Fine Line Between Radical Faith And Legalism

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There has recently been a big push for Christians to get more radical about their faith. The big thing that is being preached more and more is that if you are radical, you will radically follow the commands of God. That is a good move. It is a biblical move (John 14:15). We have had a lot of convenient, comfortable Christianity and it is good to call people to get serious about their faith and put their faith into action. Jesus did that all the time. But Jesus knew how to call people to obedience without siding with the Pharisees (more on that in a minute).

There are several speakers, authors, and pastors who, in their push for obedience, are getting more and more vocal with their judgment calls of who is in and who is out. Here is the gist of how this is said – God’s commands are important (yes). We have to do what God says (of course!). If you aren’t obedient in the areas that are most important to me I will question your salvation (hmmm…). I am sensitive to those types of discussions because growing up in my fellowship there were all kinds of discussions of who was in and who was out. Who do you fellowship and who don’t you fellowship? Where are the lines in the sand? The answer was usually that there are lines in the sand on every conceivable issue whether scripture made a big deal over it or not. I will say we have gotten better about that but I still hear echoes of this mentality in some of the things I heard many years ago. I know it well because I used to be that guy.

The Pharisees started with good motives
Emphasizing  obedience is a good move. It is long overdue. But why can’t we emphasize obedience without swinging the pendulum over to become Pharisaical? Yesterday I read an article Eric Brown sent me called “6 warning signs we’re becoming accidental Pharisees” by Larry Osborne. He highlights some of these things. Reading it is well worth your time.  You know, the Pharisees had some really good motives…at first. They believed that if they bound all aspects of the Law on every day people that God’s people’s obedience would usher in the Messianic Age. The Messiah came and they were so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness that they couldn’t even recognize the Messiah when he walked up to them and introduced himself as such.

In all of our humanity, frailty and weakness it is easy to have difficulty with the tension of emphasizing obedience without missing out on grace. Once we get serious and there is no room for pew sitting it is easy to start making judgment calls about their faith and even their salvation. Are they even Christians? What if they aren’t radical enough in their faith? Along with this, there is an assumption that everyone in the first century was a Christian radical with no one who really needed much grace. They had it together, except for those Corinthians and oh yeah…the 7 Churches of Asia. They had problems to. Come to think of it so did the Galatian churches. You know what so did those in Rome…and Ephesus and Thessalonica…the list could go on starting with the 12 disciples and going all the way to you and me today but you get the point. None of us will be so radical as to make ourselves holy by our own good works.

Last, it is easy to project ourselves onto others. If they don’t sacrifice like we do or give all their book sales away or give a large portion of the church budget to missions then they must not really love God like we do. Careful there! The last I heard it is not the Church of Dabbs or the Church of [fill in the blank with a dozen prominent guys who are doing this right now]. It is Christ’s church. He is the head and we are the body.If someone looks like an appendix to you and you don’t get why they are here or what their function is, at best love and encourage them…at worst just leave them alone!

Our own sinful desires can easily take a good thing like being radical about our faith and twist it into legalism, Pharisaicalism, or worse. We don’t want to become the sons of hell (Matt 23:15) any more than the next guy. So, let’s make sure we guard our hearts against this sort of thing and find the balance that Jesus modeled and taught on this.

One Response

  1. Love this. I have to really guard myself about jumping on people who I think have weak or distorted theology as if it is my responsibility to convict them of anything. I have to stop and realize that, while we need to stand on truth, aggressively going after someone rarely changes their minds and certainly doesn’t display Christ’s work in my own life.

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