Summary: Compassion trumps man-made commandments.
Liberty or Legalism
Rev. Brian Bill
November 28-29, 2015
Almost every state has surprising laws on their books.
• In Florida, a woman may be fined for falling asleep under a hair dryer.
• In Indiana, citizens are not allowed to attend a movie within four hours after eating garlic. That seems like a good law to me.
• In Iowa, a man with a moustache is forbidden from kissing a woman in public.
• In Moline, ice-skating at the Riverside pond during the months of June and August is strictly prohibited.
• In Normal, Illinois, it’s against the law to make a face at a dog.
• In Wisconsin, it’s against the law to serve apple pie in restaurants unless there is cheese on top of it. Makes perfect sense to me.
And, it’s probably a good thing that I’m not a pastor in Nicholas County, West Virginia because no member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit. Or, maybe that wouldn’t apply to the humor I use…
We may laugh, or groan, at these out-of-date laws, because many of them seem absurd and ridiculous. But, if we were to list all the rules, expectations, and laws that are on the books in some churches today, chances are we’d stop laughing pretty quickly. Most of these religious regulations are not written down but some of us attempt to keep them, or expect others to do so.
Spiritual growth can be stunted, or even choked to death by the weeds of legalism. Legalism can be defined as a strict adherence to the law. Specifically, as it relates to faith, a legalist is one who believes that performance is the way to gain favor with God. Legalism is the human attempt to gain salvation or prove our spirituality by outward conformity to a list of religious “do’s” and “don’ts.”
Before we jump into our text, here are some observations about legalism.
1. We tend to think others are legalistic, but that we’re not. The fact is that we’re all legalistic by nature. We tend to judge others by our own standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t. In essence, we think our sins smell better than other people’s. We have very little tolerance for people who sin differently than we do.
2. Legalism is highly contagious. While it’s usually less conscious and systematized in our minds than it was among the Pharisees, legalism can spread like a bad virus through an entire congregation.
3. Legalism can take a vibrant faith and make it dull and lifeless. It can evaporate enthusiasm, jettison joy, and stifle spirituality. Instead of finding freedom through Christ, many believers are living with great burdens.
4. Legalism produces self-righteousness and judgment. Majoring in guilt and misguided sacrifice, legalism urges its followers to evaluate their relationship with God on the basis of standards and scores – and expects others to do the same. Superficial spirituality short-circuits the work of grace.