Tag Archives: Legalism

Quintessential phariseeism

Spiritual-arrogance-ahead-signJesus described quintessential phariseeism as He spoke out against self-righteousness in the most direct of ways, as recorded in Matthew 23. An exhaustive exegesis of the chapter would render a more comprehensive version, but His seven pithy “woe to you” statements give us the essentials in synopsis.

  1. Legalism is an exercise in unbelief, excluding people from a salvation that is by grace alone through faith alone.
  2. Legalism is zealous for its brand, and demands conformity to itself rather than true discipleship.
  3. Legalism consumes itself with technicalities at the expense of truth.
  4. Legalism majors on minors and neglects matters of first importance.
  5. Legalism deals in externals and ignores the matters of the heart.
  6. Legalism nurtures hypocrisy as it concerns itself more with appearances than realities.
  7. Legalism results in delusional denial of its own dismal inadequacy.

Do the exercise yourself and you might phrase things a little differently, but you’ll inevitably reach the same conclusions. Call it what you will – self-righteousness; phariseeism; legalism; dead religion; fundamentalism; self-effort – our best attempts are in such contradiction to the heart of God as to be futile exercises in unrighteousness all. Little wonder that Isaiah described them as filthy rags (literally used menstrual cloths) and Paul as dung (literally excrement).

humilityThe caution to all of us is that self-righteous people don’t recognise themselves as self-righteous. They measure themselves by themselves, and make good grades. It requires an intervention of the Lord to break the delusion. Hence my prayer is that any pride we take in our own particular version of Christianity may so come to appall us that we can never boast in it ever again. Without Jesus we are nothing, even if we’re able to so craft a veneer that we fool even ourselves, and perhaps only ourselves at that. It is by grace that we have been saved, through faith, and not of ourselves. We have nothing to boast about or place confidence in, other than Him. Our church, our obedience, our gifts and callings – these all count for nought! His church, His obedience, His perfect and finished work – these are everything!

Nothing is more freeing than discovering that Jesus counts for everything, and that everything else counts for nothing. This big idea is what ushers us into an authenticity of faith which is secure, peaceful, joyful and loving. It has nothing to prove and nothing to strive for. It is content, not contentious, and gifts salvation to everyone, irrespective of circumstance.

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Self transcendence

Sanneh-What-If-Boxing-Were-Run-Like-MMA1-1200The world’s stage has become a boxing ring demanding comment. Perhaps it’s more of a cage fight or a backstreet brawl, but I’m sure you take my point. On one hand we have the liberal left, on the other the fundamentalist right.

The left’s iron fist is in a satin glove. The talk is tolerance and dignity for all, and these are good things. What is flawed is the underlying philosophy of self-actualisation and lawlessness. This is as intolerant as the right as it proffers rights without responsibilities. I buy into the dignity for all, and I think we should make a great deal of space for one another, but I’m against boundary-less-ness, and I don’t want any sinful, demonised fellow becoming the best manifestation of his sinful demonised self possible. Wrong will never be right, and no matter how fine the satin glove, the iron fist it clothes bodes deadly for our future.

The right is no better. The horseshoe strapped across its knuckles is Law – eye for eye and tooth for tooth. That sounds good until we remind ourselves that all are sinners, not unlike that sinful, demonised fellow. The right is as self-obsessed as the left as well, except self-denial replaces self-actualisation. I’m all in favour of the rule of law, but not of legalism, which carves a hard road into the future, littered with judgementalism, condemnation, pride, self-righteousness, idealism, exclusivity, elitism and prejudice.

Cage+Fighting+Held+Wembley+Arena+2Gf3OFQ5HVOlAs we watch these two worldviews slug it out on the world’s stage, the battle reeling from political to economic to religious arenas and back again, let’s remind ourselves of three important facts. Firstly, these opposing worldviews are the best that human wisdom have to offer. Secondly, no matter who wins, nobody wins. And thirdly, the Gospel is divine wisdom and the alternative to both. There we find news of sins forgiven, and of deliverance from the dominion of the same. There we find self-government anchored in God and re-creation, and actioned by the transformational leadership of the indwelling Spirit. There we find hope beyond self-actualisation and self-denial, neither of which have a track record worth perpetuating. For there we find the transcendence of self. Co-crucified with Christ and co-raised with Him, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. In the Gospel we find fullness and freedom within the absolute of the Altogether Good. There we find grace. There we find faith. There we find life. There we find hope. There we find God, who has already done everything necessary to find us.

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