Summary: Are you still trying to obey rules and observe rituals to earn God’s favor?
During this Grace-Robbers series we have noted there are many people who are still trying to live under law instead of grace. Rules and laws can often be ridiculous, and even funny. Here is a list of ten actual laws from different states.
1. In Alabama it is illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle.
2. In Florida you cannot chain your alligator to a fire hydrant.
3. In Minnesota it is illegal to tease a skunk.
4. In Louisiana biting someone with your natural teeth is “simple assault,” while biting someone with your false teeth is “aggravated assault.”
5. In Tennessee dogs must have a permit signed by the mayor in order to congregate in groups of three or more on private property.
6. In Oklahoma whale hunting is strictly forbidden.
If you think other states are the only ones have crazy laws, think again—Texas has its share. For instance,
7. In Texas, if two trains going in opposite directions on the same track meet each other, one can’t move until the other does.
8. In Texas it is legal for a blind person to go hunting unless long as they have someone with them who isn’t blind.
9. An old Texas law states you can be legally married by publicly introducing a person as your husband or wife 3 times. (Be careful guys!)
10. In Houston, beer may not be purchased after midnight on a Sunday, but it may be purchased on Monday.
The good news of the gospel of grace is we no longer have to live under the rules and regulations of the Old Testament Law. In the passage before us we are going to consider the danger of living by rules rather than living in a relationship with the Living God.
The key verse in this context is Colossians 2:14. “God forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Now read our focal passage, Colossians 2:20-23: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!?’ These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
The danger of legalism is it reduces the Christian life to a set of rules and regulations, and when a legalist keeps the rules, he feels good about himself. It reminds me of the old nursery rhyme:
Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner
Eating a Christmas pie
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plum
And said, “What a good boy am I!
When a legalist keeps the rules, he feels he is a good little boy. Legalism creates an atmosphere in which people can be proud of the way they act, but they can’t be happy. To them, Christianity isn’t something to be enjoyed; it is a religion to be endured. And anything fun must be either sinful or fattening, and must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, the more solemn and sad you are, the holier you are. I’ve written my own nursery rhyme:
Legalist Holy Hugh
Sat in a pew
Dreaming of pie in the sky
He looked ‘round the room
Mimicked all the gloom
And said, “What a good boy am I!
In this message we’ll consider both the misery of legalism and the joy of God’s grace.
I. THE MISERABLE FRUSTRATION OF LEGALISM
Legalism is the attitude I can establish or improve my standing before God by my activities. In the early days of American education, teachers were told to stress the “three Rs of education: Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic” (Obviously, spelling was not a high priority!) If you want to recognize legalism, look for the 3 “Rs” of legalism: Rules, Rituals, & Rewards. A legalist is someone who has a list of rules longer than God’s list. They carefully follow the prescribed rituals and regulations, because they believe God will reward their proper behavior.
When Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, he scolded them for substituting legalism for grace. He wrote, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3) You may be a legalist if you started out your Christian life by believing you were saved by grace, but then you started trying to earn brownie points from God by following rules and regulations. But legalism only leads to frustration and misery—why?