"The pursuit of a trivial life is not befitting for creatures made in the image of a weighty God full of glory." - Kevin DeYoung
"To be a disciple of Jesus is to fight sin with sober belief in God's warnings AND abounding delight in his promises."
As Piper points out in the audio clip above, the word "legalism" is not in the Bible. However, the Pharisees offer the prime example, as they made their law-keeping behavior the foundation of their right standing with God. I think my definition would be similar to that..."the concept that our works rather than Jesus' imputed righteousness through the cross gains us approval in the eyes of God".
I went to high school with a couple friends like that. On one hand they would talk about the Gospel but on the other they were constantly pointing out how wrong it was for other students to talk the way they did or to listen to the music they did. Of course, they had a point. Swearing and music that is marked by prideful rebellion are not glorifying to God nor edifying to man. But they were only concerned about the behavior of these students. The posture of their hearts or their relationship, or lack thereof, with God seemed to be of little concern. Their desire to point out bad behavior revealed what an idol their own behavior had become in justifying themselves. They hadn't been broken yet to understand how God's grace was the ONLY thing that could save them and so they extended little grace to others. (And by his grace, one of those friends, is now one of the most grace- and truth-filled women I know who has a deep love for others and a desire that they would come to know Christ as Lord and Savior.)
I now hear legalism being used in another way. I recently taught through the book "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. It was very similar in it's message to David Platt's "Radical". Both books centered on what it truly meant to be a Christian...and therein lies the rub. On one hand, the Bible speaks quite clearly about the qualities of someone who is born again - they love God, they bear fruit, they have gifts of the Spirit, etc. On the other hand, a Christian is not ultimately nor primarily defined by what he/she does but what God has done for them. It is God who justifies and who grants the gift of faith. Who we are is not what we do but what has been done for us.
But I don't think this needs to be an either/or argument. We just need to get the order right. God absolutely initiates His work through His Spirit into our hearts and lives. It begins with God and it continues with God. The cross justifies us in His sight. It is not a jumping off point for our sanctification where we are handed the baton and God then says, "OK, the rest is up to you. Because of Jesus you have my approval. Now go do good so you can keep it."
I haven't read David's book but I can assure you that is not Francis' message. We were created for relationship with God. Do we not have a response to Him when He comes to us and initiates saving faith in our hearts? Are we to just take that gift for granted and become indifferent toward His love for us? Of course, not! Yet we seem to so easily fall into the trap of believing that we have no part to play in this story. We seem content to drift through life, creating what happiness we can on our own...all the while knowing that heaven awaits us like a well-funded retirement account so we can still rest well at night.
We have lost the concept of being a disciple. We barely see Jesus as teacher let alone Lord. We don't see the need to sit at His feet and make Him our primary treasure and example. What we really want Him for is to be there when we run out of options and our illusion of control gets thwarted yet again. In short, we still think our life is our own and we will do anything to hold on to that mirage. The original sin remains firmly implanted in our hearts. We want to be God.
So, when someone like Francis comes along and says, "Wake up, Christian! Your life was meant to be poured out for God and for others," we immediately get defensive. "Hey, that sounds awful legalistic Francis. After all, the Gospel is about grace and not about my behavior. My Christian life can't be defined by what I do. All my sins and shortcomings have been forgiven so I don't need to try and be perfect or pursue holiness or live radically...whatever that means."
We have a real problem with the Law. We either still use it when it suits us, i.e. I am really good at keeping "these" commands so I will use those to make me feel like I am being a good Christian....or I know I can't be perfect no matter how hard I try so why really try at all. The Law still has an essential part to play in the life of the Christian. Yes, it shows us our sin and it causes us to run back to the cross of Christ where forgiveness and grace flow like a never-ending stream of life. But the Law still tells us how we are to live! It still has a purpose. It still instructs us on how God designed His creation. The Law isn't meant to rob us of joy by thwarting our plans but it is meant to give us joy by aligning us with God's will so that we may enjoy blessings rather than the consequences that inevitably flow from our sin.
There are many commands that are good and right for us to pursue and follow. Notice that I said commands...not suggestions. This isn't God saying, "If you are really in the mood, give this a shot for me." No! Making disciples is not up for debate. Obeying God is not for just when you are feeling spiritual. Putting God first and putting yourself last isn't just for the really "holy" people. These are things that are meant to be part of the Christian life. Yes, we will do them imperfectly...we will stumble and fall...and we will repent knowing God will never leave us nor forsake us. But we can't just phone in the part we are called to play.
It is not legalistic to point out the commands of God on how we are to live. If we aren't following His Word, the issue is not with the Bible or the one who comes along and points out the disconnect. The issue lies with us. If we don't want to make disciples then we need to be seriously praying for the Spirit to ignite that desire and fervently searching for the obstacle preventing us from desiring to follow our Lord. These are battles we must fight. These are issues we must tackle. We can't be passive. God's ambassadors can't afford to coast along. We need to wake up while there is still time.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Jesus. Renew the fight within us today. May we fight to rest. Fight to receive. Fight to be still and believe you love us. Fight to honor you. Amen.