Legalism is alive and well in our world today. We see it in the way governments and law enforcement agencies operate. We see it in our homes – our quirky rules or ways we do things that we expect everyone in the same household to do.
Unfortunately, the last place we should see it, yet we most often do,is among those who claim to have a friendship with Jesus.
Spiritual score keeping
Have you ever heard any of the following:
- A good Christian doesn’t drink or smoke.
- A good Christian will never watch “R” rated movies.
- A good Christian woman will dress appropriately and modestly and will not cause a guy to stumble.
- A good Christian should be a political conservative.
- A good Christian will not listen to secular music – only Christians music.
- A good Christian will not have tattoos or multiple piercings.
- And on and on it goes.
You get the idea, the creation of a long list of rules and regulations. Spiritual score keeping! Do’s and don’ts designed to make the average church goer appear like a good Christian – but not necessarily more like Jesus.
The score card is disguised as though coming directly from the word of God – yet in actual fact, many of these rules are not quite articulated in Scripture the same as how they are spoken of on our score card.
These lists typically result in church goers appearing godly and spiritual on the outside but never truly dealing with the heart and character of a person in the process of being transformed by Jesus Christ.
The condition of your heart is what matters!
The outward appearance is nothing. It amounts to a whole hill of beans in light of eternity. 1 Samuel 16:7 says:
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.””
Unfortunately those of us who call ourselves Christians call fall in the trap of over-emphasizing appearing spiritual on the outside – where everyone is looking – while never addressing the deeper condition of our heart.
The outward change is typically easier than the harder pursuit of being transformed from the inside out. It is very difficult to admit when we are wrong – to admit that we’re not as together as we’d like everyone to think – and to strive toward life change and not merely outward change.
When do we cross the line into legalism?
We cross the line into legalism when we take our own limits to obey a command and impose those limits on others. It is true that some people have established great limits that are worth imitating but we enter into a dangerous place when we equate those limits with spirituality, no matter how great a spiritual giant the person may truly be.
We all need to help each other and support each other and sometimes exhort each other to put God’s commands into practice – but we are not the Holy Spirit police – and any action toward a brother or sister in Christ must be in the context of a true friendship motivated by love and compassion.
Jesus made it clear that He did not come to destroy life and weigh people down with rules but to give life – life to the full!
Above all else, pay attention to the condition of your heart!
How are you paying attention to the condition of your heart?