Right Attitudes, Part 3- Living Free of Legalism (Sn2:Ep09)

Peace to Live By: Right Attitudes, Part 3- Living Free of Legalism (Sn2:Ep09)- Daniel Litton
(tap or right click link to download broadcast)

[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       Some years ago I was up in New England on vacation with my dad and we are looking for some historical site-seeing places to visit. We had already been to the Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and that was a beautiful collection of old American buildings and homes, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is up that way. Nevertheless, we were in New Hampshire and were looking for something to do. You are probably familiar with those areas in the front of most hotels were you will find a vast variety of flyers or pamphlets advertising different attractions one can see. Well, my dad and I were looking through those and found one on the Canterbury Shaker Village. At the time, I knew nothing about the Shakers, and the pictures on the flyer looked interesting, so we decided to make the drive over there and see what it was all about.

       We made our way up into Canterbury, New Hampshire, arrived at the Shaker Village, and they took us into a small room before touring it to tell us all about the Shakers. My, let me tell you, it didn’t take long in listening to the people talking before I realized that this village used to be the site of a cult—who identified themselves as Christian. They told us back when the village was active—its heyday being in the 1800s—how the men and woman were separated into different areas and their individual responsibilities and all of that. The legalism and false interpretation of Scripture were everywhere intermixed into their way of life. They lived lives of celibacy, and forbad marriage. They believed God was both male and female, and that one of their female leaders was a female Christ incarnate. Indeed, it was a miserable life the Shakers led, and it’s no wonder that they didn’t really survive, and this not only because of the legalism and false beliefs—they didn’t have children to keep the population going. It wasn’t a fun life.

       Since we had already paid the entrance fee, my dad and I took the tour of the abandoned settlement with its buildings. It was a picturesque property, in a scenic setting, and the buildings had that old American feel and architecture. I remember coming to a barn there out in the middle of a field. It was kind of creepy to me, something like from a creepy movie. I walked into the barn, and as I stood in the middle of the barn, I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if there are any demons around here?” I thought this because I knew this had been the site of a cult, and that they must be around. And suddenly, right after I had that thought, the large, wooden door I had entered behind me, the one looking out into the field, slammed shut. So, I got my answer, but it didn’t bother me. I knew God was with me. I do believe demons can read our thoughts by the way.

       But as I toured the grounds, I saw all the inner workings of the place, the countless routines and rituals the Shakers performed, and noted the life of legalism. Some of the rooms looked like mini-factories, and one had to wonder what the actual purpose of all of this was. They had developed rigorous mechanical constructs in order to seemingly make working easier, but it looked to me like it would have made life harder. The Shakers were bound in slavery. Their ways were overbearing, and they didn’t live in the freedom that Christ offers to people. They didn’t have children nor raise the children correctly who lived in the settlement. Family life was pushed off and sacrificed for a ‘global’ communal life, and the list goes on and on. They had created their own way—which wasn’t God’s way, and followed a system of religion that certainly only brought spiritual death to its followers. They had created things as commands from God that he never made commands. Instead of walking by God the Holy Spirit, they made a mockery of him. There was no faith in the true God, and there couldn’t have been any real peace.

       Today, I want to talk about legalism. I want us to examine what it is—what it looks like, and how we can avoid or overcome it. Now, hopefully none of us are living in the type of bondage the Shakers had, but legalism still can and does affect our lives, and if left unchecked, could lead to more serious issues. It is true that not every one of us struggles with this kind of problem—that of being legalistic. For some, this sermon is going to hit more at home, but for others, it may not feel as convicting. But we can all take away something from studying legalism. So, I will talk about the negative effects of legalism and things we can do to combat it. I will talk about six negative effects of legalism. Now, obviously, there are numerous negative effects that could be listed, but I think these six provide a good foundation to understanding this problem. The six I am going to talk about are the following:

-legalism causes hypocrisy and slavery,
-keeps track of past sins,
-causes judgmental attitudes toward others,
-causes fathers to be overbearing toward their children,
-creates additions to God’s rules, and
-begets a lack of consistency in behaviors.

On the positive side, I am going to talk about six encouragements toward our battle against legalism. These are:

-God the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the believer,
-being content with our weaknesses,
-having faith in God,
-loving ourselves,
-getting rid of anger, and
-having peace and being thankful.

So, today, I will use this six vs. six approach as we discuss legalism.

       I want us to turn to Mark chapter 7. If we go back to Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had a lot of problems in their lives like the Shakers, and one of them was definitely legalism. They suffered from having legalistic mindsets. Jesus talked about this from time to time during his earthly ministry. So, turn in your Bibles or tap in your Bible apps on your digital devices, and let’s go to Mark chapter 7, and verses 6 through 7. I will be using this passage today as our primary text. It is written of Jesus,

“And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:6-9, ESV).

So, let’s examine this passage to get some insight into being legalistic.

       First, we note that legalism begets hypocrisy and slavery. The Pharisees were more concerned about their performances, rather than the actual condition of their hearts. They were more concerned about feeling good about their performances, rather than having God feel good about their actions. And this is where pride comes into the picture. Legalism is practicing a mode of prideful religion rather than living free in Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, ESV). But legalism is slavery. A person cannot gain acceptance from God by following a list of rules. Perhaps the most famous thing Jesus said about the legalism of the Pharisees was, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4, ESV). This undoubtedly is at the heart of legalism. To put unreasonable burdens on others while not doing them ourselves is the heart of hypocrisy.

       With legalism, we feel like a never measure up to God’s standard. But, we, as Christians have been forgiven of all offenses at the moment of conversion, and therefore, have complete acceptance from God. The Apostle Paul noted in Romans chapter 3 the following about the relationship between God and man:

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:20-25, ESV).

Let’s us note here that we cannot gain acceptance from God by following a list of rules and regulations. Our goal, as Christians, it to try to have the best heart we can, to want to do what is right because we love God, not because we feel God demands we do right. Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV). This doesn’t mean to be legalistic monks, but to have a right ‘heart’ before God—to do things for the ‘right’ reasons, not for legalistic reasons. Legalism sucks the life out of what we do, so that we no longer enjoy doing what we are doing.

       Second, with a legalistic attitude the Christian keeps track of past sins, and ends up repeatedly accusing him or herself of those sins. Keeping track of our past sins and continuing to feel bad about them is not God’s will for our lives. The Apostle Paul stated, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:13-15, ESV). So, we are to forget bad things from our past, and move forward by the renewing of our minds in a new way of thinking. Really, with the Christian there is no regret. I often am amazed at how fellow brothers and sisters recount negative past events like tombstones in a cemetery. This is not supposed to be what we are doing. Nor should fellow Christians keep track of others sins and create sort of an ‘FBI’ file on the person. That also is wrong.

       Third, legalism causes us to be judgmental toward others. We feel, because of the legalistic regulations we have created, that we are better Christians than others. Here again, pride creeps into the picture. But Jesus warned against this kind of behavior. He said in Luke chapter 6, ““Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37, ESV). Legalism leads to inappropriate judging and condemnation of others. Jesus said to judge not in such a way that causes us to be judged. If we are guilty of something, we shouldn’t be judging others for doing the same thing. In Luke 6, Jesus also said a few verses down, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye” (Luke 6:41-42, ESV). We must make sure we are in a place to disapprove before we actually do disapprove. We must look at ourselves first.

       Our judgmental attitudes toward others can also cause us to believe wrong things about others. We may be quick to judge others, and may judge them on little to no evidence. This overgeneralization of people’s behavior may make us believe wrong things about a group of people or a particular person. Overgeneralizing means taking something you see and acting like that is always the behavior for an individual or that that behavior applies to all in a group. For instance, I may see a fellow Christian drinking alcohol in a restaurant and assume that the person must drink all the time and be a drunk. I may decide not to associate with the person because 1 Corinthians 5 says not to associate with a brother who is a drunkard. But all may conclusions may be and probably are incorrect. Yet, this overgeneralization may lead a person to incorrect thinking and behavior.

       Fourth, let’s move to the realm of fatherhood. In is written in Colossians chapter 3, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (3:21, ESV). Being legalistic toward your children can cause the them to react in ways that are improper. A father should not critically, constantly correct his child in negative ways. Correction is necessary, but it should not be overbearing. Just think of how we would feel if God corrected us every time we did something wrong. That would like every five or so minutes, at least. Fathers being overbearing can cause negative emotions, emotions of discouragement, within the child. Developmental disorders could develop, from fear of the father’s overkill discipline and perceived rejection from the father. Phobias could develop as the child begins to fear other things in his or her life. The father-son relationship is really important in childhood development. Lack of a father or incorrect parenting can cause the child to be unconfident and unmotivated. I personally believe incorrect fatherhood to be a epidemic in this country. But at least it’s something that can be corrected through fathers trying harder and acting differently, and from other good male role models in the lives of fatherless children.

