Obedience Is Not Legalism

“[I]t is never legalism to obey what God has commanded out of a desire to please him and in response to the grace that he has shown.”

Though it sounds like a statement a fundamentalist would make regarding standards or separation, the writer is actually Derek W. H. Thomas, Professor of systematic & practical theology at RTS in Jackson, Mississippi. He made the statement in a paragraph defending the Regulative Principle.

(quotation: Derek W. H. Thomas, Give Praise to God, 86)

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28 Responses

  1. Thanks for this quote! It was exactly what I needed today to respond to someone who was equating legalism with loving obedience. Many thanks. :)

  2. Glad it was helpful, Lyn.

    Here’s Andy Rupert’s take:

    How many times have you been told that you are a legalist because of the standards by which you live your life? It turns out that even non-fundamentalists decry the popular, legalist accusation.

  3. I have several questions.

    What is your definition of legalism?

    Is the interpretation of the “clear scriptural commands” obvious to the entirety of the Church in all its history (such as the prohibition of Sodomy) or to only a small section of 20 and 21 century Fundamental Baptists?

    Are “standards” such as the prohibition of trousers on women and beards and long sideburns on men simply obedience to CLEAR Scriptural commands?

    Is it permissible for teaching elders to make “applications” of timeless commands to modern situations when the Scriptures do not?

  4. Hi, gargoyle. I’ll assume that you are serious, so I’ll answer seriously…or mostly seriously.

    Q: What is your definition of legalism?

    A: Legalism is any attempt to earn God’s favor on the basis of human merit. It especially applies to the error of justification by works.

    Q: Is the interpretation of the “clear scriptural commands” obvious to the entirety of the Church in all its history (such as the prohibition of Sodomy) or to only a small section of 20 and 21 century Fundamental Baptists?

    A: I’m not following you. First, I’m not a Baptist, so I won’t speak for them. Second, I agree that the prohibition of Sodomy is a “clear scriptural command.” Third, what do you have in mind with the last part of your question?

    Q: Are “standards” such as the prohibition of trousers on women and beards and long sideburns on men simply obedience to CLEAR Scriptural commands?

    A: I don’t believe that Scripture forbids “trousers” on women (and I haven’t heard them called that for quite some time). Nor does it forbid beards and sideburns on men, though it probably forbids both on women. (Sorry.)

    Seriously, a church which prohibits such things is probably might be silly, but it may very well not be legalistic, unless it makes those things essential to one’s salvation.

    Q: Is it permissible for teaching elders to make “applications” of timeless commands to modern situations when the Scriptures do not?

    A: Certainly. In fact, it is essential.

  5. Chris,

    My apologies. I wrongly assumed you are a Baptist, as most of the Fundamentalists (though not all) I have known are of that persuasion. It was a foolish mistake and I am sorry. And yes, my sarcasm refers to the provincialism and era-bound thinking of nearly every Fundamentalist I have known when they talk of “standards” (Baptist or otherwise).” Most do not even know the actual meaning of the word. As to your definition of legalism, the dictionary defines it as: 1. “Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.” 2. “A legal word, expression, or rule. ” I do not think that your definition or the popular slur which you are defending yourself from fits the actual meaning of the word. Legalism is only bad when the code adhered to is either wrong or ridiculous.

    My second question was a bit murky. If a command is clear in Scripture, as is the prohibition against sodomy, the Church throughout the ages will almost without exception recognise it. However, a time-bound and/or factional interpretation of a particular verse or passage will look something like the Catholic insistence on using a rosary or the Evangelical Fundamentalist prohibition of beards on men (I observed a number of churches that actually believe this; beards were worn by the “hippies” so they must be worldly, therefore they created a “standard” against beards). The entire Church in history did not use rosaries or prohibit beards. My question (worded more clearly) would be: do think that it is safe or right to create a rule that no one else has thought of before your own era or in any other branch of Christendom?

    Your answer to my third question was witty (I couldn’t help but laugh when I read it), and you are correct in assuming those particular rules I mentioned to be silly. Under the dictionary definition of legalism however, if a group of people believe that women should not wear “pants” and strictly adhere in practice to that belief, then they are legalistic. Also, I passed over the fact that “trousers” is not in common use in America at this time; sorry, it is the common name in Great Britain for “pants” right now, so forgive me.

    As to my last question, we must part ways. It is my belief that where the Scriptures do not specify application, it is not for man to fill in the blank (as the Fundamentalists do) or to appeal to agnosticism on the matter (as many Neo-Evangelicals do), but for the Holy Spirit to reprove and move the heart. Most of the time, clear Scriptural commands are obvious in any situation: do not lust, do not steal, do not lie. If a person needs to be told how to apply those commands, the Holy Spirit is not working. Also, I have heard Scripture twisted unbelievably by preachers “applying” Scripture, and almost every time by a sincere man. I have heard everything from tithing 20% to wearing only white shirts on Sunday “applied,” so please understand my scepticism.

    As to my seriousness, I actually was wondering what your answers would be. I was hoping you would hold a dialogue with me, which you have. Thank you for humouring me.

  6. Friend, you may have wrongly assumed a lot of things. :)

    First, we’re working with 3 distinct definitions of legalism: your secular definition, my theological definition, and the smear definition which usually defines legalism as “any position stricter than my own.”

    I’m not clear enough on the second question’s meaning to comment further, which is fine.

    As for your take on the last question, I wonder if your rejection of making specific applications to timeless commands is due to the sort of abuses of applications you have seen. You said that you laugh off “the provincialism and era-bound thinking of nearly every Fundamentalist I have known when they talk of ‘standards’ (Baptist or otherwise).” And you note that you “have heard Scripture twisted unbelievably by preachers ‘applying’ Scripture.” To view all specific applications or standards in light of those experiences would be a mistake. Perversion of a principle doesn’t make the principle any less necessary.

    Let me try to give you an example of what I mean: when I preach a timeless command that addresses purity of thought (for example), I do not make applications which I think are not necessary to obeying the command (e.g. throw out your television, don’t have internet service, never view any movies or videos). However, I am very comfortable making specific extra-biblical applications such as the following: “it is unwise for teens to have a television in their rooms, every computer should have an internet filter, Christians must not partake of the typical filth that comes out of Hollywood (regardless of location), etc.” Another example: Scripture teaches modesty but doesn’t mention bikinis. Yet, I’d be very comfortable applying the timeless command about modesty by saying that Christians ought not wear bikinis in public.

    Does that make sense?

    BTW, I certainly want people to be able to discern truth & its applications on their own. I believe it’s part of my job to help them learn to do so. However, for me to apply Scriptural commands which forbid stealing to a specific instance like piracy of music or software (for example) is not to infringe on the Holy Spirit’s ministry; it’s just watching for the souls of those I shepherd.

    Sorry to ramble.

  7. Gargoyle,

    Are you British? My in-laws were missionaries in Milton Keynes for the last several years and just returned home.

    And if you’re wondering, they’re Baptists. :)

  8. Mr. Anderson,

    I wonder if you can see the difference between “application” that names “a specific instance of…” X sin, and “application” that is essentially a fence that you 1) make up, and 2)insist is necessary to ensure obedience to, and therefore imply is equal to, the actual commands of God. An example of the first would be the bikini, and example of the second would be the pronouncement that “every computer should have an internet filter”. Wearing a bikini equals dressing immodestly. Using a computer without a filter (as I am doing right now) does not equal having impure thoughts.

    The real problem with fundamentalists and standards is that it inevitably turns into making up rules, which qualifies as fake religion. It is fake religion and it is the result of fake religion. You don’t have a supernatural religion, therefore you can’t keep your thoughts pure without “going beyond what is written”. You have to turn to laws, invented by men, in order to ensure obedience to the actual commands of God, when it is regeneration that should be doing so. If someone wants to call this legalism, i.e., a religion characterized, propogated, and continued by the liberal use of “law”, that’s fine with me.

    I think it’s a bit cowardly to duck behind a narrow definition like yours in order to deflect the real charge that people are leveling at you when they call you legalists. All right, redefine the word; but that doesn’t change the fact that everyone can see that something is rotten in Denmark.

  9. Actually, Alana, it need not be immodest to wear a bikini, as long as it is worn in private. So it appears that we are both legalistic fence-builders who are guilty of propagating man-made rules and fake religion.

    Ridiculous.

    Your spouting off about cowardice, about my not having a supernatural religion, about fake religion is folly. Indeed, it is outrageous. The filter issue was an off-the-top-of-my-head illustration, not an infallible Papal bull. That should have been obvious. It would have been obvious if you were reading without your unmistakable anti-fundamentalist bias, especially in light of the other silly standards I dismissed out of hand. However, since you’d like to go there, you should understand that for men in particular to have a filter to protect their purity is not legalism–it is prudence. I did not suggest that failure to have a filter makes one unspiritual. I did not raise the hypothetical application to the level of divine revelation. But the fact that you believe such a simple safeguard is a sign of spiritual weakness and that battles with temptation of this or any other kind should be solved by regeneration alone (!) either indicates a spirituality which surpasses that of the chiefest saints of Scripture or an arrogance and naivety that has far too little respect for the flesh.

    “The real problem” is that you have snidely made false assumptions about people you know nothing of. “The real problem” is that you have broad brushed an entire group of people–and me, in particular–as promoters of fake religion based on a statement about an internet filter. Honestly, the fact that you picked that example out of the post and used it as a launching pad for an attack on fundamentalists indicates a complete lack of objectivity. It appears that you knew what you wanted to say about fundamentalists long before I posted these comments.

    My response is pointed. I realize that. It is more pointed than I am comfortable with under most circumstances. Perhaps I should say nothing, but I take the charges that I am promoting powerless, man-made and fake religion seriously. Very seriously. More seriously than you do, it would appear, based on the cavalier way in which you slung such charges around. You have made grave accusations with very little cause or evidence to support them. Something is rotten, indeed.

  10. Alana, I understand that you wrote the above paragraphs to Pastor Anderson and I am (obviously) not Pastor Anderson, yet I hope that you will not mind my replying to your post. Please allow me to also say that I have read a good many of your blog articles and understand, I believe, from whence you are coming. In fact, I see something of myself twenty years ago in you, only I was not nearly as bright and articulate as you are.

    That being said, Alana, I fear that you are making some extraordinarily large assumptions regarding what Pastor Anderson did and did not mean by his references to legalism, timeless commands, and obedient application of those timeless commands. I would encourage you to read a great deal more of what he has written before you assume that he is pushing a “fake religion” and indeed devoid of a “supernatural religion.” Those are extremely egregious charges to make–particularly on the basis of a single blog posting–and particularly to an elder. You have judged his words and evidently found them wanting. But are you truly in a position to judge his heart?

    I truly do not understand your objection to his definition of terms–I have read enough fundamentalist writings to have a genuine appreciation of those who say what they mean and mean what they say, even stipulating the way in which they are using their terms.

    Furthermore, I have read enough of Pastor Anderson’s writing to know that your charge of cowardice is utterly unfounded. Please do not misunderstand me–I am not saying he’s perfect! (I am confident that he would not say so, either.) I am saying that I have observed his public writing enough to know that he does not hesitate to take a stand for truth because that stand is unpopular. Indeed, although I have only “met” him on the www, I first looked up his writing because of the backhanded compliment paid to him by another pastor, which amounted to “I don’t always agree with him, but he always makes me go back to the Scriptures and think.”

    Finally, Alana, may I share my perspective on the quote which is the subject of this blog entry? I do not obey God’s commandments and make application of His timeless principles to my life out of legalism or a desire to somehow make Him pleased or satisfied by my behavior. I obey God’s Word and endeavor to faithfully apply His Word to my life out of love for Him who planned the forgiveness of my sins through the substitutionary atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, before the foundation of the world. Regeneration has not made me perfect, for my sanctification is progressive and will not be complete until I am in Heaven with my Lord. Here, for the present, then, I do not seek to obey His Word because I am bound by law and legalism; I seek to obey His Word because I love Him, and that love demands far more of me than legalistic requirements ever could.

  11. Dear me, it seems I have created quite a tempest with my little questions. I suppose “standards” are contentious things.

    Chris,

    Your response to Alana is laughable. You have made the same error you accused us both of: misunderstanding your opponent. In fact, you also accused Alana of being essentially mean-spirited and accusatory in her comments, and then proceeded to fire back accusations in a mean-spirited fashion. Honestly! I am an avid reader of Murg, Alana’s weblog, and she is, as Lyn stated, very intelligent. Although she did not tell you, she grew up in American Fundamentalism (which she elaborates on in great detail on her weblog) and your accusation that she is naive and has little experience with Fundamentalists is simply untrue. I will let her defend herself in the specifics, but please understand, that as a new reader of your weblog, I am disappointed in your knee-jerk response (which, incidentally, you accuse Alana of).

    Now. On to our little chat. I have, up to this point, enjoyed our exchange. I hope to continue it as far as is possible, in an amiable and charitable fashion (I will not call you a Baptist if you will leave my colloquialisms alone). I would like to leave the mutual responses to my original questions for the time being to address the heart of the matter.

    Standards are a replacement for the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification and awakening. If a man cannot keep from visiting evil places on the Internet, then he is told a filter is necessary. If a girl shows no understanding of modesty, they she is told what to wear with accompanying dimensions. In both cases, the real problem was the inclination of the hearts to evil. Standards are a bandage, but they are not the cure. Regeneration must take place and the Scriptures promise that the deepest inclinations of the heart change under the Holy Spirit’s control. In Western Christianity the opposite seems to be the case: the innate knowledge of modesty, morality, etc. is missing. Evangelicalism typically reacts in two ways; either the problem is ignored and whitewashed (Neo-Evangelical) or an extraneous rule is created to “protect” sinners from sinning (Fundamentalist). I oppose both approaches because they do not rely on the supernatural Awakening of the Holy Spirit. That Awakening will gradually change the person’s actions and desires to conform to Christ. I have no doubt that you do not deny that the Holy Spirit is necessary; I do feel that you are being inconsistent in holding to a position that declares extra-biblical “safeguards” to be necessary, and believing in “grace alone” for sanctification at the same time. Standards are a human-based solution to a deadness so profound that only God can change it. We cannot safeguard ourselves from sinning by our own power. Therefore standards are unnecessary and even a hindrance to true sanctification, as they can confuse a Christian who is relying on God’s power to follow the clear commands of Scripture.

    I am done. You apologised earlier for rambling; I am afraid I am the chiefest of sinners in that regard. As for my nationality, I am a gargoyle. I live on the roof of the cathedral and do not much care for knowing where that is, just as long as I can find it.

  12. Gargoyle,

    I’m glad to carry on a civil conversation. Being accused of false religion and cowardice interrupted that. Go figure. At any rate, I do not agree that my response to Alana’s accusations was participation in the same error. I have no doubt about Alana’s intelligence, BTW.

    To the point of the discussion…

    First, I believe that the definition which I’ve give for legalism is fairly standard in theological discussions.

    Second, I am very much surprised by this sweeping statement: “Standards are a replacement for the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification and awakening.” I will try to understand it in light of the abuse of standards, and I don’t deny that they can indeed be a substitute for the sort of heart religion which Scripture requires. I am not urging mere externalism.

    That said, I do believe that carefully-chosen standards are indeed helpful. It is certainly true that we must walk in the Spirit to avoid fulfilling the lust of the flesh. It does not follow, however, that steps to avoid making provision for the flesh are unwise or unnecessary. Joseph’s fleeing was a result of His fear of God, not a substitute for it. I’ll try to provide more examples for the sake of discussion:

    * For teenagers to have televisions in their room is not sin. But for parents to forbid it is not legalism. To suggest that teenagers who have genuinely been regenerated need no such standard is what I believe is naive.

    * As a pastor, I will not counsel a lady alone in a private setting. Doing so would not be sin. However, I believe it would be very unwise, even if both parties are regenerate. So I have a “standard” that I will not do it, and I don’t believe that such a standard is false religion or reliance on man-made rules. I think it is prudent–a helpful safeguard even for one walking in the Spirit.

    BTW, I never said I believe that sanctification is by grace alone. I believe it is enabled by the Spirit. However, whereas justification is given to a passive recipient, sanctification is progressed in by an active participant. There are dangers on both sides of the position I stated regarding sanctification: I commonly urge “diligent dependence.” I’m not claiming that we avoid sin “by our own power.” But neither do I believe that standards or other human effort is unnecessary for one walking in the Spirit. It must be both/and, not either/or.

  13. This conversation has focused on the term “standards” and whether the idea of applying Scripture to specific instances of life that are not mentioned in Scripture is biblical. Upon reflection, I wonder if it is even possible not to have standards of some sort or another. It seems like an absurd discussion: everyone applies their understanding of biblical commands to concrete do’s and don’ts in every day life, whether intentionally or not. Is that not so?

  14. Chris,

    Your “theological definition” of Legalism is not recognised by even the arbiters of the English language and has not, to my knowledge, been used in that fashion in the entire history of the Church until the last century. It is a dodge, as Alana stated. I wouldn’t mind being called a legalist myself, since I strictly adhere to the commands of Scripture. I don’t find it necessary to change the definition of words in order for a segment of Christianity to defend itself from a mindless slur.

    Also, I will rephrase my second question: Have the rules and commands you believe in been held to by the Church throughout the ages and by the Orthodox sects? As I stated, the prohibition of Sodomy is an example. A rule that Fundamentalists have created that has NOT been held by the Church is the prohibition of smoking; other examples from various sects can be furnished. Notice that Sodomy is clearly condemned in the Scriptures (and by even the Catholic Church), whearas smoking is not. Yet what would you say to your son (assuming he was not underage) if you saw him smoking? It is not wise to smoke, but then again it is not wise to eat sugar or fatening foods (which are proven to be worse for one’s health than smoking). If you prohibit smoking, you must prohibit sugar as well, as well as many other things. Wisdom is not rules and commands, it is general truths. “Standards” as I know and experienced them are rules and commands. They are not negotiable.

    What of “Modern” and “unique” situations? I do not believe that new rules are necessary to deal with them; the old serve the purpose well enough. For example, the command not to steal is clear, internet piracy and illegal downloads are stealing, and the Scriptures comdemn all forms of stealing, so it is clear that internet piracy is wrong, not in itself, but in the command it violates. Any new situation can be dealt with by the clear commands and wisdom, even the thorny scientific and medical questions today. What of internet pornagraphy. I know a man who used to have terrible temptations whenever he used the internet in this regard. The Fundamental college he attended at the time had the best internet filter available. Still, the man found his way around it to the pornagraphy because of the inclination of his heart to evil. The standard did not stop him, because the problem was not in his ability to safeguard himself, but in his own heart’s desires to see what was prohibited by the Scriptures. The “standard” was worthless. I knew another man who struggled in the same way and failed over and over despite his precautions and very high standards. Finally, he was persuaded that standards did not help and he abandoned them. He realised immedeately that it was his own INABILITY to protect himself and keep from sin that caused the problem. He began to beg God to change his desires, which God eventually did. Now that man never uses a filter and does not need to. It is frightening to kick the props out from our morality and to ask God to do the entire work of Sanctification. But as Christ said, anything we ask the Father in His name, He will do for us.

    My concern with “standards” has always been that promote a view of morality that is not supernatural, but simply something possible for the unregenerate to do as well as the regenerate. Standards promoters feel it is important to have faith, the correct doctrine, and to know the Triune Deity, but instead of actually having these things, they may only image that they do. The commands and wisdom of the Scriptures must be shored up where necessary by fences and rules. The Pharisees believed in this way, and created their Mishna. I believe you know what that is. That being said, I am not accusing you of any of the above sins, since I know very little of you. I will caution you to examine yourself, to see if they might be true however. No one is above this examination, not even a gargoyle.

    Regards and Good Wishes,

    The Waterspout on the Roof

  15. It seems to me that the goofy roof ornament is quite legalistic about his point of view.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  16. Be nice, Don. You can call him legalistic since he says he accepts the description. But I’m certain that he’s not goofy. I’ll venture a guess that he’s married to Alana, but that point may not be germane to the current discussion.

    I will say this as a sidenote: we are all prone to transfer onto individuals and groups the poor experiences we have had with others bearing the same title. The fact that some lawyers are crooks casts a shadow on all lawyers. That is reality, though it’s neither fair nor sensible. Justifying your criticism of people you don’t know on the basis that you have met others of the same title who were guilty of perversions of some sort isn’t accurate or charitable.

    Fundamentalists are sometimes prone to be both the culprits and the victims of such broad brushed vandalism. We should all be more careful not to blame one man for another man’s error, at least where there is not a reasonable link or endorsement.

    The conversation can now return to the nature of legalism & obedience, or it can die a peaceful death.

  17. Frank Sansone weighs in with some good thoughts here.

  18. I appreciate Pastor Sansone’s thoughts greatly. FWIW, I have also found very profitable a message preached by Dr. Bauder at CCC last year. His message on a “Rules-driven vs. Spirit-driven Life” was one of the best, most balanced explanations that I have heard on this subject. I only wished he had had another hour or so to expound further on his thoughts. :)

    The message (from 3/31/2005) can be found at http://www.clearwater.edu/chapelspring2005.pl

  19. Thank you, Lyn. It’s in my mp3 player already. Looking forward to it.

  20. Gargoyle, you mentioned a couple of clear Scriptural commands that you believe are valid for today, such as the prohibition of Sodomy. I’m sure there are other commands you would include, such as the ten commandments.

    You would probably agree that we as Christians should be very careful to obey these commands. We must take them literally and not invent our own figurative meaning so that we don’t have to obey them. We need to be strict about the things that God has commanded; we cannot blur the lines of obedience.

    However, by your definition of legalism as “strict, literal adherence to the law,” those who are careful to avoid even the things that the Scripture commands are legalists.

    In fact, it seems to me that by your definition, everyone in the world is a legalist. Even unsaved people have rules for their lives. They may not be strict about all of them, but they will be strict about some.

  21. How do we obey “Flee Fornication” Alana and Gargoyle? Do we go to the gym and work out so we can run faster? Do we buy portable starting blocks? Do we start a chastity belt corporation? Can we not suggest to anyone how to do this for fear of one of your Goebbelesque labels? You turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.

  22. Mr. Anderson,

    I could have respected you far more had you replied with something like, “I know; my heart is so cold and my religion is appallingly lacking in life and true piety when compared to the scriptures. I mourn over this constantly; I wish this would change.” There is more true religion and understanding in such sorrow than in a thousand assertions of personal virtue.

    Instead you were enraged; you wished me to justify you, to have more respect for you. You did not appear to consider the possibility that I have surveyed the landscape of modern Christianity and chosen instead to justify God, that in my sweeping condemnations I have great respect to the Dread Realities of the religion you profess.

    As to the question of whether or not we can have applications to the scriptures: I have already made reference to the difference between acceptable and non-acceptable forms of “application”. Obviously I have been read with far less precision than I wrote with.

    To sum up my view: when religious leaders impose as a religious duty anything which the scriptures do not, they have severed themselves from the source of their authority and are perverting the religion of their adherents, and most of all, are offending against the supreme authority of the Lord.

    Whenever I bring up the numerous problems with the fundamentalist practice of doing this, as I experienced it, they like to start getting all technical about their definitions and “positions”. Phooey. I’ve been there, and I know what’s really going on. It’s fake religion.

  23. Okay. You got the last word.

    If anyone would care to address something other than the discussion with Alana and Gargoyle, feel free. Any picking of that scab will be deleted.

  24. Alana,

    I could have respected you far more had you had the grace and courage to acknowledge that your “two and a half decades of observing human nature” (to quote from your blog) do not give you the Biblical or moral authority to publicly rebuke an elder, judge his salvation or lack thereof, and accuse him of apostasy, all on the basis of this blog post. You certainly have freedom to embrace your views; however, you need to add some humility to your knowledge, for you are not infallible, and wisdom will not die with you.

    As I wrote you privately, I continue to pray for the day when you will have the grace, humility, and courage to repent for spewing the same kind of judgmental vitriol for which you have so broadly condemned fundamentalists. It appears to me that the pot is calling the alleged kettle black, and I find that sadly ironic.

    Lyn Marshall

  25. Pastor Anderson, your last post was apparently made while I was drafting mine. Feel free to delete it if you think best.

  26. Actually, Lyn, your comments deserve to be read. Well said.

    Now…

    Any others will be deleted. No kidding. I mean it this time. Don’t mess with me. I’m serious.

  27. This outside observer, deeply interested in (and unfortunately, intimately connected with the topic of) the original conversation on standards and legalism, is grieved to find that over and over again, this type of discussion between solid, regenerate minds so commonly turns to a bloody warfare of wits.

    The precise definition of words may partly be to blame, but so also might different writers’ presuppositions about other bloggers’ beliefs.

    I cannot say I have all the right answers, nor even some. Yet I possess the God-given ability to reason, though not perhaps the will to subject others to my opinions/interpretations/ideas, and I think about these things, follow discussions, read discourses and take in different people’s thoughts made words. And some careful musings here (I know they’re late in the ‘game,’ as your discussion occurred last year) are the result. Take these words or leave them, as you please.

    Personally, I wish that God’s people would have done with man-made traditions, extra-Biblical policies and procedures, and contrivances of the human imagination which are so easy to sincerely (truly sincerely!) introduce, adhere to, and worse, require that others adhere to.

    Many wise and godly people have chosen to apply the scriptures in a specific way in their own personal lives, so as to counteract the ungodliness of their culture and society, better focus their own minds on heavenly things, and keep their own consciences pure. As Pastor Anderson quoted Derek Thomas in the first place: “It is never legalism to obey what God has commanded out of a desire to please Him and in response to the grace that He has shown.”

    However, this quote assumes the individuality of the obedient one, and I think a good point is made. What I mean is, biblical commands such as, “Thou shalt not steal” are made, yes, to the universal, invisible church of God, but more specifically, to the individual believer. Then other of God’s commands may take things to the next step where I might have to involve myself in someone else’s life in a corrective mode: I know I must not steal, but I also know that if I catch another believer stealing, I am commanded to go to them in love and exhort them, reproving them for the cause of our Lord of their law-breaking.

    But I have yet to read in the holy scriptures the command to pastors that they must apply my Lord’s commands in the Bible to his flock-members’ lives in a specific way. Now I enjoy hearing a preacher make expressly modern/current/immediate applications of scripture, but it had better be their opinion, a suggestion, his encouraging his brothers and sisters in Christ to more love and good works (as is also commanded in scripture). But not a requirement, either stated or implied, which would burden the listeners with an unnatural and unnecessary guilt to adhere to human laws. Oh no, the Bible commands a pastor to expositional proclamation of the Word to the flock, proclaiming the whole counsel of God, not imposing that of himself. These human laws or impositions may well act in accordance with scripture, and (for the sake of the conversation) may have absolutely no biblical contradiction. But if the Holy Spirit Himself did not move that individual heart to conclude that “obeying this clearly-stated biblical law that my pastor just preached and taught about means making such-and-such a specific change in my life,” then the preaching may well have been in vain or even counterproductive, both because the preacher did all the thinking and convicting that should have been the result of the individual hearer’s internal communion with the Spirit (which exercises the believer’s faith as they respond with personal application), and because he contradicts the scriptures by adding to them. And what kind of obedience is it really, if every little step of the Christian walk is fed to a person’s mind by human authority? God is glorified by our attempts (although many times feeble or mistaken) to show our love by trusting Him and obeying His commands as best we can.

    I remarked before about extra-biblical requirements being dangerous, whether stated or implied. The ‘implied’ ones were something that plagued my early Christian experience and riddled my heart with questions as to why I should trust a man who said one thing from the Bible and then added to that what suited him in the way of application, and he placed the application on the same level of importance as scripture itself. He went so far as to state in no uncertain terms that any Christian whose conscience individually moved them to hold to a particular application (or “Standard”) should be also adopted by all who observed them, and together we could all grow into more and more godly, unworldly representatives of Christianity.

    This type of overly zealous manner of Christian living with application coming not from the Holy Spirit’s working in my own heart, but from human authority figures, is not an innocent exhortation to ‘higher’ Christian living, but a pharisaical addition to scriptures, and a heavy burden, at that.

    A balance, indeed a wonderful harmony! can easily be found between a preacher doing his God-given job of expositing scripture, and Christians performing their God-given duty to both hear and follow God’s word by the grace of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

  28. […] Obedience is not legalismMy Two Cents […]

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