Warning: This one is very long.
This past Sunday as I entered the doors of the church at the Sunday School hour, I felt very strongly that I should make an effort to be in class. What do I mean by "make an effort?" Well, normally I'll take Matthew to the nursery, and if he does not want to stay, which is usually the case, I'll stick around for a while and then slip out while he is playing. The lady who stays with the nursery was not there this Sunday morning, and in that case, I would normally just stay in there with him and not take a chance on bringing him to my class and causing an interruption.
This time I decided I needed to go, and I took him on in there with me. Thankfully he was very good and stayed pretty quiet up until the end. In fact, when he reached the point that I had to take him out, the bell rung as I was going out the classroom door.
I am so glad I made the effort. Our ladies class is doing The Peacemaking Church study - Women's Study, Living the Gospel in Relationships - with Tara Barthel.
Tara has a DVD series that goes along with the study, and we are watching these lessons each week also. This week's was awesome, and I know why I felt so led to be in on this class. You see, the study is on being peacemakers, but before getting too in-depth in the study, she is laying a foundation for what is to come. If there is no foundation, it will be hard to get the point across as we go along.
The lesson this week had a lot to say about legalism. This is a subject that I've been struggling with for a few months now, and I've been searching for answers to all my questions in this regard, and I heard some things this Sunday that really brought some freedom to me.
A lot of my "legalism" has been a result of homeschooling. Don't get me wrong - I am not for one second bashing homeschooling. We love it for our family, and I have no regrets about teaching my children at home, and at this point as long as God allows, we are firm in our decision to home school. But being a homeschooling family, it can be easy to get caught up in other movements. This happens when you read home school blogs or magazines or web sites, and as you read about what others are doing, they often make it sound as if their way is the only way, and as a result, there are many "movements" within the homeschooling society.
Unfortunately, I've gotten caught up in some of those myself.
Tara gave a great illustration - she was president of some sort of Christian lawyers group while she was in college, and one of her best friends was the president of a gay/lesbian lawyers group. The lady asked Tara at one point why she would treat her the way she does and show such care for her when other Christians would just want to basically angrily shout the Sodom and Gomorrah verses at her and her group. Tara let her know that she loved her and that she realized she was not without sin herself. I think she knew that Tara did not agree with that lifestyle, but what a wonderful way to share Christ with this lady by developing that friendship.
Who do I think came closer to reaching Tara's friend? Tara or her angry accusers?
During the call to worship Sunday morning during our church service, even more light was brought to my confusion with the whole legalism issue. Galatians 5 was read, and I've come to realize that the whole book of Galatians is relevant and eye-opening when it comes to the difference between legalism and serving Christ the way we should.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told [you] in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
And those [who are] Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Doesn't legalism bring about some of these things in the first few verses - idolatry, hatred, contentions, jealousies, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy...
I've mentioned this before, but when we have the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit indwelling in our hearts, we are going to have the fruits of the Spirit listed above with LOVE being the #1! Unfortunately, I've seen and tried legalism, and for the most part, I haven't seen a lot of love involved nor joy, peace, kindness, gentleness....
Our pastor's message also gave me further understanding. He's beginning a series of expository preaching through the book of Romans, and he settled on Romans 1:1 Sunday morning. Paul was a "bondservant of Jesus Christ" - not to men. He was fully submitted to Jesus, and this was his priority. He was also separated "to" the gospel of God. On the opposite side of the coin were the Pharisees, which is what Paul used to be. In that time of his life, he was separated "from" things. There were all kinds of rules and laws that as a Pharisee spoke of what they were to be separated from. What did this lead to? Lots of self-righteousness and a negative, critical spirit.
That's exactly what happens to us when we follow a movement that tells us to constantly separate ourselves from things and people of this world. There are rules given that we must follow, and when we are knowingly following these rules, if we're not careful, a spirit of self-righteousness will not be too far behind.
This is an area we found ourselves caught up in. We were separating ourselves from people who were not like minded. I’ve been studying II Corinthians 6:14-17 to make sure that I’m looking at all of this in the right way. These verses do say that we should separate ourselves from unbelievers, but after studying through this, I believe it means that we should separate ourselves from unbelievers when it comes to matters of worship. Here’s what John MacArthur had to say:
“It should be obvious to us that there is no compatibility but in fact it is not. While believers and unbelievers may play together and may work together and study together and plan certain things together and eat together and have certain levels of friendship, as soon as the issue becomes spiritual and religious and engages itself upon worship, ministry, teaching, evangelism, there is no partnership, there is no harmony, there is no common ground and there can be no mutuality.”
That makes sense. Now if we separate ourselves in all areas, how in the world could we as Christians reach the lost. Our main reason for fellowshipping with unbelievers should be evangelism. Here’s another quote by J. MacArthur:
“What I'm concerned about, Paul is, those who are outside...Paul says...are going to fall into the judgment of God and I need to reach them with the gospel. So whatever it means not to be joined together or unequally yoked with unbelievers, it doesn't mean that we are to cut ourselves off from sinful unbelievers. Then we would have to go out of the world and going out of the world would defeat the very purpose for which God has left us in the world and that is to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And what was the highest level of accusation ever rendered against Jesus from the religious establishment? They said he is the friend of...what?...sinners, he hangs around drunkards and wine bibbers and prostitutes and etc., etc. Sure, cause that's why he came. He didn't come for the righteous, but he came for sinners.”
That’s just one example of a pit we fell into, but thankfully God has been faithful to show us the truth in this area.
I think legalism happens when we take God's Word and then add our own rules to it. For instance, the Bible says "Do not steal." So we make a rule that we should never go in a store because there are things in there for sale that we may be tempted to steal. I know that's a bit extreme, but so are some of the other man made rules that I've seen and have been a part of.
Does the Bible say exactly how I should dress, what I should watch, what I should listen to? Not exactly - but it does say that I should glorify God in all that I say and do ~ that should be my determining factor in all things - "Does this glorify God (and draw me closer to Him and draw others to Him)?" If I can keep that in mind, it will be easier to not fall into the pit of legalism or liberty-ism (which is a whole other extreme we as Christians should stay away from, but that’s a whole other discussion.)
I Cor. 6:19-20 - Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [who is] in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
Well, if you stuck with me for this discussion I was having with myself, thanks for bearing with me as I work through this issue. It's been on my heart so much lately, and I am so thankful to be finding freedom and that I know God cares so much for me and knew I was searching, and He put me right where I needed to be to get this resolved. What a blessing!