Monday, March 14, 2016

The Slippery Slope of Legalism

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 25-27, Galatians 5
Verse: Galatians 5:7-9

"You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough."

Paul's main concern for the Galatians is having started with the free gift of the Gospel, they would go back to trying to earn it through works. The presenting problem is that the Galatians are requiring adult male converts to the Christian faith to be circumcised. Paul sees this as going back to the Old Testament ritual law. He likens it to someone who has been set free going back to slavery. He feels it is an offense to Jesus Christ. After all, if Jesus suffered on a cross for our sins, trying to earn it through our works is a slap in Jesus' face.

So Paul uses the metaphor of running a race. The one who has led them astray in this false teaching, is like one who cuts in on a race. Though a person is on track, if a person cuts in, not only does a person get off track, but they lose time and lose focus. He also likens it to a little yeast that works through the while dough. Anyone who makes homemade bread knows that although not a lot of yeast is needed, when it works through the whole dough it has its effect. The whole loaf is affected by it.

Both of these metaphors point out the damage the false teaching is doing. Though it may seem like a small matter, once it starts working its way through the whole community, everyone is affected. This is the insidious nature of the works of the law, as triggered by the pride of the human nature. As we said before, the pride comes when we begin to take credit for the works we do, rather than they being an expression of our faith.

If Paul is so worried about this for the Galatian church, there is a very good chance we need to beware of it happening today. The tricky part is that good works always look good. The problem is when we make the subtle shift of our good works being the basis of how we value ourselves and our value to God. In reality, going back to the good works being the basis of our righteousness, is the fatal flaw in every other religion.

Oftentimes Christians start the race by grace through faith, and then slip into works mode. This can happen in churches when there is pressure to do certain things to prove you are a real Christian. And pastors and leaders can slip into pressuring the congregational members into good works from their own insecurity. They might think if their members don't do enough religious stuff, it might be a reflection on their own good works. We call this kind of disease in the church "legalism". It is easy for any church to do this.

We often put more shame on public sins like sexual immorality, which make the church look bad. But we are not very often worried about legalism, because it would seem to make the church look good. Of course sexual immorality is wrong for a Christian, and damages the church's reputation. My point is that sometimes we only focus on these sins and become the "moral police".

Paul has a great reminder of the Christian life when he says in verse 6, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." What a great way to summarize how the Christian life works, faith expressing itself through love. Against there is no law and it is the right yeast to work through the whole dough.

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