Legalism And Living Water

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

Whew.

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.

Yes, 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,

Nate Roach

The Rule Of Love

Authority.

That’s not a popular word these days.

It doesn’t seem loving to rule over others.

That’s because there have been so many negative examples of authority throughout history, and we have all likely been negatively affected by someone who has abused their power and not used it to cultivate life. This happens in homes, businesses, governments, and churches.

This disdain that many have for authority figures can seep into the church if we’re not careful. At many times, this clearly does. The church becomes a place in our minds that has no authority over us as people. This creates a culture of Christians that move from church to church,  never submitting to the rule of a church over them.

Instead of churches full of Christians that are holding each other accountable, we have churches full of independent Christians, which in my mind is an extreme oxymoron.

In his book, The Rule of Love, Jonathan Leeman sets out to show how the authority of God over us is not at odds with His love for us.

In the opening chapter, Leeman begins by showing how our culture’s view of love is way off course. Our culture makes love about self, finding happiness. We have allowed consumerism and tribalism to seep into our views on love. We see this consumerism by the way that men and women evaluate their ‘purchasing power’, measuring themselves up to what they believe they deserve in another man or woman. Tribalism shows up when we define ourselves by our own group, whether that be race-related, career-related, or likes-related.

This false love comes into the church in a detrimental way when we only submit to the body when the programs and worship styles make us as a group feel comfortable, or if it’s the best we can consume individually.

Leeman continues his book with a chapter on how various theologians throughout church history have thought about love, whether that be God’s love or the love of man. This chapter got a little tiring for me, but there were some intriguing points of discussion.

After this, we get two chapters on God’s love for Himself. Now that’s certainly a topic I don’t hear a lot of conversations about in our churches, but it’s an important one. God loves Himself. That’s a confusing phrase and theme of Christianity, but it is the basis and foundation of what it means for us to love each other. I would encourage you to dig into articles on this, and pick up this book for a thorough study on this topic.

At the conclusion of these two chapters on God’s love for Himself, we are given a list of how this applies to the local church, in the areas of membership and church discipline.

  1. Holy love impels a church to evangelize and do good.
  2. Holy love impels a church to mark of members and practice church discipline.
  3. Holy love impels a church to teach and disciple.
  4. Holy love motivates a church to worship.
  5. Holy love creates a distinct and holy culture. 

The second of these points gives us one of the main thrusts of this book.

According to Leeman,

A church that chooses to emphasize God’s love but not God’s holiness is a church that doesn’t actually understand what God’s love is. God’s love, I’ve observed, is wholly fixed upon God and his glorious character in all aspects. It’s holy. A church characterized by holy love, likewise, is jealous for God’s glory and fame. 

We live in a day and age in our Christian culture where membership and discipline are frowned upon. They both seem too authoritarian at best and unloving at worst. To not welcome all and accept all is to not show the love of Jesus to others, we say. I’ve heard that said explicitly and implicitly countless times. Yet it becomes pretty clear that if we are to model the love and holiness of God, this includes setting clear distinctions between those who are in the body and those who are not. If we are to model the love and holiness of God, then we should enforce church discipline. This can be abused yes. Definitely. But the abuse of authority by some should not hinder the attempts at God-honoring authority by others.

In chapter five, Leeman goes on to talk about God’s love for sinners. It was a pleasant chapter full of the good news of the gospel.

In chapter six, Leeman continues by speaking on the idea of love and judgement. As he has done several times throughout the book already, he shows how judgement is an unavoidable aspect of love. Our daily lives are full of judgements about what we love and don’t love. Do I love keeping my body healthy or eating Pizza Hut? Do I love clean teeth or getting to work? These are silly examples but they should serve to remind us that we all make countless judgments every day about what we love.

The final chapter is about the relationship between love and authority, ultimately what the entire book is about. The following quote was so good that I had to stop and write it down in my journal,

Good authority loves. Good authority gives. Good authority passes out authority. – Jonathan Leeman

Yes, there are authorities in our lives that hate, take, and refuse to delegate.

But that is not the type of authority that God desires us to model, in our homes or in our churches. As a man who has been given some authority over certain aspects of my current church, I have been tasked by God to cultivate what I reside over. Too often I fail to do that.

This book was ultimately a pretty good read. It wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read recently, and it wasn’t one of the worst. I think that many people would get bogged down in some of the monotonous sections of the book, but if you push through to the last couple chapters you will find some great truths.

I have received a free copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an unbiased review.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach