Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Legalism Visited

Legalism. We read so much in the Bible about those grace-killing legalists - the Pharisees and the Sadducees. One can perhaps understand how the shackles of the full measure of the law crept into their lives. Somehow this notion fully took them over like an inescapable addiction. Not only did it infect their own existence, they projected this misguided principle onto everyone. Suddenly the metric by which they judged themselves became the yardstick by which everyone was judged.

Of course, there are many modern forms of legalism and grace killing, sometimes very subtle and cleverly disguised. It is up to us to make the decision to give in to the pressures or understand what is at stake and make our own decision. I was inspired to ponder on this topic when a friend began an impassioned discussion with me about what movies he allowed himself to watch. Movies that included any sinful behaviors, sex, drug use, cheating, swearing, lewd behavior, were off limits. He also indicated to me that this filtering was starting to creep into other areas of his life such as the music he listened to or the people he associated with. I sensed that this ideal was growing within him and taking hold in his life. My side of the discussion was that enjoying a movie or listening to music or hanging around with tax-collectors is not necessarily sinful behavior. It depends on what we do with what our senses collect. While my friend acknowledged that my point of view was valid, I sensed that he could easily start to take his philosophy outside of himself and his family and start using it to measure others.

There are several approaches that are sensible as we decide how to apply rules and regulations to our lives. The first is to talk with Christians that you know to be wise and get some honest feedback. Discourse with an open mind. Next, one should try to understand what Scripture says and doesn't say about a given behavior or lifestyle. Finally, if you feel that following a certain paradigm is appropriate for you to protect you from sin, great, this demonstrates real discipline and inner resolve. However, always keep in mind that others may not walk the same path, and that this can be perfectly fine as well. There are many paths to the promised land for the fellowship of believers.