Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Little Less Legalese

I used to attend a church that was very legalistic.  Self indulgent, humanistic messages like "Put Your Buggy Back" and "Limit One Per Customer," or something like that, emphasized our need to be "above reproach" in the world.  For years I worried that if I changed lanes without signaling someone would follow me into the parking lot of the Acme and jump from their car screaming, "Hey!  Did you know you didn't use your signal back there?  Wait a minute, you go to That Church, don't you?  You're supposed to be one of those Christians.  Well, Christians follow the rules, and you didn't follow the rules!  I reject Christ -- I always will reject Christ because of your appalling testimony!"  And how would I ever be able to live with that?  There was just so much wrong with my thinking back then, it was easy to fall into that "try to be good" trap.

First of all, legalism is all about "trying to be a good person."  In light of Christ's death on the cross, we should already be running the other way from a concept such as "trying" to be good.  As Christians we know it is Christ's actions that redeem us, purify and perfect us -- not our own.

And is a "good person" what we should really be striving to be?  What would happen if we all tried to be good disciples, or faithful followers, or fully capitulated children?  Wouldn't that be better?  I know Christians who do not measure up to the standards -- behaviorally, charitably, or socially of some of the non-Christians I know.  Does it negate their salvation?  No.  Could it be that they are not truly dependent on Jesus Christ?  Maybe.  Are they human beings living in a flawed world going through human trials and temptations and, sometimes, failing?  Most definitely.  But hopefully, they trust, same as I do, that one day they will be perfected in Glory; until then, they look to Jesus to not only carry them through difficulty, but help them up when they foolishly blunder.

So what of "fruit?"  Doesn't Galatians 5 say the works of the flesh are directly opposed to the Spirit?  Doesn't it list all the fruit we should bear if we are truly walking as we should -- in the Spirit?  Let's not put the cart before the horse.  When was the last time a pear tree closed its little eyes, thought really hard, and popped out a fresh ripe pear in the dead of winter?  Just because a tree "wishes" or "tries" to bear fruit, doesn't mean it will.  The tree must suck up all the water and nutrients it possibly can, rest, abide and do "tree things" while the gardener prunes, provides necessary nourishment and cares for the tree.  That tree's not gonna spring into adulthood overnight either.  Neither will it have optimum growth year after year; there will be seasons of want and seasons of plenty.  That tree just needs to keep on doing what trees do, faithfully, consistently, and fruit will come.

Lastly, let me tell you a little secret.  I always took my buggy, back to the cart corral after I unloaded my groceries.  Does this make me a righteous person?  Nope!  Does it make me feel like a righteous person?  Well, as I sat there listening to that pastor's message that Sunday, I felt good.  "This message is so on point.  Yes, yes.  Amen. Set a good example for those who would know Jesus."  BLECH!  I cringe at what was going through my mind at that moment.  The pride that "doing good things" can instantaneously place in one's heart...  I held my head a little higher the next time I walked a cart from the nether regions of the lot back into the store; my chest stuck out as I handed the cashier the six cents I found in the gum rack under the counter.  "I am a conscientious person.  I am an honest person.  Everyone will look at me and know immediately that I am a Believer."  I didn't really believe I was earning my salvation, but that's not always what legalism is about.  Sometimes it's about earning righteousness, or "rightness," and Satan can use that as a foothold if it is not the genuine outpouring of faith in our lives.  He had such a foothold in my life, I couldn't see a forest of mistrust for the trees of good works. 

Today, I still take my buggy back to the corral, but not for the same reasons as before; fewer buggies in the lot mean fewer dings on my truck.  Just last week I had a handful of bogus coupons someone had sent me in an e-mail.  I picked up the products, but brought it to the cashier's attention before she ever rung them up.  Why?  Didn't feel like the aggravation of fighting over something I was pretty sure was wrong.  The next day, however, someone gave me a list of stores that took the coupons, counterfeit or not, no questions asked.  I had no desire to even print them back up.  Now, that's fruit! and I didn't even know I was in season!
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