Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: 10 “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. 11 The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. 12 I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ 13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’ ” 14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” Luke 18:9-14 (MSG)
For a legalist, spirituality is tantamount to saying, “I think the right way, live the right way, associate with the right people, read my Bible, pray, go to church, and avoid worldly ways; therefore I am spiritual.” This person might be a “good” person, live a straight and disciplined life, be a good friend and neighbor, and support the church and its ministries. But legalism is not true Christian spirituality, for in the end it looks to self to achieve a condition of spirituality by adhering to a predetermined set of rules and fixed doctrinal interpretations. It goes beyond what the Bible teaches and what the common tradition embraces.
Legalistic spirituality is not directly situated in God’s story of creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Legalistic spirituality is situated in derivative rules and doctrines determined by a particular cultural expression of the faith. This sort of spirituality, instead of contemplating the mystery of God’s vision and participating in the life purposed by God, measures a person’s spiritual state by the secondary rules and doctrines that ask: “Are you keeping the rules?” “Are you adhering to the doctrinal particulars espoused by this particular church?” Legalism focuses on the self and how well the self adheres to the group expectations.
As I read the Webber’s words, into my mind popped a number of legalists that I deal with, or have to deal with the consequences of their actions. They frustrate the heck out of me, and to be honest, the consequences of their actions and their decisions scare me. I’ve seen too many people give up on the church, and some even give up on God because of the legalism.
But as I re-read the words, I have to wonder, how often do I (and you can and perhaps should) turn into the very thing I struggle against, the same thing that frustrates me, the same thing that pisses me off.
Is it possible that I could become what Webber calls a legalist? Have I become so antagonized by their actions that I justify myself in order to feel more righteous than those I can’t understand, or for that matter stand?
It is all too easy to become the Pharisee, to find the attitude inside myself that finds others less holy (usually those I catch doing that to others – but that doesn’t excuse or justify my sin)
As Webber says, I can be good, I can know all the right doctrines, I can express them fluently, but the moment I count out that to justify me, at least compared to them.
And that is the point, I stop comparing myself to Jesus, I stopped seeing my own faults, and therefore the need to cling to Jesus, who justify me and would justify them. That’s what spirituality is to Webber, the reason he called the book the Divine Embrace.
It is there on the cross that I can find the peace I need, and the ability to love those that frustrate me, to realize that those who I find as legalistic I can find compassion for, and I can find the hope to not be legalistic.
For God is with us….. and therefore, there is hope!
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. 8 Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ 9 and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. 10 All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, 11 so that somehow I also may be raised to life. Philippians 3:7-11 (CEV)
8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.Philippians 4:8 (TEV)
65 Once again you had gone back to your old follies!… And afterwards, when you returned, you didn’t feel very cheerful, because you lacked humility. It seems as if you obstinately refuse to learn from the second part of the parable of the prodigal son, and you still feel attached to the wretched happiness of the pig-swill. With your pride wounded by your weakness, you have not made up your mind to ask for pardon, and you have not realised that, if you humble yourself, the joyful welcome of your Father God awaits you, with a feast to mark your return and your new beginning. (1)
In the movie “Footloose”, there is a characterization of Christianity, or at least Christianity that used to be.
A Pharisaical legislative, in your face, take names Christianity where those that danced, or drank, or went to movies rated “PG” or worse were held up and scorned. Where the rules of behavior were set in stone, and by golly, if you weren’t going to obey those rules, you were going to be tossed out. If you questioned the rules, you were considered a rebel and someone to be watched.
A generation later, and perhaps we’ve gone the other way, yet are still “legislating” what is right and wrong. Or more accurately, we are simply legislating everything as right, and banishing any thought of the idea of something being “wrong”.
The Pendulum has reached the other side of the swing, This time, it has done what it rarely does – it has taken the church with it, gotten the church’s okay for what is vulgar, profane, sinful. I look at my fb page and what I and others post, and am shocked. Even if permissible, the things we post aren’t beneficial, (didn’t Paul say something about that?)
As one whose vocation, whose career deals with helping people in their brokenness, I see both these extremes as wrong. I have dealt, and continue to deal, with those damaged by these forms of legalism. The damage is horrendous, the pains are real, the broken families, broken marriages, broken friendships, broken people just mount up,
The ways that would excuse and/or justify any behavior, and the kind that would force behavior modification.
That’s not how it works in scripture, for like the old computer rule, these tactics focus on negative behavior – and even taking them in leads to sin. Garbage in, garbage out. Both ways do this – one by approving it, the other by making it tempting and looking good, in the very way we forbid it.
Holiness is something else though. It is abandoning all of these behaviors, not because we are forced too, but because we realize their value compared to the value of knowing Jesus, to knowing the love of God, to knowing His comfort and peace.
Paul’s idea of Phil. 4 – about concentrating on the “good stuff” isn’t law – it is 100% gospel, when you hear it with chapter 3 still fresh in your mind. Because those things he says to focus on are found in the presence of God. They are God’s nature. They lead us to adore Him, to want to be like Him, and in Him finding the strength to that which is positive. The more we see this, the less desirous the life of the prodigal will be, the more we realize the grip of sin was broken at the cross. There is something about that cross, about the crucifixes and crosses we have, that remind us of His love, of His devotion, of that which is unlike anything else we can now.
Will we see God’s glory for what it is? Will we walk with the Lord? Will we realize the garbage that we feed on daily for what it is, and leave it behind to know the love of God?
Lord have mercy on us, and help us to desire you in our lives, and therefore find the holiness that is found in your peace.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 490-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.