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Legalism and Lukewarmness

Their diagnosis and cure


I. Weigh the heart, don't judge the appearance

How many times have you observed other Christians who are too legalistic? Or too lukewarm?

It's easy to look at others and judge them either lukewarm or legalistic. However, we must realize that they also observe and judge US, just as we do them. Who's to say who's right and who's wrong? Why should you be right any more than they are? "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes ; But the LORD weighs the hearts".

Legalism and lukewarmness are more a matter of the heart than of the outward appearance. True spirituality can at times appear either legalistic or lukewarm--because true spirituality can take on a great variety of appearances. John the Baptist was viewed as a fanatical ascetic by the same people who labelled Jesus as an irreligious profligate. But as Jesus said, "Wisdom is justified by all of her children".

Consider two couples, one newly engaged and the other nearly retired. The newly engaged can scarcely bear to be apart. They are always holding hands (when not hugging or kissing). The older couple, on the other hand, rarely touch each other in public. The young couple may say, "Those old folks are so cold to each other, they must not love each other"; while the old couple may say, "That young couple lacks self-control. They have passion, but that's not real love." Which couple has judged justly? (Actually, each couple could learn something from the other!). Neither couple is in a position to judge the other, because true love is a matter of the heart, and manifests itself outwardly in a multitude of ways.

Let us therefore try to identify the heart symptoms of legalism and lukewarmness, that we might weigh our own hearts. "For who are you to judge another man's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he shall be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."

II. The root cause of the disorders: zeal disorders

Both legalism and lukewarmness are symptoms of spiritual disorders related to zeal: legalism shows misdirected zeal, while lukewarmness shows deficiency of zeal.

Zeal can be compared with sexual passion--the Hebrew word for 'zeal' actually has both meanings. Like sexual passion, zeal involves a consuming desire, a complete abandonment of self to a single purpose. Also like sexual passion, zeal can be incomparably beautiful within the proper context, but extremely destructive when wrongly excited. Finally, lack of sexual passion and lack of zeal both lead to barrenness, unfruitfulness, and alienation of affections.

The legalist has a zeal for religious doctrines and practices rather than a genuine intimacy with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. He is like a man who pursues an illegitimate lover. On the other hand, the lukewarm is like one who suppresses his desires, neglects his wife, and occupies himself with his own affairs. This comparison makes the legalist appear to be the worse of the two. However, the book of Malachi equates lukewarmness with spiritual adultery or idolatry, because it is rooted in unfaithfulness. Legalism is 'religious' idolatry, while lukewarmness is secular idolatry, where the objects of worship are not overtly religious.

Legalism and lukewarmness often arise in reaction against each other. Children of legalists easily become disillusioned with religion. Through overexposure to misguided zeal, they become suspicious of all religious enthusiasm, and grow lukewarm. On the other hand, children raised in lukewarmness may overcompensate and fall into legalism. They feel stifled by the lackluster lifestyle and ho-hum attitude -- hence, they indiscriminately seeks for any kind of stimulating and absorbing committment. These overreactions are not surprising, because the same sort of thing happens in interpersonal relationships. A person who has been hurt through a broken engagement hesitates to enter another engagement; while a person who is starved for affection easily falls prey to unscrupulous seducers.

It appears that discernment of genuine godly zeal is a necessary antidote to both legalism and lukewarmness. The Bible is useful for this purpose, because it provides numerous examples of zeal both godly and ungodly. We will first examine Biblical examples of two types of ungodly zeal and their relationship with lukewarmness and legalism, respectively.

III. Biblical examples of ungodly zeal

Zeal is corrupted when mixed with either self-interest (i.e. opportunism) or ignorance. Opportunistic zeal is impure and insincere; while ignorant zeal, though sincere, is misdirected.

III.A. Opportunistic zeal

It is easy for me to be zealous for what costs me nothing and gains me favor with others. The Bible gives many examples of this:

King Saul was zealous to exterminate the Gibeonites, because this pleased the Israelites, and gained him their favor. However, he was not so eager to destroy the Amalekites' cattle, because the Israelites wanted to enjoy the best of the meat themselves. Similarly, King Jehu was zealous to destroy the house of Ahab, because incidentally this established his rule over Israel. However, he did not destroy the idols at Bethel, because he was afraid of weakening his control over the people. When personal advantage was removed, both Saul's and Jehu's zeal for the Lord disappeared.

 Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to resist certain Jewish Christians who wished to circumcize the Gentile believers. He affirms their zeal, but exposes their motives as fundamentally selfish. They were looking to create a following for themselves, to enhance their own reputations among the Jews, and to avoid persecution.

 Prophets-for-hire made a show of zeal, in order to convice others that God is with them. For kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat, the prophet Zedekiah made horns of iron and put on a great demonstration to assure them that the LORD was with them in battle (which is what the kings wanted to hear). Are there not many prophets-for-hire in the Church today?

 Perhaps the clearest Biblical example of opportunistic zeal is afforded by the chief priests and Sadducees during the era of Jesus and Paul. Though they are 'religious', their religious practice was a show, motivated entirely by political self-interest. All of their actions were calculated for effect, such as the High Priest Caiaphas ripping his clothes in "horror" at Jesus' "blasphemy". They did not even believe in angels, spirits, or the resurrection of the dead. They cared only for the good things of this life -- especially power and prestige. They themselves admitted (privately) that they killed Jesus to protect their own position. They would have killed Him much sooner, but for fear of bad publicity. They were wise to the ways of this world, and the world was wise to them: they knew how to force Pilate's hand, by threatening him with Caesar's disfavor; while Pilate in turn understood their true motives perfectly.

 Opportunistic zeal was also present in the early Church. Ananias and Sapphira made a show of giving, in order to impress others -- but the Holy Spirit was not impressed! Simon the sorcerer attempted to purchase spiritual power -- and came close to being cursed by God. Paul speaks of those who preached and "served God" for the sake of worldly gain.

 In the modern world as well, opportunistic zeal is prevalent particularly among leaders, whether secular or spiritual. Politicians are most zealous for those causes which will gain them favor with the people. Wealthy countries are zealous to aid other countries when this gains them political and economic advantages. Trendy preachers with financially ambitious congregations will dwell on God's promise of material blessings for the righteous, while skirting around Scriptures which warn against attachment to material things. Paunchy preachers with overweigh congregations denounce smoking and drinking, but never mention gluttony. Men are zealous for wives to submit; women are zealous for husbands to serve and cherish their wives -- and so on.

 As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes says, "Is there anything of which it may be said, 'See, this is new?' It has been already long ago, in the ages which were before us."

III.B. Ignorant zeal

Ignorant zeal is the deadliest, most destructive force which humanity has ever seen.

Ignorant zeal put Jesus on the cross, since it was the roars of the crowd which forced Pilate to condemn Him. On several occasions the apostle Paul was almost killed by violent mobs, which were comprised for the most part of enraged individuals who had little idea who Paul was or what he had done.

Ignorant zeal is the propelling force behind all long-lasting false religions. In the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel, the false prophets leaped and cried out for hours, and even cut themselves until they were covered with blood in order to compel Baal to answer their prayers. The Ephesians believed so vehemently in their idol of Diana (which they claim fell from heaven) that they worked themselves into a frenzy for over two hours.

 Ignorant zeal is often incited and manipulated by a handful of cynical ringleaders with selfish motives. The zealous crowds which opposed Jesus and Paul are both cases in point. The chief priests saw Jesus as a threat to their authority; the Ephesian idol-makers saw Paul as a threat to their income; the leading Jews in Asia saw Paul as a threat to their religious monopoly. In each of these cases, those who felt threatened stirred up others to do their dirty work for them.

 Ignorant zeal is most dangerous in those who are most sincere in ther mistaken beliefs. Such zeal made Moses and Paul (among many others) into murderers . Jesus forsaw that His disciples would be killed by people who sincerely believed that they were serving God and doing right.

 Ignorant zeal is also common in the world today. It is the motive force which propels so-called 'religious wars' such as the Catholic-Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland. It is the power-source of jingoistic, racist, and genocidal political movements, such as Naziism in Germany. Usually these movements are instigated by a few canny leaders who create slogans and manipulate opinions, which the masses take up enthusiastically while understanding only dimly.

 Now we have examined two prominent types of ungodly zeal, let us firmly establish the relationship between ungodly zeal and the spiritual disorders of legalism and lukewarmness.

IV. A geneaology of zeal disorders

IV.A. Lukewarmness: younger brother of opportunistic zeal

Both lukewarmness and opportunistic zeal are the children of worldly materialism. At heart they are the same, though outwardly they differ, because the opportunistic mask their spiritual indifference with a hypocritical show of religion. Blatant lukewarmness is less sophisticated, and often takes its lead from opportunistic zeal. A society where spiritual leaders are opportunistic is fertile ground for widespread lukewarmness, because many become cynical about religion and view it (as Marx did) as a self-serving scam orchestrated by a privileged few.

Lukewarmness goes along with an unbelief in the afterlife or the supernatural. The lukewarm heart says, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." It sees religion as a bother, and has set its affection on other things.

 IV.B. Legalism: child of ignorant zeal

Legalism is the manifestation of ignorant zeal in which religious rules themselves become the objects of devotion. This zeal is sustained through social pressure from other legalists, as well as the self-will of the individual. So legalism inevitably leads to pride, and usually to intolerance -- pride, because 'success' comes from self-will, and not from grace; intolerance, because these rules have no genuine spiritual basis, so rather than defend their practices legalists simply refuse to have spiritual fellowship with those who disagree.

The connection between ignorant zeal and legalism is displayed clearly in the Pharisees, because they excelled in both. Hence let us examine legalism as manifested in the Pharisees of Jesus' day.

IV.B.1. Phariseeism -- the quintessence of zealous legalism

The zeal of the Pharisees was absolutely sincere. Their scrupulous morality and tenacious self-restraint appeared exemplary. Though covetous, they never violated civil or religious rules for financial gain (that was easy--they made most of the rules!). Paul, who was a "Pharisee of Pharisees" before his conversion. described himself as follows: "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."

 The Pharisees believed deeply in God, and in many respects their theological views were absolutely correct. They were willing, even eager, to die in defense of their beliefs, and expected to receive God's commendation as a reward. For them, no sacrifice was too great, because they felt that the greater the sacrifice, the greater the proof of their devotion. But their fundamentally misdirected orientation made them into deadly opponents of the Gospel, which they viewed as blasphemy.

 The minutely detailed rules which the Pharisees lived by actually sprang from their supernatural convictions. The purpose of these rules was to prescribe a way of life pleasing to God. However, the very abundance of rules blinded them to God's purposes . They were so busy congratulating themselves for tithing mint, rue, and cumin, and so on that they could no longer hear the Spirit of God speaking to their consciences about more important spiritual responsibilities.

 IV.B.2. Modern-day legalism

Legalism has not changed since the time of the Pharisees. Legalists are still scrupulously moral, and continue to rank among the most vehement opponents of the Gospel.

Detailed, distracting rules are still characteristic of human religion, as opposed to true spiritual worship. Most of these religions prescribe dietary rules or other exercises of self-denial, and their followers derive great satisfaction from keeping these rules. They feel that God must be pleased with their strenuous efforts, and consequently their guilty consciences are pacified. In concrete terms, their consciences are like watchdogs, and rules like bones thrown to the dogs to keep them from barking. Legalists attempt to reassure their consciences without the assurance of the Holy Spirit which God bestows on those who believe. They perform great feats of self-denial to stave off their guilty consciences, but never attain the genuine, lasting peace which Christians receive through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is God's seal of acceptance and justification -- but legalists receive no sign from God, and can only cling blindly and tenaciously to their austerities.

Legalists place great faith in their sacrifices and believe that God accepts them, though they lack any sort of tangible evidence. However, a Christian moved by faith centered in Christ alone may offer up a sacrifice of spiritual service to God and expect Him to answer with the heavenly fire of the Holy Spirit. As Elijah demonstrated, genuine spiritual sacrifice is distinguished from legalism when God answers by fire.

IV.C. Legalism and lukewarmness are stages in the degradation of faith

Legalism is the first step in the progressive erosion of faith brought on by worldly influences at the instigation of Satan. In the context of family generations, the following sequence often appears. Believing parents give their children a strict religious upbringing. The children grow up legalistic, having the form of godliness, but without a loving, first-hand intimacy with the Almighty. The next generation is opportunistic, practicing religion only when it brings them material advantage. The fourth generation is lukewarm, and throw off even the appearance of religion. The outline of this same process may be seen in the consecutive generations of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs. This same trend may be found in the histories of many denominations. Of course, the grace of God may interrupt this process and bring revival, refreshment, and restoration at any stage.

This concludes our examination of ungodly zeal. We turn now to investigate godly zeal, especially as it is presented in the Bible.

V. Characteristics of godly zeal

V.A. Godly zeal seeks God's face first and foremost.

Daniel and Nehemiah were both moved with godly zeal for their own people - and both turned first and foremost to prayer. Daniel mourned and fasted until he had received an answer from the Lord through His angel Gabriel. Nehemiah, consumed with anguish because of the shame of his people, prayed for months before even attempting to do anything practical.

Prayer brings depth and staying power to zeal. Many who began in zeal (for instance, King Saul and Jehoshaphat) finished in shame, because their zeal was impulsive and not grounded in habitual prayer.

Even the greatest of saints in the Bible were over-impulsive at times -- but there is not a single Biblical instance of someone missing God's will because he sought God too carefully or for too long.

V.B. Godly zeal waits for God's timing.

Jesus' brothers encouraged Jesus to go up the Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, to show His miracles to the huge assembly of Jews there. Certainly Jesus zealously yearned for the people Jerusalem - but He could not go until His Father granted permission.

In this respect, there is a marked difference in the Apostles' behavior before and after Pentecost. Before Pentecost they were no doubt zealous for God -- but in their own way, not God's way. For instance, James and John asked Jesus to let them call down fire from heaven and destroy a town which refused to receive them. Peter struck out with his sword when Jesus was being arrested. At such times, they were inappropriately bold - but where was this boldness when they deserted Jesus at His hour of need? After Pentecost, on the other hand, they show boldness and restraint at appropriate times, under the direction of the Spirit of God.

  V.C. Godly zeal takes personal responsibility for wrong and injustice.

Daniel confessed and repented for the sins of the Israelites in straying from the Lord, as sincerely and as deeply as if he himself had been the instigator. Nehemiah, whose position was one of the most exalted in the entire Persian empire, abased himself as if he were a hovel-dweller in Jerusalem. Paul yearned for his people so greatly that he was willing to be accursed from Christ in order that they might be saved. All three were willing to bear the consequences of others' inequity and iniquity upon their own bodies.

The same earmarks are found in the Corinthian church's repentance, as described by Paul:

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner, that you might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death. For see this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner, what carefulness it worked in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what revenge! In all things you have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. V.D. Godly zeal does not call attention to itself.

Paul wrote to the Colossians of his companion Epaphras who was "always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." Epaphras was not seeking their recognition, and none of them even knew the price he was paying for their sake. He labored in secret, just as Jesus' most agonizing labors on our behalf were accomplished as He sweat blood in secret in the Garden of Gethsemane.

V.E. Godly zeal is willing to bear ostracism and isolation.

The prophets frequently became renegades as a result of their zealous stand for the LORD. David writes, "I have become a stranger to my brethren, and an alien to my mother's children. For the zeal of Your house has eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached You are fallen upon me." Elijah in the wilderness felt he was the only one left in Israel to worship the Lord. Paul wrote to Timothy that, "At my first defence no man stood with me, but all forsook me."

 V.F. Godly zeal is unmixed with self-interest, and often works counter to personal advantage.

When King Saul heard of the Ammonites' threats to Jabesh Gilead, he cut up his oxen and shipped out the pieces in order to stir up the people. Personally, he had nothing to gain, and everything to lose. What were the Gileadites to him? They weren't even Israelites. Why should he destroy his own property for their sake? Many of the Israelites already disdained his leadership - what if they ignored his gesture and laughed at him? But Saul, consumed with zealous passion, did not even pause at these considerations (which was remarkable, considering how weak-willed Saul was!)

When Araunah offered to give David his threshing-floor as a place for sacrifice, David insisted on paying, because he would not offer to the Lord something which costs him nothing.

Jesus tells us that, if we truly have a zeal for His kingdom, we should hold our banquets for the poor, lame, maimed, and blind, who are unable to pay us back .

 V.G. Godly zeal relies on solid evidence, not hearsay.

The truly zealous person strives to be as well-informed as possible. Jesus first saw for Himself the desecration of the LORD's temple, before driving out the moneychangers King Saul received eyewitness reports of the Ammonite threat to Jabesh Gilead, before stirring up the Israelites to fight. Jehu was personally acquainted with the idolatry of Jezebel, and was used by God to execute His righteous judgement. Paul yearned for the church at Thessalonica but was unable to go himself, so he sent Timothy to bring him an eyewitness report John opens his First Epistle with this testimony: "That ... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim ..." We may contrast this with the so-called "teachers' who, in Paul's words, is "intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind"

 Having examined the Biblical characteristics of healthy, godly zeal, the question is: How can imbalanced or unhealthy zeal be restored to balance and health? We deal with this question in the next section.

VI. The cure for legalism and lukewarmness:

The cure for unbalanced zeal is not complicated or difficult. But we risk missing the solution for its seeming foolish simplicity -- just as Naaman the Syrian almost missed his cured because he ridiculed Elijah's simple instructions to dip seven times in the Jordan River.

 In a word, the cure is the Cross. When fanaticism or imbalance threatens; when controversy and contention arises over an issue of faith or spiritual practice; then the parties involved must leave off contending and refocus on the Cross.

 The Cross is the benchmark against which doctrine and practice must be evaluated. The Cross is the true Philosopher's stone. The Cross turns our incoherent, defiled thoughts into pure, clear gold.

 In the Old Testament, the priests found God's will by consulting the Urim and Thummim. Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith claimed that the Urim and Thummim were spectacles, through which he could read Moroni's golden plates. But the Cross and the Resurrection are the true Urim and Thummim. They comprise the spectacles through which both Old and New Testaments must be read to be spiritually understood.

 The Cross replaces our hard indifference and dull lacksadaisy with deep mourning and sharp regret. The Cross is the Tree whose fruit nourishes our hearts and awakens love.

 In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes to far as to equate the Gospel with the message of the Cross:

 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void. For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For Paul, all else paled in significance next to the Cross. There is no priority which can compare with that of the Cross. The Cross was the core of Paul's preaching, the foundation of his world view, the pride and joy of his existence:  But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  In all other respects, Paul was flexible and people-pleasing almost to the point of appearing weak-willed and sycophant:  For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all , that I might gain the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.  He was willing to accomodate to virtually any culture, any custom, any lifestyle -- so long as others might see in him the testimony of the Cross, in a way they could understand and receive .

 The place of the Cross is safe ground. It is the place of reconciliation and preparation. You need not leave there until you have gained full assurance of the will and blessing of God. Go to the Cross with your brother with whom you cannot see eye to eye, and stay until you touch heart to heart. If you persevere with the Cross long enough, holding on until the death of sin and self, driving away all other distractions and considerations, then any confusion and contention may be resolved.

 Here is the SIMPLICITY which is in Christ-- that our source of enlightenment is not esoteric knowledge, nor years of experience, but the living Holy Spirit, which has been shed abroad into our hearts as a CONSEQUENCE of the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. We realign our thoughts and actions with the Holy Spirit by fixing them to the Cross, by which the Spirit is made available, and to which He came to bear witness.

 Our minds should be immersed in and absorbed with the Cross, like sponges in water. As a consequence, zeal will spring forth from within us, of the kind which may be harmoniously orchestrated and directed by the Composer and Conductor of all creation.

 Jesus was not zealous for fastings. He was not zealous for the overthrow of Roman rule. He was not zealous for customs and forms of worship, desiring only worship "in spirit and in truth". But He WAS zealous to complete His work on the cross.

 How then may we appropriate the curative power and glory of the Cross into our own lives and circumstances?

 Personally, we may fill our fields of vision with the Cross, making it the backdrop for our minds, wills, and emotions. For every choice or circumstance we face, we should ask, "How does the Cross address this?", and, "How does this address the Cross?"

 In concert with other Christians, we may: sing hymns which confess, proclaim, and exalt the Cross; share our testimonies of the power of the Cross in our own lives; search the Scriptures for traces of the Cross; and 'proclaim His death' by sharing together in the celebration of Communion. I guarantee that if you singleheartedly pursue these things together with other genuine believers, then rancorous contentions among you will evaporate into thin air.

 But why focus on the Cross? Why not the Resurrection, which is so much more cheerful and uplifting? Because any strife or variance among ourselves is evidence that we have not yet apprehended the Cross. We need a full course of Cross-treatment and full dosage of Cross-medicine, and only then will the power of the Resurrection be manifested. Resurrection power does not come by our own demands or commands: neither was Jesus raised because He demanded. Jesus was raised when He obediently accomplished His mission on the Cross. It's up to us to identify with Him in His Crucifixion, and be crucified ourselves. The inevitable result of our self-crucifixion will be a glorious Resurrection together with Him..

 Fleshly zeal in ministry produces conflict, competition, and contention between ministries and outreaches. This zeal must be crucified, not modified. It must be brought to the Cross and fastened there. In the same way that Moses' human zeal and self-confidence was extinguished after 40 years in the desert, so our zeal must be put to death before we can expect God's power to be manifest through us.

 At first, when Christians lay down their contentions and move towards the Cross, they may approach the Cross from different directions. However, as long as they both move consistently towards the Cross, they shall be able to meet there and be healed of their animosity. In the Cross, they are identified and conjoined together into One - and then they can deal with their disagreement not as adversaries, but as it were one person weighing two sides of a situation.

 Paul wrote that Jesus "reconciled both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body by the Cross, having by it slain the enmity." The enmity in that case came because of fleshly commandments, namely the Law of the Jews. Within the current Body of Christ, the enmity now comes because of varying practices and teachings of different sects, groups, and denominations. Though the source of enmity is now different, the means of reconciliation is the same.

 Let me re-emphasize that "going back to the Bible" is NOT in itself a sufficient answer to strife within the true body of Christ. The Pharisees themselves knew and taught the Bible, and their practices were all rooted in Scripture. They thought they were teaching the unvarnished Word of God - but all of their teaching was colored by their traditional interpretations of the law. The deepest truths of the Bible are only revealed when the disparate members of the Body of Christ assemble together with a single-hearted desire to grasp, comprehend, and realize both mentally and experientially the Cross of Christ. Only in such a context will Christ manifest Himself in His fullness, and grant us a full revelation of Himself.

 There are many issues today which divide the Church, including: infant baptism; speaking in tongues; divine healing and healers; abstentinence from alcohol; movies; Christian rock music; Calvinism versus Arminianism; the nature of the Trinity; 'traditional' versus 'contemporary' worship; use of instruments in worship; "Scientific Creationism"; the ordination of women; abortion; homosexuality; and so on. In many cases, contention arises due to an incomplete revelation of the issue in light of the Cross. No one is "right", all sides have an incomplete picture. Each party sees the splinter in the others' eye, while oblivious of the plank in their own.

 Many of these issues arose historically as symbols or rallying points for spiritual revival movements. Unfortunately, rallying points often become mistaken for the substance of revival -- just like the bronze snake Nehushtan became an idol to the Israelites. The substance of revival is the Cross, and in each time and place God chooses the vehicle by which the Cross is manifested. We must not always attempt to re-use the old wineskins: but unfortunately, many who long after "Old-time religion" are doing just that.

 To one extent or another we are self-deceived. All we like sheep have gone astray - and continue to stray . All of our consciences are unconscious in certain areas to the proddings of the Holy Spirit. We think ourselves entirely in the right, and quote Scriptures to justify ourselves. We feel God is with us, even as we oppose Him. In how many wars throughout history (such as the American Civil War) have both sides prayed to the Lord for guidance, even as they slaughtered each other?

 For this reason, we need to walk in moment-by-moment openness and transparency before the Lord. We need to incorporate this prayer into every waking moment: "Lord, I am open to change my ideas, my actions, my plans, my presuppositions at any time as You direct me. You have spoken to me in the past, you are speaking to me even now. I may have misconstrued Your intentions and Your directions. O Living God, I trust you, and entrust myself to Your care."

 We should be zealous to express our views, while not contending over them. We may all lay our views out openly before each other in the presence of the Living Lord of the Universe, trusting Him to select and/or synthesize by revelation through His Spirit.

The gospel is presented at least eight times in the book of Acts (2:22-36, 3:12-26, 4:10-12, 5:29-32, 11:36-43, 13:16-41, 17:22-31, 26:1-23). We must concentrate our zeal on this basic, consistent message which we have been entrusted with. Once the hearer has received the basic message, his own heart will be opened to the living inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

VIII. Conclusion: balancing each other

The astronomer Edward Hubble observed that all other galaxies appeared to be moving away from ours. Does this mean that ours is the only one which is standing still? On the contrary, seen from another galaxy, ours would also appear to be moving away. The proper perspective can only be achieved external observation, and mentally putting ourselves in the place of another.

The same is true of us, if we try to attain a proper perspective on legalism versus liberty. We need to have contact with others whose viewpoints differ, and evaluate them by putting ourselves sympathetically in their place.

This is not to say that we should accept all practices and points of view as correct. However, we can most effectively point out others' errors by placing ourselves within their frame of reference. Suppose for instance a person on the moon claims to measure a different value for the speed of light. We doubt his findings, because Relativity Theory predicts that all observers should measure the same light speed. But the best way to disprove the other's claims is not to throw rhetoric at him, but rather to go to the moon yourself and perform the same measurement. In science this is evident--and it is no less true in faith.

Legalism and lukewarmness are both unspiritual, ungodly, and should be identified and renounced. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible for us to diagnose these disorders within ourselves. The legalist feels that he is properly and justly observant -- while the lukewarm believer sees himself as a moderate who avoids fanaticism. Prayerful, considerate sharing with other Christians (particularly Christians from other traditions and denominations) provides the mirror by which we may recognize our own spiritual disorders.

This is why believing Christians of all practices and persuasions must share their views. For this is the only way by which the total picture of truth may be realized. We must come together prayerfully, with hearts submitted to the Lord, to discuss our differing ideas and practices in love, thoughtfulness, and mutual respect. When we do, we end up with far more than an abstract discussion in theory: rather, we directly experience the presence of God and our minds are transformed by the experience. This is important, because our way of thinking has a profound effect on our emotional and spiritual states.

Just as a body with impaired circulation is prone to chemical imbalance, so the body of Christ will be prone to legalism and lukewarmness -- until we begin to circulate and exchange our views and impressions.

Why isn't it more clear who are the legalists and who are the libertines? For the same reason that the 'sinners' are not clearly separated from the 'saints', and punished accordingly. Individually, We are ALL legalists; we are ALL libertines. To walk on His path in His balance, We must CONTINUALLY look to Him as a servant to his Master. Balance cannot be achieved in isolation. No part of the body of Christ may be isolated. ALL parts must come together into the presence of the Lord. The problem is, we have decided that we want to solve these problems OURSELVES, by personal prayer. Other religions may resort to such methods, but Christianity cannot. Christianity is synergistic -- a Christian may only attain genuine spiritual life within the context of a larger, intelligent, intentional body, namely, the Church. The solution to our differences is not intellectual, but existential -- it must be experienced to be grasped. The living truths of Christ must be lived, and not just discussed.

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Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 20, 1999

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