I just returned from teaching village pastors in the high mountains of Guatemala. I was asked to teach about the Father’s Heart. The missionaries that work there find these good hearted pastors leaning toward legalism. These humble pastors are good folks doing a good work. They love the Lord and are serving Him. They are simply expressing their ministries out of what they have always known. My prayer is that some of them have now experienced a deepening of their understanding and experience of God. My prayer is that this will flow into their respective churches. BUT this blog is not a testimony of our recent ministry. What I would like to share today is some of my (rambling) thoughts that were stirred by this whole topic of grace versus legalism.
Legalism requires the law and the law is the polar opposite of grace:
…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Gal. 2:16)
Legalism functions by fear and punishment:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
Legalism spawns judgmentalism. Judgementalism is divisive and creates separation – not unity. Legalistic judgmentalism gives birth to the two-sided coin of pride and shame. Both shame and pride strangle life:
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.(Matt. 7:1-2)
I guess none of us see ourselves as legalistic, it’s always the other guy, church or denomination who is legalistic. It seems that as new believers we were thrilled by grace, but over time we find ourselves drawn to control (also known as the law). I think most folks that tend toward legalism have genuine concerns, such as: won’t people take a license with grace? Don’t we need some good firm rules (laws) to keep people from hurting themselves? Can the human heart be trusted? Look how worldly the church has become!
These are all reasonable concerns but if the law was going to fix the human heart it would have done so in the thousands of years that Israel had the law.
I think the primary difference is that the law is external and grace is internal. The law attempts to control behavior and grace brings us into a relationship. It is that Relationship that ultimately transforms us from the inside out. The law looks at us as sinners (even after salvation comes) and grace says that we are sons and daughters, friends and a bride to be. No man was even genuinely changed by the law. But, Love changes everything!
The Bible says “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he!” We live up – or down- to the image of ourselves we carry in our hearts. We also project that image onto others. Jesus says, “you are one worth dying for”. That is who we are! Grace ultimately is the manifest love released from the cross into my heart. This Love recognizes sin hurts the heart of our Father because it hurts us. It is our love for the Father, and our awareness of His love for us that navigates us away from sin – not fear and punishment.
….I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me! (Gal. 2:20)
May the Lord continue to open our eyes to who He really is, not just our limited views of Him and to also see ourselves as He does!