4 Lies Of Christian Legalism

Can you remember a time when you felt fear – deep, mind numbing, body shaking, thought blinding fear? Perhaps you experienced a terrible thunderstorm, the wind so loud you wondered if the roof on your house would stay on. Maybe you had to drive through a blizzard or a torrential rain storm and you were praying all the while you were on the highway that you wouldn’t crash. Quite possibly you witnessed a fight or were threatened in some way. Perhaps you feared for the life of a loved one and for hours you didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Being afraid isn’t our favourite place to be and so when we feel like we’re in unsafe situations we look for things to hold onto, things that’ll bring order to the chaos, things that’ll anchor us and give us the assurance that we’ll be safe.

This feeling fearful or unsafe thing isn’t limited to the physical world. We can feel fear, emotionally, socially, and mentally, and every time we feel fearful in those situations we seek safe places – anchors. Sometimes those safe places are good places to be, but often they are not. That’s why some people try to hold on to unhealthy ‘anchors’ such as drugs, abusive relationships, alcoholism, or some other ‘vice’ in a deluded attempt to alleviate a fear in the moment. The problem is that it doesn’t stop the fear. In fact, it only exasperates the fears already being faced.

We Christians may not admit it, but we often do the same thing as it pertains to our walk of faith. There’s a tendency to believe that it’s the extra ‘things’, the rules and regulations in our ‘religiosity’ that we need in order to be safe, to anchor us. So, we set up traditions and rules with a spiritual skin wrapped all over it and then call it religion.

In Colossians, Paul refers to four lies about traditions and regulations that 90% of us Christians admit to having held onto at some point in our faith journey (the other 10% lied about not going there). The thing is that they don’t add a lick to our spiritual identities and most certainly do not make us ever feel sufficiently safe in our eternal futures. Legalistic rules filled with tradition or perceived biblical rules, that end up just becoming cheap substitutes for what should be the goal of our lives as Christians – To glorify God in and through our lives and to enjoy being in his amazing presence forever.

What could be these 4 lies then that Paul speaks to?

Lie # 1 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you an acceptable Christian

“Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” – Colossians 2:16

So often we find ourselves worried about what others think, about making sure we look good and that we are doing the right ‘Christian’ (religious) thing. What ends up happening is that we surround ourselves with so many religious safety nets that we can’t see Jesus for the rules. Jesus wasn’t about rules – he was about relationship.

Much too often, we come into the body of Christ and are quickly introduced to something other than the gospel… legalism. Legalism refers to an emphasis on man-made rules and prohibitions as the standard for spirituality. Someone tells you how wrong it is to indulge in certain practices that ‘they’ have deemed unacceptable in the Christian community.

These individuals are not only convinced that these practices are wrong but consider it their duty to judge you as less Christ like because you do them! “Don’t play cards… Don’t watch movies… Don’t drink wine… Don’t get a tattoo…etc.”. As if Jesus isn’t near good enough to have taken care of the law for us. Listen, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit about some of those things in your life then by all means listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as you’re convicted, but it’s not your or my job to convict others where there is no conviction in their lives about these things or practices…you nor I am the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are house rules that we as a community must live by… thou shall not kill (good house rule). Thou shall not commit adultery (another good one). Love each other (a great law to live by). But where there isn’t a direction by the word of God I can’t go around and hold up man-made laws or traditions as though they have the same weight as the word of God. Where one person has liberties in an area with God another may not. We can’t make those demands on others let alone ourselves.

Just look in Romans 8 where we see how Jesus fulfilled the law, both its moral demands and its ceremonial demands. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

If keeping the Law could not make us acceptable before we received Christ, why do we think that keeping the law can make us acceptable after we are believers? Or as Paul rhetorically phrased it… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

Sadly, many genuine believers are living under some form of a yoke of bondage, thinking if I just do this or do that, I’ll be more acceptable to God. They may not say this overtly but their actions betray them.