       Fifth, legalism creates additions to God’s rules for us. The Pharisees created many rules and regulations that they had added to God’s Law outlined in the Old Testament. This caused a blur in the line between God’s righteous decrees and the laws of men. We shouldn’t be lawmakers in our lives, creating rules we must follow in order to be seemingly pleasing to God, or to make ourselves feel good. It’s not that having discipline in our lives isn’t important, but there is a difference between good discipline and legalistic, empty rules that must be followed. You don’t have to follow ‘your’ rule everyday in order to be correct in your behavior. A person might create a rule that he or she needs to read three chapters of the Bible each day. That’s a good goal, but we shouldn’t rigorously follow it without regard to reason. If the person feels like he or she can’t miss keeping this rule, then legalism has set in. It was a good practice, but don’t let the practice rule over you. Don’t become a slave to a rule you have created so that you end up doing the action just for the sake of keeping true to the rule. That’s legalism.

       Sixth, legalism begets a lack of consistency in behaviors. Let’s look at an example of what this might look like. There are some Christians who wont go to a restaurant on Sundays because they feel its causing people to work on Sundays—to not observe the Sabbath—all the while they have their electricity running in their homes. You do realize, don’t you, that having your electricity flowing on Sundays in your home is causing people to work? These rules and regulations don’t make any sense. It’s these types of behaviors that Jesus warned against. In this 7-day a week, 24-hour society, I think it safe to assume that people can observe their Sabbath on different days. This isn’t a collective society—for the most part—where everyone does the same things on the same days. It’s an individualistic society.

       Now, this is not to say that there aren’t certain freedoms prescribed to the Christian that we should keep to ourselves. Let’s look at a passage from the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 14. In this chapter, Paul is talking about people in the body of Christ eating food that was sacrificed to idols. Some thought it was okay to eat it, while others didn’t think it was okay. It is written,

“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:20-23, ESV).

So, for those who are strong in the faith, we know that it is okay to do certain things that might be seen by others as wrong or sinful. But God tells us to keep those things between ourselves and Him, and not to publicly display them for fear of hurting or leading astray a weaker Christian. But, just to be clear, God never says it’s okay for the Christian to do things in public or private that he has ‘clearly’ labeled as sinful.

       Now that we’ve considered six negative things that legalism can and does cause in our lives, let’s look at some positive things to note in overcoming legalism.

       First and foremost, on the positive side, God has given us his Holy Spirit by whom we can live out the Christian life. Let’s reexamine what Jesus told us in John chapter 14. He said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:26-27, ESV). The Holy Spirit empowers us to understand God’s Word. He helps us understand what God wants us to learn. He brings to our remembrance the things we have read and learned in the Bible. He helps us live out the Christian life. God the Holy Spirit brings us peace, so that our hearts are not constantly troubled and so that we are not afraid no matter what we face in life. God’s Spirit is so critical for us to be successful and pleasing to God. We can say with the writer of Hebrews, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6, ESV).

       Second, let us remind ourselves that God loves us regardless of how we perform the Christian life. All of us have weaknesses, and none of us are perfect at anything we do. The Apostle Paul gives us a key text in 2 Corinthians about this. He said the following:

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)

It is okay for us, as Christians, to have weaknesses. And in fact, God has given us, or allowed us to have our weakness in order that his glory might be displayed in us. If none of us had any problems, we might become full of pride and think that we are awesome in living the Christian life. Indeed, some have deceived themselves into thinking they are perfect. But, as the Apostle Paul said elsewhere of Christ, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

       Third, we have to love ourselves, as God loves us. If God loves us as much as he does, we should definitely love ourselves. Paul noted after talking about how a man should love his wife, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:29, 30, ESV). So, if we are to love our wives more than ourselves, then we have to at least care about ourselves as people. Now, this doesn’t mean we should be narcissistic and obsessed with ourselves, but we should care. We should care about getting a daily dose of God’s Word and spending time in prayer with God. We should care that we are fellowshipping with other believers, loving on them as they love on us. If we aren’t doing these basic things in the Christian life, then there is something wrong. We have to take care of ourselves to be healthy in Christ and building up fellow members of the body.

