Summary: This message warns us not to depend on a list of rules, which only makes things worse, but to depend on the Lord, who alone can change us from the inside out as He lives His life through us.
Several years ago, the Chicago Tribune, ran an article about the religious history of the Chicago area. It began with a paragraph about Zion, a small town north of the city: “Rev. John Alexander Dowie left little to chance a century ago, when the charismatic preacher founded the city of Zion as a carefully ordered religious utopia: He immediately outlawed sin.” (Chicago Tribune, 9-22-00; www.PreachingToday.com)
It sounds silly, but no more silly than what many people do in their own lives. In order to get a better life, they try to outlaw certain behaviors, but that seldom, if ever, works.
For example, how many of you are still keeping the New Year’s resolutions you made just a month ago on the 1st of January? This is the 1st of February. How are you doing?
Was there anything wrong with your resolutions? Probably not? You probably had some great ideas to make your life better – like eating less or getting more exercise or spending regular time in the Word.
The rules are good, but they don’t make us better people, do they? If anything, they just make us feel guilty when we don’t follow through.
In fact, trying to follow a list of rules can actually make things worse. Trying to abide by a legalistic standard can actually lead us deeper into sin.
If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Galatians 2 (quickview) , Galatians 2 (quickview) , where we see the dangers of legalism. Galatians 2 (quickview) , starting at vs.11 (read to vs.12)
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (NIV)
"The circumcision group" were those who belonged to the Jewish group of believers in Jesus. You see, in the first century you had Jewish believers in Jesus – “the circumcision group” – and Gentile believers in Jesus – those who were not circumcised.
Well, Peter had gone to visit the church in Antioch, the first church planted with Gentile believers. & When Peter got there, he disregarded his own Jewish dietary laws and ate with the new Gentile believers. He enjoyed pork and ham and perhaps some shrimp scampi with his new friends in Christ.
But when James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, sent some of his Jewish buddies to Antioch, Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles. He withdrew from his new friends, because he was afraid of what his old friends would think. Their standards were stricter when it came to diet, and Peter didn’t want his old friends to think he was slipping.
But what do you think that did to his new Gentile friends? It hurt them deeply!
And that’s what legalism does. When we try to make ourselves look good by following a list of rules, then we divide ourselves from one another. We separate ourselves to exclude those who don’t measure up. We consider ourselves better than other believers, and that is just plain wrong, vs.11 says.