The point is that the consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person’s acceptability with God or standing in God’s family. To be sure Paul had to deal with the abuse of food and drink; the problem of eating meat offered to idols and the problem of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 8, 11:21; Romans 14). But his approach to these abuses was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God’s temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not dictate its application with regulations in matters of food and drink.

Lie # 2 – Legalistic rules and regulations say that Jesus isn’t sufficient

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”  – Colossians 2:17-18

I recall watching the cartoon version of Peter Pan as a child and being fascinated by the shadow of Peter. It had a life of its own and in many ways, was an independent entity apart from its owner. I remember as an 8-year-old trying endlessly to ‘awaken’ my shadow so that we could enjoy separate adventures – together. Remember I was only 8. It didn’t take me long to discover that In the real world  a shadow has no substance, and for that matter has no independent existence. It simply is a proof of the fact that there is a reality somewhere behind it making it happen. It is not solid or real – simply a copy of the real thing. Much like Pepsi is to Coke. No matter how hard I tried to make my shadow ‘real’ it was always going to be lifeless, it was always going to be just a copy. Paul is stressing to us that legalism through rules and regulations are only insufficient “shadows” that do nothing to put us into right relationship with God and most certainly don’t make us safe.

In my wallet you might not find much money but you will find pictures of my kids. I value these photographs and look at them occasionally when I am away from home. But what would you think if I propped up these pictures all over my house or office and talked to them and tried to relate to them? You would think I’d gone a little crazy – and rightly so. But, more than that, I would lose connection with the very people whose pictures I hold. They would end up feeling ignored and our relationship would be damaged and would most likely end.

That is what Paul says is wrong with shadows. If you continue to give the shadow key significance after the real person or thing has been identified, you’ll only end up killing your opportunity to enjoy the real person or thing itself. here’s the point. There are times we put more trust than we think into our rituals or regulations than we do in Jesus. If you don’t believe me then ask yourself… do you feel better about your relationship with God after you read the bible for a week or if you have been attending church every Sunday for three months than when you didn’t read the Word as much or missed church for a few weeks? Or do you feel that God’s depth of love for you is dictated by how well you serve him? Or have you ever said, “Well i’m not really being that good of a Christian” as if you were the one sanctifying you?

I absolutely understand that we learn more about who God is as we read and pray and serve… but we need to do those things out of love & not because they are rules, things we need to do as a ‘good’ christian. What Paul is telling us is that the reality in our faith is Jesus, not other ‘things’ such as rules, regulations or otherwise. It’s him, not the shadow, that journeys with us through life, who comforts us when we need it and gives us the strength to face temptation. But when we forget that, we then are believing that rules & regulations are more sufficient in making us Christlike than Christ himself.

So do we truly believe that Jesus is sufficient? Truth is that God couldn’t love us any more than he already does. Remember that God doesn’t have lots of love to give – He is love and so is an endless reservoir of love. But when we trust more in regulations and those rules we place on ourselves and others… then it means we really don’t believe that God really loves us like he said he does or that Jesus is truly sufficient enough to take care of us… because if we truly believed the truth about him, well then we’d never rely on those shadows again.

Lie # 3 – Legalistic rules and regulations deny the authority of Jesus

“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:19

Jesus is to be “the head of the body,” a metaphor that demonstrates the authority of Christ over the church as well as the dependence the church is to place in Christ (Colossians 1:18). That’s what the writer of Hebrews puts so much effort into doing throughout the book of Hebrews. Attempting to show us the superiority and authority of Jesus Christ over and above all of the shadows of the Old Testament. We are not to content ourselves with shadows when we can fill ourselves with the real thing. And “Jesus is ‘the real thing’.

When we die to self and live to make him known, when we can’t help but love our fellow disciples, when we crave the word of God, when we welcome discipline and tribulations in our lives because we know we are being made into the image of Christ, when we seek out fellowship with other believers because we love being with God’s people we can know that as we grow, all our spiritual growth has as its ultimate focus – Jesus.

Avoid the false teachings, the legalistic rules, the empty rituals and the unsatisfying regulations that move us away from Christ, and instead take advantage of the things God has given for growth.

Lie # 4 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you holy

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

The false teachers in Paul’s day practised asceticism, which was a poor attempt at freeing the spirit from the ‘prison’ of the body. The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. In fact, there were many who began to find ways to punish their bodies believing that this was a way to free their spirit from the body. A monk named Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. I’m sure his cell probably smelled like a lot of guys’ dorm rooms. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.

Paul addresses a similar issue in Galatians 4 writing that while we were children, we were held in bondage under the ‘elemental’ things of the world. Elemental is from the Greek meaning “rank” used to speak of basic, foundational things like ABC’s or 123’s. Paul was saying that these rituals of human religion they were engaged in were elemental because they are only human, and could never rise to the level of the divine.  But he asks then that now that they’ve come to know God, how in the world could they go back to grade 2 – to the ABC’s? Do they really think that these rituals, holy days, and rules of diet will do it for them? Do they really want to be enslaved all over again?

Legalism only leads us back to unchristian slavery instead of freedom in Christ, and in any event, doesn’t free us from our lusts, at the very best keeps them on a leash which just isn’t good enough. Rules and regulations will not, and cannot make us holy.

The great news is that through our union with Christ, we, the redeemed are set free from man-made rules designed to promote spirituality and holiness.

What are the legalistic rules, regulations & traditions that you or I hold onto while we live out our own faith journey experience? What are those things we need to let go of in order to truly experience freedom in Christ and find safety in our relationship with God? True Christian safety and freedom never comes from restraining desires by rules and regulations, but from the death of evil desires and the springing to life of good desires. And this can only happen as we grow in deep love with Jesus and know him intimately, asking him to fill us with his spirit in order to be empowered to live for him. And as we grow we can know that he will complete the work that he began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

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6 Ways To Support Your Pastor

I remember watching a great movie a number of years ago, with actor James Garner in the lead role. The title of the movie was “Support Your Local Gunfighter”. James was the new guy in town and was viewed by the local folk as their answer to the ‘bad guy’ problem. Almost as soon as James rolled into town he was recruited by the mayor to take on the role of Sheriff. It wasn’t until later that the ‘new’ sheriff noticed all the tombstones (including a made to measure coffin being readied for him). After inquiring about the tombstones he learned that they were the burial sites of all the former sheriffs over the past year. It seems that the sheriffs were hired by the townsfolk to solve their problem, but they were not supported by them. Whenever the gang of hooligans came to town, they pretty much could have their way because no one would stand up to them – except for the poor sheriffs who would be subsequently shot and killed. The movie centred around the sheriff gaining the support of the reluctant townsfolk and winning the town back in the end.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s what we do to some of our pastors. Do we have a number of tombstones of former pastors in our pasts? Do we rally around our pastors or do we leave them to take the fiery darts alone? Do we hide behind them when the bad guys come but then have the casket ready once the shooting ends? I know of a great many people who love their pastors dearly and would hate for them to be hurt, however I know a great many times where our pastors are viewed as the  hired professional and little if any thought is given about supporting them.

I would venture to guess that many of us don’t even know our pastors – I mean really know them as a real person. What do they love to do during their time off? What is their favourite sport or hobby? Do you know what hurts them or do we just view them as almost a non-human, a type of super-human? What makes your pastor tick? Does he love cinnamon rolls? Does he struggle with issues that we need to support him in? Do we expect them to be perfect? Maybe its not that we view them as saviours, but then again perhaps we don’t think about them at all until Sunday morning or when an issue arises.

Pastoral ministry is tough, draining, and emotionally taxing. There is an emotional and spiritual intensity that is not experienced in most professions. Unlike most other careers, a pastor doesn’t just leave the issues at the office, rather carrying the weight of leadership around the clock while being expected to be a strength for the flock under his care. It’s a 24/7 calling, definitely not for the faint of heart and it requires a unique combination of battle toughness and fatherly tenderness. A pastor is closely connected to the lives of the people he serves, and vicariously experiences both the joy and heartbreak that his people experience. 

So how can you support your pastor? Here are 6 simple ways.

1  Pray for your pastor

The most important thing you can do to help your pastor be fruitful and effective in his role is to pray for him daily and pray with him as opportunities arise. which might mean heading to meet him at his office early in the morning or late at night (check first when it works best in his schedule).

  • Pray the Lord will give him wisdom in his various responsibilities.
  • Pray for his role as both husband and father (if he is married and has children).
  • Pray for his wife and children
  • Pray the Lord will protect him in the area of sexual purity.
  • Pray he would be able to strike a good balance between his ministry, family and personal life.

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2  Support your pastor’s leadership

This doesn’t mean that you blindly support your pastor, no matter what decision he makes. I am not suggesting, nor does the Bible suggest, that you submit to ungodly or abusive leaders. If your pastor says that there is no need to challenge his spiritual leadership, that is probably the cue to do just that, just make sure you do it in love, gentleness and with Godly council. However, the Bible is clear on the topic of being willing to submit to the authority in the church you have chosen to be a part of.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” –  Hebrews 13:7

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

It is an awesome step to accept God’s call to be a pastor and to take seriously the roles and responsibilities that such a call entails. You should be able to trust, believe in, and submit to those the Lord has placed in authority over you. If you can’t do this, you need to address this issue, and in extreme cases, leave if you can no longer respect and trust the leadership over you. 

3  Encourage your pastor

Lots of people will criticize and find fault. They will both email him and talk to him (and about him) in discouraging ways. But choose to be one of those who look for ways, and reasons, to encourage him — to camp on the positive, not the negative.

Tell him what you appreciate about his ministry, and be specific. What has he recently done or said that you have profited from? A pastor’s teaching or preaching help many, but few tell him specifically how he has been a help and blessing. Every once in a while, write a personal note or even text him, telling him you are praying for him and how you were blessed by what he said or appreciated something he has done. When you have the opportunity, thank your pastor personally face to face for specific aspects of his leadership.

4  Get to know your pastor

A pastor has a lonely job. Most people seem to ‘take’ from the pastor and forget to give. The folks under his care take his time, his energy, his resources, his wisdom and his counsel. And so, it is refreshing and encouraging to know that people in the church family really care about him, pray for him, and sincerely want to get to know him, not so they can take, but so that they can give.

Why not schedule some time with your pastor and offer to take him to the next football game or out for breakfast or lunch at his favourite restaurant? Ask him to tell you his story, how God saved him, how he met his wife, how he was called into ministry. I’ll guarantee you that he will appreciate this and be a better leader as a result of your initiative.

5 Talk honestly to, not about your pastor

If there is something that you honestly have a problem with – some decision he made, something he wrote or said that you disagree with – please talk to him, not about him.

This is one of the big sins in the body of Christ. It’s like we have been given permission to be passive aggressive in our dealings with each other. We seem to talk about people easily if we have an issue with them, but talking to them about that issue face to face is hard if not impossible. As a result, the foyer after the worship service in some churches has been known to be full of smiling faces on the outside but angst ridden hearts on the inside. That is unhealthy in so many ways and a barrier to unity and spiritual growth.  

From personal experience, I can tell you that most pastors want to hear from people who have issues or questions with something at the church. Really – they do. Most relish the opportunity to both genuinely listen and share concerning your issue so the two of you can have a mutual understanding and respect for each other.

Talking about others rather than talking to others is gossip pure and simple, and it never makes things better, only worse. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a simple babbler.” – Proverbs 20:19

6  Don’t forget his family

Don’t forget about his wife (and children). She needs to know she and her family is loved and cared for as well. Make sure that she is spoiled by the love of the women in the church, prayed for and blessed in ways that bring joy to her life. They are in ministry together, even if she isn’t as visible as he is, and will often feel the sting and pain of ministry as deeply as her spouse, in many cases even more intensely if the painful moments are directed at her husband. When she is loved (goes for the kids too) it becomes a blessing for your pastor as it frees him up emotionally to know his bride is cared for so well.

