Monday, September 15, 2003

Essence of Legalism

I just finished my first "read-all-of-Matthew-in-one-sitting", and strangely, what stuck out the most was when Jesus went postal on the Pharisees just after He cleared the Temple of the money-changers.

We're all used to labeling legalistic people "Pharisees", and most of us think we're pretty good at spotting them -- they love rules and they always seem angry.

The bad fruit is a dead give-away: they're angry and controlling, and everyone under their influence is angry as well, or beaten-down and vision-less. 

Then I got to thinking about how to define the essence of legalism. Many people have differing convictions in some areas, and to be honest, most of us label them "legalistic" only if they infringe on our set of standards -- which we know are the truly correct ones. :)

A few years ago, I came up with this:
"The essence of legalism is taking something God has revealed or convicted you of, and trying to force others to live by your revelation."
The "essence and evidence" of legalism is control. You don't need a list of nit-picky rules to be legalistic. At times, we are strangely silent with controlling, shaming, angry people who want to hold everyone "accountable" to their convictions. We don't recognize the trap of legalism that has taken hold because we've bought into a caricature of legalism: drinking, dancing, make-up, body art, etc. If they aren't railing against these, we assume they aren't legalistic.

But the bad fruit is still in plentiful evidence: angry, controlling and manipulative leaders, and a mixed congregation of angry disciples ("When a man is fully taught, he will be like his teacher." Luke 6:40) and beaten victims.

These are the kind of people Jesus got in the faces of.

We just change churches.

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