Why Do We Continue to Struggle with Legalism?

If you think about it, the world is full of untrue, unsound, unbiblical theology. It is important we know where it comes from, so we can better understand it, speak against it, and protect ourselves and others from it.

Paul was doing just that in the church at Ephesus. He was speaking out against bad theology in order help the Ephesians protect themselves from it.

With What Specific Bad Theology is Paul Dealing?

Paul is dealing with Legalism.

Legalism is essentially a form of works based salvation.

It tells us that we have to do certain things in order to attain or maintain a relationship with God. Look at verse 3 in 1 Timothy 4, speaking of the false teachers in Ephesus, Paul says,

“who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Ti 4:3)

This verse tells us what the false teachers in Ephesus were teaching, and that is they were teaching that you couldn’t get married and you had to abstain from certain foods in order to be a true Christian.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with being single or abstaining from certain foods. God calls people to a life of singleness and to give up certain foods for a while. Paul was one such person (1 Cor. 7:8; 8:13). So there is nothing wrong with these things in principle, but the trouble comes when we tell others they have to do these things in order to be a true Christian. When we do that, we are practicing legalism.

Christianity and Legalism don’t mix.

In fact, Christianity teaches the exact opposite of Legalism. It teaches us that we can’t work to attain or maintain our salvation. Salvation, then, is gained and kept by Jesus working on our behalf. It is His death on the cross that paid the price for our past, present, and future sins. When we believe that, we are freed from having to work to earn and keep our salvation. In fact, there is nothing for us to work for, there is no record for God to keep, there is no debt for us to pay. It has been paid for us.

That’s the distinguishing mark of Christianity.

We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.

But other world religions don’t believe or teach the same. They don’t believe God saves us. Instead, they believe we save ourselves. In that way, most all world religions are built on a form of legalism.

  • Buddhist’s believe in an eight-fold path that you must follow in order to reach a state of Nirvana.
  • Hindu’s believe you must work through a cycle of reincarnation until you are ultimately absorbed into Brahman.
  • Muslim’s believe your good must outweigh your bad in order to enter into heaven.
  • And many others such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe that it is your works that provide you with salvation.

But you know, while Christianity differs from other world religions, even we, as Christians, can fall back into a form of legalism. We can fall back into the idea that we are the ones who have to earn or keep our salvation. Why is that?

Why do we continue to struggle with Legalism?

(1) I believe we struggle with legalism because we don’t think we are that bad. 

Sure, we might sin a little here and there, but we don’t see ourselves as totally depraved sinners who are on a highway to hell. And because we don’t see ourselves that way, we tend to focus on the good things we do. Thinking we can earn favor with God through our works.

(2) I believe we can easily fall back into legalism because we want things to be simple. 

We want a 12 step program that takes us from sinner to saint with black and white rules we are to follow to get there.

(3) We don’t want to have to depend on God to help us discern the gray areas of life. 

We want it fast and easy. And waiting on God is not always fast nor easy.

(4) We want to know who’s good and who’s bad. 

Most of the time we want to know this about others because we want to be able to judge them based on what they are or aren’t doing.

So those are some of the reasons I believe we continue to struggle with and continually put on the chains legalism.

But life’s not that simple. God wants us to depend on Him, to study His Word, to seek Him in prayer. He wants us to rely on Christ and not our own work. He wants us to be set apart from how the world does things. So instead of running back to legalism, we need to continue to run to Christ, remembering our distinguishing mark — that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

In order to motivate you to continue to run to Christ, in my next post we will discuss what those who practice legalism fail to recognize.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you struggle with the chains of legalism?

Resources

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Post adapted from my sermon: Legalism — A Joyless, Worship Killing, Bad Theology We Should Avoid At All Costs

From Where Does Bad Theology Come?

If you think about it, the world is full of untrue, unsound, unbiblical theology. It is important we know where it comes from, so we can better understand it, speak against it, and protect ourselves and others from it.

What is Theology?

Just so we are on the same page,

Theology simply means the study of God.

In case you are wondering, everyone is a theologian. I say that because everyone has an opinion about God. Whether He exists or not, who He is, how He acts, how He thinks, how He saves. We all have an opinion on those things, which makes us all theologians. Some are good theologians, who do good theology. Some are bad theologians, who do bad theology.

What is Bad Theology?

Bad theology is basically anything that is contrary to how God has revealed Himself in His Word. It can range anywhere from God doesn’t exist, to God accepts us based on our works, to all roads lead to God, and anywhere in-between and beyond. So when we aren’t presenting God as He reveals Himself, we are doing bad theology.

From Where does Bad Theology Come?

In 1 Timothy 4:1 Paul tells us when he says,

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” (1 Ti 4:1–2)

First, bad theology comes from deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.

This reminds us that the world in which we live is not just a physical world. It is also inhabited by the spiritual. There are angels and demons present in the world alongside us. We can’t see them, but they are there.

Those who are on the side of darkness have been tasked with deceiving us. To keep us from knowing and experiencing the truth so that we will continue to follow the lies of the world. A good example of this may be found in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Wormwood, who is a junior demon, is being mentored by an older and wiser demon in the art of deception. Throughout the book you see him try to employ the counsel given. It’s a good book. If you haven’t read it, you should.

But here’s the thing, while demons certainly influence people’s theology, they are spiritual beings, which means they don’t get up in front of people and speak or write books.  Instead they have others speak and influence on their behalf.  Which tells us:

Second, bad theology comes from insincere liars who have seared consciences.

I am sure most everyone reading this article has a smoke alarm in their house. If you don’t have one, you need to get one. It can literally save your life. You can think of our conscience like a smoke alarm. It goes off when it detects something that is contrary to God’s Word.

Some people’s consciences are like an oversensitive smoke alarm, making them feel guilty when they have done nothing wrong. While others have consciences like a smoke alarm whose batteries are worn out. A fire can be raging around them, and nothing happens. Not the faintest beep.

That last group, those with worn out batteries in their smoke alarms, are who Paul is referring to here. You guys have all heard the old saying, “If you play with fire, you are going to get burned.” Well, that’s what happened to these folks. They continued to chase after the fiery flames of sin until their conscience no longer felt the sting of the fire around them. Once someone reaches this point, they are able to sin without guilt. They can spread lies and deceit without a second thought.  They don’t feel bad about using and abusing others or twisting God’s Word to match their agenda. They don’t care if what they are saying is false so long as it serves their purpose.

If you have ever wondered how prosperity preachers or those in the more liberal camp can preach what they preach week in and week out, this is how. Their conscience has been seared, so it doesn’t work like it should; it is like a smoke alarm with worn out batteries.

Knowing that there are those out there who feel no guilt or shame for what they are preaching, teaching, or writing, means we have to be vigilant, we have to make a point to always test what we hear against God’s Word. We can’t just accept something as true because it looks professional, comes out of a pastor’s mouth, is written in a book, or appears on TV. There are insincere liars with seared consciences propagating false theology that is birth from demonic influence. So we have to be on the lookout.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the specific theology in which Paul is attacking.

Question for Reflection

  1. When you encountered false theology, what did you do?

Resources

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Post adapted from my sermon: Legalism — A Joyless, Worship Killing, Bad Theology We Should Avoid At All Costs

Why should you join a local church?

Every now and again, as a Pastor, I get asked,

Why should I join a local church? I mean, I’m a Christian, which means I’m a part of the universal church. I attend church semi-regularly. Why do I have to join a local church?

For the most part, that’s an honest question. And an honest question deserves an honest answer. So:

Why should you join a local church?

I believe there are several reasons. Let’s look closer at those now.

(1) God has commanded it in Scripture. 

The writer of Hebrews says,

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24–25)

First things first. God has commanded us to join together with one another. Since we are commanded to gather together for the purposes of helping one another grow in love and good works, we aren’t to neglect that activity. In order to know which people you are to gather with, you need to commit to them. You show your commitment by joining that particular church.

(2) God has given us the local church as a place where you can:

  • Use your spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12; 14; Eph 4)
  • Learn more about Him (Joshua 1:8; Ps 1:2; 112:1; Matt. 4:4)
  • Be held accountable and be helped to grow in your spiritual walk (Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Jn 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:8; Eph. 6:16-18; James 5:16; Phil. 1:15-18; Gal. 2:11-16; Col. 1:21-23)
  • As well as it is a place through which you can serve others and the community (1 Tim. 5:3-16; Acts 6:1-7; James 1:27; Matt. 28: 18-20; John 6:35-40)

It is hard to do those things if you aren’t a member of a church. That’s because people in the church don’t know if you want them to hold you accountable or not. The leadership doesn’t know if you want them to shepherd and guide you spiritually. Nor does the church as a whole know if you want them to help you use your spiritual gifts.

In reality, you may not even be given the opportunity to use all your spiritual gifts if you aren’t a member. At the church I pastor, if you aren’t a member, you can’t head up a ministry, you can’t teach, you can’t serve on different committees, nor can you be a Deacon. We aren’t the only church that limits people in these ways. Many churches limit non-members ability to serve.

So for those reasons, I believe it is important you join a local church.

When I say local, I mean local.

I know it’s popular to attend a church with a big name celebrity pastor. Generally, they have more resources, deliver better sermons, and produce better content. They didn’t garner the following they have without being able to do those things. While it’s fine to attend those churches, I’m not against big churches or celebrity pastors, I don’t think you should drive out of your local area to do so. I say that because doing so will generally make attending weekly worship services and other church activities a burden. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t do that which is a burden consistently.

When you aren’t attending regularly, you usually aren’t serving, holding others accountable and being held accountable, or serving the community. Instead, you become a pew sitting consumer who shows up a couple of times a month. When I read Hebrews 10, I don’t think that is the type of gathering together with one another the author had in mind.

Question for Reflection

  1. What are your thoughts on local church membership?

Resources

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Post adapted from my sermon: What is the Church and Why is it Important?