These six ways are only a start. There are many more ways you can support your pastor but even if you began with only one of the ways suggested it would make a world of difference to your pastor (and his wife). Even the Apostle Paul needed to be encouraged and he wasn’t afraid to point it out. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1: 3-8 (NIV)

Paul was encouraged and strengthened when he knew that he had the support of his friends and ministry partners. It meant so much to Paul that he tells them that he ‘longs’ for them. To ‘long’ for someone speaks of a pretty intense relationship. It smacks of a need to receive as in ‘I need you because I know that I will receive immense value from you”. Does my pastor ‘long’ for me? Does your pastor ‘long’ for you, or are we more of a burden/discouragement to them?

I figure that if Paul needed to be supported and encouraged, then I don’t think that it’s a stretch to think that my pastor needs to be encouraged and strengthened too.

Why Christians Must Support Donald Trump

“I hate that guy!” “The world would be a better place if she just died today” “If I only had a gun I would…”

We have been seeing, and quite possibly feeling, the deep frustrations of people upset over the governmental leadership they now find themselves under. This has led to marches, rantings on social media, public displays of rage and heated debates around many social spheres at work, home and play. With any political change-up, we find that certain people will be fearful, frustrated, and angry while others will be joyful, optimistic and quite happy about who has been voted to be the ‘first among equals.’

In Ontario, where I currently make my home, I read with dismay some of the death threats (or at least the vivid wishes she were dead) being made about the Premier of the Province via twitter.  What concerned me even more though was that some of my Christian friends joined in.

I understand some of the very real frustrations with our leaders, whether they be Kathleen Wynn in Ontario, Justin Trudeau in Ottawa or Donald Trump in Washington, however what is to be expected of us in our responses to them, even if they are causing much angst? Please don’t think I’m advocating a ‘use me as a door mat’ passivity or even silence, nor am I suggesting to vote or not vote for any of the political personalities out there. For that matter I’m Canadian so couldn’t vote for Trump even if I wanted to; however, I do think that there is a higher response expected of the Christian community that must be embraced first before anything else is said or acted upon.

When the church was first ‘getting its legs’ the emperor was Nero who tortured and killed his enemies which included Christians. Many of those killed were covered with the skins of beasts in order to be torn to pieces by dogs, or were nailed to crosses, or were covered in oil and then fixed on spikes, while alive, ultimately being lit as torches to serve as nightly illumination for his garden parties. It is also believed that Nero was the one responsible for the deaths of both Peter and Paul. And this reign of terror wasn’t his only ‘problem’. Tension among Roman leaders ultimately became so great that the Praetorian Guard transferred their loyalty from Nero to Galba, leading the Senate to declare Nero a public enemy. Nero was forced to flee Rome, and he later took his own life.

This guy was one messed up dude, and yet, the apostle Peter specifically calls the people of Christ to show submission to the emperor. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” – 1 Peter 2:13-14.

The apostle Paul called on the churches to support, through prayer and by showing thanksgiving, “kings” and “all who are in high positions” “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

And keep in mind that both these Apostles said these things while under the reign of Nero. The point is that Christians, above all people, should support through prayer and through showing respect, President Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Premier Kathleen Wynn as well as all of our elected officials even if you are the polar opposite politically. After all, unlike those who see politics as the ultimate authority, we recognize that our political systems are temporal. We don’t then need to be provoked into the kind of outrage that passes for much of contemporary political discourse.

Finally, the apostle Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1 . If that is the case, unlike those who see history as impersonal or unpredictable, we are able to see behind everything a God who is sovereign over his universe and so then can trust him even if we can’t trust the specific person who is in power at the moment.

 

 

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