I was sitting in my room reading when I heard my wife exclaim from the kitchen. I made my way to her (after yelling back and forth for a sec) and found that the garbage disposal was leaking all over the place. It was pooling up in the dishwasher and it was pouring onto the floor. Nasty, chunky, yellowy (not sure if that’s a word, but I’m running with it) water. My dog was having a field day, but my wife and I were utterly disgusted.
As I unsuccessfully tried to fix it (I am woefully incompetent in the world of being a handyman), I couldn’t help but think about idolatry. I had just been reading in preparation for teaching the youth Sunday school class and we were discussing this verse.
God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, said this:
For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves – cracked cisterns that cannot hold water. – Jeremiah 2:3
That’s a good word.
God is declaring His people guilty, for they not only abandoned Him but also pursued idols instead. And God doesn’t mince words through Jeremiah’s proclamation. He proclaims it to be evil.
Idolatry is evil.
So which idols are in your life? Where do you turn to for satisfaction or purpose? Where do you turn to for comfort and hope?
Sometimes mine are trivial in nature. I have spent a little too much time golfing during certain seasons of life. I can find a new show on TV and just go crazy with it. I can read until I drop the book on my face as a way of escaping the difficulty of my life.
Sometimes my idols are a little more insidious and dangerous. I crave being in control. I hate not being in control. That’s an idol that affects a lot in me.
The most dangerous idol in my life is legalism.
I’ve only recently began to understand that legalism is idolatrous. It’s the belief that I can live in such a way so as to earn God’s favor, or to remain in his love. I’ve been reading a book by Trillia Newbell, and she summed up legalism in the local church in a phenomenal way. So I’ll just let you read her words.
The problem came when, at a certain point, some of the members twisted the gospel, equating some specific practices with godliness and placing matters of personal preference on the same level as the Word of God. . . It doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on in the hearts of those who live a certain way; they are automatically considered godly as long as they follow the accepted practices. – Trillia Newbell, Sacred Endurance
What a profound description of one of my deepest struggles.
Legalism has affected my marriage in the past, my relationships with church members, my relationship with the Lord.
As soon as we start judging the faith of another based on our habits, we are walking in legalism.
The second half of that quote rocked me the most.
It doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on in the hearts of those who live a certain way (doing the accepted practices).
I’m all about God’s Word. I love to teach it, study it, and read it. I love to sit under good preaching and listen to podcasts of sermons. So in my legalism I have been prone to see those who are more committed to gathering together under the Word as more solid in their faith.
But, one can sit under the Word for decades and still have a heart that is dead, cold, and unaffected by the glory of Christ.
One can not drink, not cuss, not watch certain movies, not dress a certain way, and still have a heart that is dead, cold, and unaffected by the glory of Christ.
I go to counseling/mentorship with a pastor in my area twice a month. And when I sit down in his office, he never asks me “How many hours have you prayed this week? You on track in your Bible reading plan? Have you done your Sunday School homework? Did you wear a t shirt to church?”
No, he asks me questions about my heart.
He gets me to acknowledge where I’m really at. Am I in love with Jesus or not. If not, why. And then we talk. A lot. For hours. And we discuss life, marriage, ministry, and Jesus.
When’s the last time you’ve asked that to a friend?
Again, external actions devoid of genuine love of Jesus mean nothing to God and should mean nothing to us.
Legalism is often unseen. It is insidious. We don’t always notice it at work in our lives. But then, the cracked cistern breaks and the impure water flows all over the place, affecting our relationships and churches and communities and families.
If you are realizing legalism in you, let me encourage you.
You MUST behave a certain way for God to love you.
No, that ain’t it. That’s more legalism.
If you are realizing legalism is at work in you, I want you to stop drinking leaky garbage disposal water and instead drink from a Dasani bottle (or whatever your favorite water is, I don’t care).
In that verse from Jeremiah above, God says that He is the fountain of living water (John 4 anyone? I mean, come on! The Bible is one big story, and I love the connections!)!
Legalism is a disgusting trade for genuine communion with God.
You have been set free! Read all through Galatians! Highlight all the grace and freedom! Underline the gospel!
Walk with Jesus!
Stop judging others and slandering others based on practices that you think are exactly equated with godliness (and if you’re even a little like me, those practices are normally practices I just so happen to be good at).
Let’s walk in freedom together. Pursuing holiness.
Let’s drink from communion with Jesus.
As a man who has been a legalist and a lover of Jesus, let me tell you the latter is so much greater.
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In His Name,