Monday, July 21, 2008

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

Posting these confessions on this blog likely isn't the best way to generate discussion but I'd like to know if there are any other pilgrims out there who are battling legalism. Let me know your thoughts after reading my "confessions". Thanks!

“My name is David and I’m a Recovering Legalist.”

Thus began another LA Legalists Anonymous meeting with myself and God. Just the two of us. My detractors never attend but I meet them regularly in my day to day routines. Most of them tend to infuriate me so it’s better that we’re not all in the same room together. Besides, they no longer batter legalism. They’re free now. They’ve graduated.

For half a century I’ve battled this addiction with seemingly few results. Like most addicts I find myself scrambling to justify my problem. Defending legalism is like trying to harness a hurricane or tame a tsunami. It’s impossible yet I won’t give in. I’m riding this ridiculous hobby horse that keeps trying to buck me off.

My greatest difficulty rears its ugly head when I attempt to biblically prove my stubbornness. All manner of misinterpretation and juggling of the biblical text takes over. I’m right and I’m going to prove it, so help me God. But what if God doesn’t want to enable my addiction? Even though I think He and I are co-leaders of a crusade I know in my heart that He’s often positioning Himself with my opponents and not with me. That hurts.

Every so often my most raucous rival will join the fray and a debating debacle is launched. Who’s going to come out victorious this time? Me, of course, because I’m right and I’ve got all the proof I need or so I think.

My rivals? The emancipated, once-bound converts who have traded their former legalism for liberty, of course. These crusaders fearlessly flaunt their new found freedom quoting the same scriptures that I’ve employed for decades. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

I’ll never forget a mid-week Bible study with some of these friends who had suddenly been loosed from their chafing chains. Rather than simply enjoying their new-found freedom and using it to enhance their Christian walk, they took great delight in dissing the poor saints who were still bound with the yokes of traditionalism, fundamentalism and legalism.

Suddenly all the long-standing taboos were dropped. Alcohol was no longer frowned upon and “moderation “ became the buzz word. Dancing no longer “led to sex” but was tolerated and even encouraged. Frequenting the movies was now acceptable and we weren’t sent on the crazy guilt trips that so often plagued us as kids. “What if the rapture takes place while you’re in the theatre?” “Would you want Jesus to find you there?” “The movies are so loud you might not hear the trumpet.”

Now, over 50 years later, I’m grappling with the same problems although I sense I’m in the minority now. To voice my disapproval of these vices dates me and entrenches me firmly in the old-fashioned camp. It seems that most Christians feel I need to be liberated – set free.

Is there a balance between legalism and liberty? Of course there is! My problem is in suggesting that everyone should find the same middle ground as I seek to discover. Friends who agree with my warped view become friends for life. Others continue to be suspect.

I need to be constantly reminded of the apostle Paul’s words when he wrote the Corinthian believers. The Amplified Bible renders it this way, “All things are legitimate [permissible--and we are free to do anything we please], but not all things are helpful (expedient, profitable, and wholesome). All things are legitimate, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].”

So I continue to struggle, seeking to keep my legalistic tendencies to myself without imposing my rules of conduct on others. When asked recently to join other Christian men for an evening of “wings and beer” the sounds of battle began to rumble within. Fortunately I was busy doing “profitable” things that evening and my legalism could again be masked and my absence excused. How long will the war continue?

“Help! My name is David and I’m still a legalist…but I’m getting better…I think…I pray.”


passing-thru said...

David -- We came from the same "era" equal in years and yet U have a "few" more on me when it comes to being "born again" -
Old Nazarene preaching was the same old school as the brethren so far as separation from the worldly snares and lifestyles -- movies, dancing bars etc. --
A Christian living for the Lord is guided in holy living - this has no bearing on our salvation thru Christ's work on the cross --
When pastoring years ago - I told a person who would not attend church because he loved his beer , I said to him when visiting his home , do u have anything to drink - he smiled and said just beer , I said , well , I will have "one" he looked at me and didn't believe me , I said to him , drinking beer won't keep U from Heaven, it's not accepting Christ that does that - but U know and I that HOLY LIVING is in AGREEMENT with the WORD and the MOVING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT -- not legalism but holiness --
If "we" were in mission fields and winning the lost , we would identify with them and preach Christ.
But for us to conform to a lower standard by lukewarm Christians so as to "please" them and their watered down gospel -- I DON'T THINK SO --- to the lost we become all things to win them -- to the saved we live a higher standard to show them GODLINESS and we SMILE and show them JOY and CHEER for a downcast Christian does the Kingdom little good .

hebrews 11:1 said...

Good post, Mr. Fisher, and great comment, PT!

I agree with you, PT...I do not like the "widening of The Way" as I find some churches and Christians try to make the gospel more palatable to the unsaved by making compromises to God's Word. I find, when it comes to being in the mission field, that I can identify very well with my neighbors and those around here without lowering myself to their standards of living. I don't have to go clubbing with my close friend in order to win her to the Lord...I think she respects and admires me more because she knows I won't go clubbing with her. She used to criticize me for wearing modest clothing, and now she stands up for me and says that is my style and everyone can have their own style! That really surprised me, but it encouraged me also, because I realized that it does pay off to stand my ground, and not conform to the world...


passing-thru said...

# 2
Whenever I have been in the "company" of a real "saintly" person, man or woman , I have had the "desire" to be at my best around that holy person -- for the Spirit of God was so sweet in them that I wanted to be at my best too -
Whenever I have been in the company of so-so Christian men that don't have much of a testimony, ones who laughed at everything and back-slapping types , I found my self more as "one of the guys" --
Being in the company of real saints (usually older men and women) they have such a "spirit" about them , one would never "invite" them to a beer and snack event or anything not HOLY for the LORD ---

passing-thru said...

IMPORTANT for pals to realise that I am not a "legalist" for I would and could and do and go and be to all , all that The Lord would have me to be , do and go.
I NEVER preach legalism , ever - for I KNOW that the Holy Spirit dealt with me thru HIS LOVE and not because of "things" - so why in the world would I "lay" on any person "burdens" like the pharasees did their people --
Thanks David for getting me "worked up" -- LOL

passing-thru said...

Ok this is it for me -- I never get into discussions like this for they are like a "dog chasing his tail around a pole"
Worldliness is a mindset - one of this world
A "movie" is just a movie and I would attend as long as it was clean of garbage --
Etc. etc. on most "things" --
Real saintly Christians seem to glow of the Love of God without being "holier than thou" , U rarely hear words like legalism or the "need" to do worldly things --
U have been in "their" presence David and so have I --
As Hebrews declares - let us go on unto perfection -- unto the meat -
Years ago we "wrestled" with all these issues -- such as other Christians in other denominations that worship slightly different etc. --
ON CHRIST ALONE do I spend my time -- OK - enough -- lol

passing-thru said...

Wishing I hadn't commented as much on this --- would rather see my comments off on this ---
Blessings to U David --
not "good" to be struggling with such things --

hebrews 11:1 said...

Hey, PT,

I like all your comments here! Don't worry!

God bless you,

Felisol said...

Dear David & Passing-Thru Pilgrims,
I respect your opinions, they are the same value my father lived by from he was 24 till he died at 87.
I don't share them a hundred percent.
Am I still welcome at the Pilgrim Pals?
From Felisol

passing-thru said...

Lol -- Felisol from over the pond --- this is why I don't get on legalism --- YOUR ONE OF THE "PALS" your one of the sweetest ----
U will never hear me mention legalism --
THIS I KNOW --- and that is -- when "one" is in the company of a real "saintly" Christian, there is magic in being around them -- "they" draw us closer to Christ --this is the "spirit" that I want from the Lord and that comes by being close to HIM

Terry said...

Dear David...I am not a legalist, but I don't think that is legalism not to go to dances, shows and other worldly entertainments because really if you are saved, you ARE bringing Jesus there. After all he is living inside us and I think that it would surely grieve Him.
And I think that He does like us to dress modestly. I would not tell other Christians what to do because that is between them and God.
If I did tell them then that would make me a legalist.
I am free because God has made me from sin and free to obey the few things that He asks me to.
I will never forget the story Mom Golden told me years ago. While she was unsaved herself and liked to frequent the dances, she said one day there was a couple there dancing when a man came into the room and said at the top of his lungs, "Beasley got saved last night!"
Well the man that was dancing with his girl suddenly stopped, stood still, blushed a crimson red and left the dance hall never to return again!
Mom Golden wasn't a legalist. She gave us our own choice whether we wanted to go to dances or the show. We just didn't want to!
Unsaved people have a much higher standard of living for us Christians than they do for themselves.
It bothered me so much when social drinking came out for the young people at the church and smoking. While this isn't sin in itself, I think it would be a bad testimony and how would someone seeking for salvation feel free to ask you about it, if you were doing the same things as he was!
Chapter and verse is not enough. We have to live just like the Lord lived and be His disciples!!

David Fisher you have a tender conscience and I hope you will never lose it!!!
You are not a legalist and I am sure that the sportsmen that you are in contact with, so much respect you that you are different and that you are able therefore to share the Bible with them...They are wondering what makes you tic!!

Love Terry

Felisol said...

Dear Passin-thru,
thank you, this meant a lot to me.
I would have been very sorry if I did not be welcome on this, to me holy place.
From Felisol

Vicki said...

Oh, my dear friends, a subject I'm learning about myself. Legalism is much more than mere behavior.

It is thinking we can do anything apart from the Lord in our own flesh or strength, then feeling right proud about it, too:-)

Once the grace of God grabbed ahold of me, I saw legalism for the bondage it really is. I've suffered a bit of spiritual abuse at the hands of religious people with their performance expectations in the church, and yet at the same time I know they truly love the Lord. But the Lord grows His children by grace.

I'm passionate about this subject and write about it often, so forgive me for jumping in.

It helps when I remember that we can do nothing without the indwelling Christ prompting and enabling us. We are powerless unless we're *abiding* in Him. Our Christian walk is ALL about grace, halleluiah!

God bless you Pals. I love you all.