       Fourth, we should live by ‘faith’ in God that we are doing right and doing the best we can. The Apostle Paul noted, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19, 20, ESV). As Paul just said, we are not to try to live under the Law, or any law system we have set up, anymore. We are to “live to God.” We are to rely on Jesus so much that he actually lives through us. We have to have faith that as long as we are trying our best, that God is pleased with our behavior. Like I stated before, we don’t earn God’s acceptance, but he still wants us to try the best we can. He doesn’t want us to be lazy or half-hearted. Since God bought us with a price, we should glorify God in living out our lives.

       Fifth, we can’t remain angry with ourselves when we fail. It is true that when we do fail, or continue to struggle in overcoming a certain sin in our lives, that we may become angry at our failure. But there are a couple of things we have to remember. Number one, God has forgiven us all our sins, including the one you are angry about. Number two, when God called us into his family, he already knew we were going to have this struggle with whatever failure or sin that it is. Therefore, we can have confidence in God that he is still with us, that he is still on our side, that he wants to see us improve, and will help us improve. God loves us and wants what is best for us. That being said, he isn’t going to fight the battle for us. We have to try, we have to fight to be better as he strengthens us for the battle with his power as we have faith in him. Remember, we are to “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16, ESV). Indeed, Satan is constantly accusing us before God in Heaven, but Jesus is there as our Advocate.

       Sixth and finally, we are to live with peace-of-mind and be thankful. The Apostle Paul tells us, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15, ESV). We can’t be legalistic and peaceful at the same time. In order to overcome legalism, we have to trade the rigorous, legalistic behaviors for behaviors that are done out of love in peace. With Christ is true peace because we really don’t have anything we have to worry about in this life, as hard as that may seem. I think developing this mindset is a continual struggle for us all, as it takes total faith and belief in God’s ability and love for us. Having this mindset is a continual, constant process in reminding ourselves of God’s ability and love in day-to-day life. Our peace should not be dependent on are daily circumstances or what is going on in our lives. We shouldn’t live by our fluctuating emotions based on circumstances. But, by letting peace rule in our hearts, we wont be able to be legalistic because being legalistic isn’t very peaceful. We wont be producing the worry and concern that comes with legalism. Rather, we will be free in knowing that God loves us despite our own performances. Like Paul said, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, ESV).

       In conclusion today, we have to remember that not only does God love all of us Christians in the world, but really God loves everyone in the world. He loved the world so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world, so that anyone who is willing can come to him and have a new life. Perhaps today you don’t know God—you don’t have a relationship with him. Maybe you’ve been listening to what I’ve been talking about and feel that you would like to get out from under legalism, but your not a Christian. Well, God leaves his door of salvation open to anyone who would believe in him. No matter who you are, God want you to come into a personal relationship with by believing in Jesus’ death on the cross, on your behalf, for your sins—the things you’ve done in your life against God.

       You see, God sent his Son Jesus into the world some 2,000 years ago who died on a Roman cross for the sins of the whole world. God, in his righteousness, demands payment for sin. Most people will end up bearing God’s wrath in a place the Bible calls hell—which is eternal torment for anyone who ends up there. But God doesn’t want anyone to have to go there, and that’s why he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world. He rose from the dead, and he now lives with God the Father in Heaven, he himself being God the Son. God will grant eternal life to anyone who would believe in Jesus, and you will never again be in danger of any of God’s wrath to come in the future. God gives eternal life, in which we will live with God forever. This life will be in total peace, with the desires of your heart, having things you truly want, in Heaven with God. God will be your father and take care of you forever. He is the father to the fatherless, and Father to anyone who will let him in.

       If you would like to accept Jesus Christ today as your personal Lord, and personal Savior, and gain eternal life, and a new life starting today in God, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I come to you today as a sinner. I have done things against you in my life. But today I want to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on my behalf for my sins, and I believe he rose from the dead and is now with you in Heaven. God, I give my life over to you because I want you to be in the drivers seat of my life. Please, Father, change my life, change me from the inside out, and make me become like Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton