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The Lord versus The Legalists
Jesus Christ demonstrates His hatred for legalism
and His heart for the Gospel–Mark 7:1-13 part 1
Are you ready for a serious question? Are you a legalist? Do people who know you think you’re a legalist? Does your spouse think you’re wound too tight? Maybe you’re asking, “Chris, can you help me understand legalism?” Okay, listen to these descriptions and see if they describe you . . .
*Legalism creates an external standard of righteousness to earn God’s favor.
*Legalism makes a person think God accepts them on the basis of what they do–either for salvation, or sanctification, either the Gospel or growth.
*Legalism lives by a standard of conduct that goes beyond the teaching of Scripture–this conduct becomes the measuring stick for spirituality in the Christian community.
*Legalism happens when you create personal convictions for yourself in areas not specifically addressed in the Word of God, which can be okay for you. But as soon as you elevate your personal convictions to the authority of Scripture, you become a legalist–you’re adding to the Word of God.
*You’re reading into the Scripture things which are not there, then viewing your additions to Scripture as biblical mandates. Not only that, a legalist will judge others because they’re not holding to your personal convictions.
That’s legalism, and the Pharisees were experts at it. One author says, “Legalism is a class of people who have come to be known as “controllers.” These people only know black and white. There’re no gray areas to them. They insist you live your Christian life according to their opinions. If you reject their way they’ll try to intimidate you or manipulate you with weapons like “guilt trips,” rejection and gossip.
Again, legalism is not talking about the expectation to want to obey the clear commands of Scripture. But legalism is the pressure to rigidly follow rules in addition to, outside of, or added to the Bible.
Are you a legalist? Are you guilty of adding to God’s Word by promoting certain standards to a level of Christianity which the Bible never directly sets forth? Things like . . .
Don’t ever take classes at a secular university.
Don’t ever show any affection to your fiancée until after marriage.
Don’t drink coffee, but Coke is okay.
Don’t read any translation of the Bible except the KJV.
Don’t marry someone of a different race.
An innocent woman divorced by an adulterous unfaithful man may never remarry.
A woman must never speak to a church group if men are present.
Don’t ever allow guitars or drums in the Sunday morning service.
Don’t grow a beard, or have your hair below your ears.
Spiritual people do not ever listen to secular music, except for classical.
Spiritual people do not practice artificial birth control.
Spiritual people never read novels, but history is okay.
Spiritual people do not wear any make-up or any jewelry.
Spiritual people do not ever see movies, but football commercials are okay.
Spiritual people don’t drink, but addiction to caffeine is okay.
Spiritual people do not ever attend the theater, but musicals are okay.
Spiritual people do not ever invest money in the stock market.
Spiritual people never buy anything on credit, except a 30-year house loan.
Are you a legalist?
Turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Mark, chapter 7 and follow along with the outline, and let’s run from the deadly sin of legalism–why? Legalism can kill a church, wreck a home and send someone straight to Hell. Legalism can keep you thinking you’re saved when you’re not. And for the Christian, legalism can cause you to remain relationally distant from Christ, keep you living like everything is fine in your life when your heart is drying up spiritually. Legalism can stifle your relationship with Christ.
You know what has been happening with Jesus in the gospel of Mark. After the Lord fed the 5,000, the crowd wanted to make Christ king–the Lord was not going to be distracted from going to the cross, so He sent the crowd away, shipped His disciples off in a boat, and went off to pray. In another attempt to help His men understand He is God in the flesh, Jesus joined His men who were in a boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, by walking on the water to them. Once in the boat, God supernaturally docked it to shore.
About this time, the Lord spent an entire day healing people and instructing them that He was the Bread from Heaven. The crowd wanted physical bread like Jesus gave to the 5,000, but Jesus wants to give them spiritual bread–God in them, which can only happen if they put their faith in Christ, turning from their sins. Yet it is at this exact moment the crowds reject Christ. Up to this point, only the religious leaders had been opposing Christ. But now, signaling the end of the Galilean ministry, the populous–the people now are turning away from the Lord. So many are turning away in fact, that John 6 tells us at this time, John 6:66, “Many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” So many left, verse 67, “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’” Very sad.
One year, now remains in Christ’s public ministry. One year from now Christ will go to the cross to die for the sins of His followers, and provide the only way to be forgiven. Up to this point, Mark has described five confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders–they’ve attacked Christ over forgiving sin, associating with lowlifes, twice not keeping the Sabbath, even casting out demons by the power of the devil. Now, as if there’s blood in the water, the sharks come in for the kill.
Legalists arrive from orthodox central, Jerusalem, to take bites out of Christ by finding fault, or kill Him if they can. And though Christ has never once violated God’s Word, He will disagree with their legalistic, external, hypocritical traditions. Christ will point out that legalism leads to hypocrisy. Christ will expose the tendency of legalism to focus on external behavior, while completely ignoring the heart. Christ will rip on their man-made rules, yet uphold the commands of Scripture to show these men that their faith is phony. So get ready, FBC, as the Lord cuts into your heart and exposes legalism, externalism, and superficial spirituality. Are you ready? I’ve prepared a detailed outline today–one that seeks to expose what the Lord meant by what He said. Today’s outline is an attempt to help you embrace the author’s intended meaning. So with an open Bible and your outline, listen to this verbal battle between our Lord and these legalists. Don’t miss–there are two major points in these opening thirteen verses. The legalists accuse Christ in 1 to 5 (this week), then the Lord condemns the legalists in 6 to 13.
#1 The hypocritical legalists accuse the Lord Verses 1 to 5
The legalists arrive in town and observe a few of the twelve disciples eating food, but not washing in the traditional, ceremonial way. So they accuse the Lord by asking this pointed question in verse 5, “The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?’”
Even though my hands were not dirty, my parents made me wash my hands before every meal–every meal. At Hume Lake, we used to make the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at wagon train wash their hands before they ate, because their hands were diseased. Is that what’s causing this reaction from the Pharisees? No!
First The Occasion Exposing Legalism Verses 1 to 2
The legalists had come from Jerusalem. It’s not clear why the religious leaders came from Jerusalem all the way up to Galilee.
*Did the Galilean Pharisees ask for help in dealing with Jesus?
*Were the crowds gathering around Christ so large, like the possible 25,000 at the feeding of 5,000 men, that it drew their attention?
*Or since it was so close to the Passover, they were making their way around the country to prepare others for the big festival?
*Or did the leaders come to finally silence this popular rabbi who’d already violated many accepted traditions?
We don’t know. But we do know these religious leaders were offended. These legalistic hypocrites hate Jesus because He forgave sins, didn’t honor their traditions about the Sabbath, plus He associated with publicans and sinners and taught God’s Word with authority. So they’re offended . . .
1 The Offended Legalists
Verse 1, “The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem.” That phrase, “gathered around Him”, describes the religious legalists gathering together like a school of fish, then together approaching Christ as a group. Who are these guys? The Pharisees started out 400 years before Christ as men, committed to following the Scriptures literally.
In their zeal to obey the Word of God they began applying and living out the Word, like seeking ways not to work on the Sabbath, and not to eat restricted food, and as they did they kept records of the different ways to obey. Soon those applications became as important as the Word itself, and by the time of Christ the applications became more important than the Word of God. They became the rules to live by, and at this time they called those rules (verses 3 and 5) the tradition of the elders.
Some of these Pharisees were also scribes–these were the men who not only lived by these rules, like Pharisees, but they also studied the rules, interpreted the rules and taught the rules. So the rule keepers and rule teachers are now surrounding Christ, and they’re offended by a violation of their rules.
2 The Offense of Legalism
Verse 2, “and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed.” Jesus and the twelve are being watched, and as the Lord is ministering, the legalists are repeatedly observing a few of these overworked servants eating bread–not in violation of God’s Word, but in violation of their manmade rules for washing before eating. It wasn’t even all the disciples, but verse 2 says some of them–but it was enough of them to cause the leaders to accuse Christ.
And I wonder, don’t you, if this is not the very supernatural, tasty, Christ-created bread that was left over from the feeding of the 5,000? It has only been a few days since the miracle, and they’re probably snacking on the leftovers–the twelve baskets full of heavenly beyond-blissful bread. Yum!
“But,” you say, “these leaders should be offended because some of the twelve are eating bread with dirty hands.” No! Verse 2 says they’re eating their bread with impure hands. The Greek word for impure is common, meaning like everyone else. It wasn’t that their hands were dirty, or they didn’t clean them–it was that they had not submitted to the traditional washing ceremony. They were eating their bread like a commoner from another nation.
Verse 2 says that is continually unwashed. The word unwashed here means incomplete, not baptized, not fully immersed–it’s a partial washing. A few of the disciples were not following the prescribed, rabbi approved, ceremonial routine of washing hands a particular way prior to eating. So the legalists will now confront Christ over this. What’s really going on here? Mark wants his readers to understand.
Second The Explanation of Legalism
Read verses 3 and 4, “(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)”
We’re in the same spot as a lot of the Roman readers Mark writes to, in that we don’t understand the issues causing trouble for Christ. What are the Jewish leaders all worked up about? Answer: the Lord’s disciples were following the truth of God, but not following the tradition of men. But the religious leaders followed the traditions of men and not the truth of God’s Word.
Therefore, the religious leaders had added to the Bible innumerable rules, and imposed obedience to those rules on every Jew. Therefore, they created a legalistic, external and hypocritical faith. What does legalism do?
1 Legalism says you can’t eat without traditional washings
Look at verse 3a again, “(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, . . . )” Sadly, the Pharisees lost God’s Word in the midst of all their rules. Sadly, they burdened the nation to follow their external example, causing most everyone to miss the point. What point? Their need for God to transform them internally and deliver them from their sins.
When verse 3 says “ALL the Jews”, Mark means the nation in general, the majority of the people–not every single person in Israel. But almost every Jew at this time is carefully and diligently, ceremonially washing their hands before they ate food. And friends, because the washing routine had replaced the principle of cleanliness, or since the traditional washing ceremony had replaced the truth of Scripture, no Jew would dare eat unless he washed according to this ceremonial routine. There was massive pressure on everyone to conform to this process.
Are you getting this? In the eyes of a Jew in the first century, to fail to ceremonially wash their way was not to be guilty of bad manners, nor to be dirty in a non-healthy sense, but to actually be unclean before God–God was offended. This was serious–the Rabbis taught that a man who ate with unclean hands was subject to the attacks of a demon called Shibta. They said the demon (Shibtah) attached itself to people’s hands while they slept, and if not ceremonially washed away, he would enter the body through the food handled by defiled hands.
Another rabbi taught it would be better to walk four miles to get water, than to eat with unwashed hands. It was so serious that any rabbi who omitted washing his hands before eating bread was excommunicated. This ceremonial rinsing was so important, one rabbi insisted that, “Whosoever has his abode in the land of Israel and eats his common food with ‘rinsed’ hands, may rest assured that he shall obtain eternal life.”
The Greek word “carefully” in verse 3 means “with the fist”, which describes the ceremony. The water was first poured on both hands held with the fingers pointed upward. To do it right, the water must run down the arm as far as the wrist and drop off from the wrist, for the water was now itself unclean, having touched the unclean hands. And if the water ran down the fingers again it would render them unclean. The process was repeated with hands held in the downward direction, with the fingers pointing down.
Finally, each hand was cleansed by being rubbed with the fist of the other. A strict Jew would do this before every meal. The minimum amount of water to be used in this cleansing process was 1½ eggshells full of water, telling us they had this all worked out. Some might even do this routine between every course of every meal.
Where did they get this idea? It was derived from God’s Word in Exodus 30:17 to 21, where the priests washed their hands and feet prior to performing their ministerial duties in the temple. It was an Old Testament priestly requirement. But the Pharisees mandated this detailed ceremony now for every Jew every time they ate, in order to be really spiritual and super obedient. Legalism does that to you–in fact . . .
2 Legalism holds man’s traditions over God’s Word
Look at the second half of verse 3, “thus observing the traditions of the elders.” The traditions of the elders were the applications of the Scriptures by the religious leaders (rabbis) passed down for over 500 years. And the scribes standing before Christ continued to advocate a strict compliance to the rules laid down by prominent rabbis of long ago.
Under Ezra, the Jews began to interpret and apply the Scripture. After many years, those interpretations and applications became more important than the Scripture themselves. Finally, by the time of Christ those applications, now called traditions, were so important that in the traditions themselves, the rabbis wrote, “The words of scribes are more lovely than the words of the law.” As they talk to Christ, those spiritual leaders believed it was a greater offense to transgress the teaching of some rabbi than to transgress the teaching of Scripture.
The traditions were more authoritative than the Scriptures. In verse 3, the Greek word, “observing”, is to strongly take hold of, seize and follow. These religious legalists are strongly committed to and following the traditions of the elders. Again, that’s the oral tradition that was added to the law and prophets as a commentary to execute, in detail, the applications of the law itself.
The Talmud, which became the repository of Jewish tradition later, teaches that God gave the oral law to Moses, then told Moses to pass it on to great men of Israel. Then the Talmud told what these men were to do with God’s Word. They were to do three things with the laws they had received.
First–they were to deliberate on it and properly apply it.
Second–they were to train disciples, in order that the next generation would have teachers of the law.
Third–they were to build a wall around the law in order to protect it.
Thus they considered their tradition as a fence around the Law. Tradition, as the Jews saw it, protected God’s Word and assisted His people in keeping it, and prevented them from disobeying it. It formed a wall that kept you from disobedience. This fencing of the Law began well enough, but as the years passed it produced some famous absurdities.
In an effort to protect the Sabbath from being broken through inadvertent labor, the devout were given an amazing list of prohibitions–fences to keep them from working on the Sabbath. For example, looking in the mirror was forbidden on the Sabbath, because if you looked into the mirror on the Sabbath day and saw a gray hair, you might be tempted to pull it out and thus perform work on the Sabbath.
In regard to carrying a burden, you could not carry a handkerchief on the Sabbath, but you could wear a handkerchief. That meant if you were upstairs and wanted to take your handkerchief downstairs, you’d have to tie it around your neck, walk downstairs, then untie it. Then you could blow your nose downstairs.
The rabbis argued with each other about a man with a wooden leg–if his home caught on fire on the Sabbath, could he carry his wooden leg out of the house while the house is on fire to save his wooden leg, or would that break the Sabbath? You could not wear false teeth on the Sabbath, for if they fell out you would have to pick them up and that would be working.
The Sabbath, of course, was just one concern of those who’d fence the Law. The biggest concern of the Mishnah (which is another tradition manual some 186 pages long) was cleanliness, and most of that concern was about ritual washing, like this in Mark 7.
3 Legalism intensifies with public exposure
Look carefully at verse 4, “And when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves.” This would sound repetitive unless you notice that Mark mentions the marketplace. In the first century, marketplace means the public square, the place you’d go to shop, meet others, watch others, buy and sell. It’s the ancient version of the town square or today’s mall.
Whenever the Jews practiced these washings, they thought of themselves as special, and everyone else as unclean. If a Jew went to the marketplace to buy food, he might be defiled by a Gentile or (God forbid) a Samaritan. So after a trip to the market, the good Jew would ceremonially wash before he would eat, since there was much danger of defilement at the marketplace. Get this–even the shadow of a Gentile person falling across a dish of food made it unclean.
This tradition had begun centuries before, to remind the Jews they were God’s elect people and therefore had to keep themselves separated. Sadly, this good reminder degenerated into an empty ritual, resulting in pride and religious isolation. The result was these ceremonial washings not only indicated a wrong attitude toward people, but they also conveyed a wrong idea of the nature of sin and personal holiness. Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that true holiness is a matter of inward affection and attitude (a transformed heart that wants to obey) and not merely outward actions and associations.
The pious Pharisees thought they were holy because they obeyed the Law and avoided external defilement. Jesus taught that a person who obeys the Law externally can still break the Law in his heart, and that external defilement has little connection with the condition of the inner person. You have a sinful nature that needs cleansing, a will that needs to be broken, and a heart that needs transforming–not just changing behavior, changing your being.
So this conflict was not only between God’s truth and man’s tradition, but also between two divergent views of sin and holiness. This confrontation is no incidental skirmish–it spotlights the heart of true faith, a transformed heart versus external conformity, living by human rules through human effort, or relying upon the Word of God by the empowering of the Holy Spirit in you.
These leaders standing before Christ were familiar with His ministry, and I believe they came to Him with the specific purpose of proving Him to be an offender against their tradition. As soon as Jesus had begun to teach, the religious establishment knew He posed a serious threat to their legalistic system. Their religion was intentionally external and superficial, because it could be outwardly practiced with great zeal and diligence no matter what the condition of the heart or soul. It was a religion of ceremony and tradition that the most hardened unbeliever could follow. It was concerned with covering up sin, not exposing and cleansing it–with appearing righteous, not being righteous.
Even before Jesus unequivocally proclaimed that truth in the Sermon on the Mount, the Jewish leaders sensed His kind of righteousness and theirs were diametrically opposed. The conflict ultimately resulted in the crucifixion, which they considered to be a victory of their legalistic way. But it was, in reality, the death of legalism.
But legalism intensifies in the public view, because legalism is fueled by hypocrisy–living one way in public and another way in private. Showing everyone you’re holy in public, but never crucifying your sinful, selfish, proud heart in private. And legalism never stops with just one kind of action. Once you start down the road to legalism, every area of life will begin to become tainted with externals and hypocrisy.
4 Legalism extends beyond traditional hand washing
Look at the end of verse 4 and read how there is much more to legalism than hand washing. Mark says, “And there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.” Mark explains to his readers and us, there were many things that had been given by oral tradition. The Greek word “received” is literally, they took over these positions from the past. They inherited these rules in order to strongly hold them.
Remaining ceremonially clean became a full-time job for a Jew. Imagine living under the burden of these traditions. A thing might “in the ordinary sense” be completely clean, but “in the legal, religious sense” be unclean. Some of this uncleanness idea had its roots in Leviticus 11 to 15 and Numbers 19, but it was completely distorted over time. Certain animals were unclean, a woman after childbirth was unclean, a leper was unclean, anyone who touched a dead body was unclean, anyone who had become unclean made anything he touched unclean, a Gentile was unclean, food touched by a Gentile was unclean, any vessel touched by a Gentile was unclean.
So then looking at verse 4, when a strict Jew returned from the marketplace he may have actually immersed his whole body in clean water to take away the taint of uncleanness he might have acquired. Plus the things used to carry things, cook in and drink from (called vessels) could also easily become unclean. They might be touched by an unclean person or by unclean food. This is what verse 4 means by the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots–see it?
In the Mishnah, there are over twelve discourses on this kind of uncleanness–like a hollow vessel made of pottery could be made unclean from what people put in it. If it became unclean, it must be broken and no broken piece can remain big enough to hold enough oil to anoint the little toe–you have to crush this vessel.
Under oral tradition, not God’s Word, a flat plate without a rim could not become unclean at all, but a plate with a rim could. If vessels made with leather, bone or glass were flat they could not contract uncleanness at all. If they were hollow, they could become unclean outside and inside. If they became unclean, they must be broken and the break must be a hole at least big enough for a medium-sized pomegranate to pass through.
To cure uncleanness, earthen vessels must be broken. Other vessels must be immersed, boiled, purged with fire. In the case of metal vessels, they must also be polished. Things made of metal could become unclean, except a door, a bolt, a lock, a hinge, a knocker and a gutter. Wood used in metal utensils could become unclean, but metal used in wood utensils could not. Thus a wooden key with metal teeth could become unclean, but a metal key with wooden teeth could not–this is legalism.
This was the tradition of the elders, and this is what Jesus was up against. To the scribes and Pharisees, these regulations were the essence of their faith. To observe them was to please God–to break them was to sin. This was their idea of goodness and of service to God. In a religious sense, Jesus and these people spoke different languages. It was precisely because He had no use for all these regulations that they considered him a bad man.
There was a fundamental dividing line here—the line separating the man who sees faith as ritual, ceremonial, rules and regulations, and the man who sees faith as depending on God from a new transformed heart which loves God and loves others. So now that Mark has explained the legalistic bent of these men facing Christ, he tells us what they ask Jesus in verse 5, showing us . . .
Third The harsh bite of legalism
Read verse 5, “The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?’” In the thinking of the scribes and Pharisees to not wash one’s hands was like selling cocaine to kids. So they surround Christ and fire away–how could you allow this? They probably asked Him more than once since the Greek verb “asked” is in the present tense–the question may have been asked by more than one of them since there’s an entire group.
This is the official question from the official delegation from the official city of the Jewish faith–Jerusalem. These are the theological hit men sent to double tap Jesus. Can you see the contempt on their faces, and can you hear the mock politeness in their voices? They bite Christ with their legalism. On the basis of what they saw a few of His disciples do, they ask Jesus why His disciples don’t continually walk or live as a way of life according to the tradition of the elders? Why are they eating bread without ceremonially washing?
They’re holding Jesus responsible for the actions of His men. Your men are not living by our rules, by our way of thinking. They’re not living by the accepted path we follow. You’re not following the rules set down by the godliest men of our past. Why aren’t you doing things our way? Our way pleases God. Our way is the way of the faithful. Our way is the path of salvation.
This is very much like a priest asking a Catholic parishioner, “Why don’t you follow the sacraments of the Catholic faith?” Why do your disciples follow the Law and Prophets, but they don’t follow the tradition of the elders? How did Jesus respond? It was not gently, but pointed.
#2 The Lord condemns the hypocritical legalists
Christ exposes their legalism, condemns their hypocrisy, and unmasks their phony faith and external religion. How does he do it, and what does He really say? For the answer to that, you have to come back next week.
ONE Is legalism keeping you from Christ?
The religious leaders were so satisfied in their religion they saw no need for Christ to save them from their sins. Is that you? There are people today who are so comfortable in their external, occasional, churchgoing, prayed-a-prayer-once Christianity they see no need to cry out for Christ to save them from their sins.
Are you born again? A born again heart loves Christ, and shows itself by serving, loving, giving, caring, and evangelizing the lost. A born again heart wants to obey God’s Word. A born again heart is willing to change anything or do anything for Christ. A born again Christian continues to offer their life to Christ, and they want Christ as their first love above all their other loves.
Christians are humble, Pharisees are proud. Christians are sincere, Pharisees are hypocrites. Christians are sympathetic, Pharisees are hardened. Christians are concerned with their internal attitude, Pharisees are concerned with their external appearance. Externalists focus on man’s traditions, internalists focus on God’s truth. Externalists are in bondage to forms, internalists are freed by faith. Externalists keep rules and internalists please the Lord in relationship. Externalists show off outward piety, internalists cultivate a pure heart. Do you have Christ or an external Christianity? Turn to Him.
TWO Is legalism or license hindering your growth in Christ?
Growth in Christ–it is not what you don’t do or attempt to do, it is what Christ does through you. Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Faith is dependence—depending on God.
License says, “Just be saturated with an overwhelming sense of what Christ has done for you with the Gospel and you’ll put off sins and automatically grow.” That is not what the Bible says, friends.
The Bible says those who abide in His Word are His true disciples (John 8:31)–not those who just know the Word.
The Bible says those who behold the glory of Christ are those who are transformed into the same image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18)–not those who simply said a prayer or walked an aisle.
The Bible says those who are doers of the Word are those who build their lives on a foundation of the Word (Matthew 7:24)–not merely those who just come to church on Sundays to hear a sermon.
The Bible says those who bear fruit prove themselves to be disciples of God (John 15:8)–not those who bear nothing (Hebrews 6:8).
The Bible says genuine Christians will walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1)–not those who just talk the talk of Christianese.
Growing in Christ is not merely about being overwhelmed with what God has done for us in Christ. Growing in Christ requires your cooperation–it’s about your dependence upon the Spirit of God, following the Word of God and exercising your will to step out in obedience. Your growth in Christ is not merely about being saturated daily with the Gospel of grace. It is about being overwhelmed by the Gospel of grace and depending upon the Holy Spirit, putting to death sin in your life, plus stepping out in faith-driven, biblically-defined obedience.
Why do you come to church weekly–because God commands it in Hebrews 10:24 to 25. And since you do have a heart that wants to obey, you’ll want to come to church every week. There’ll be some weekends you don’t feel like coming, and may not be overwhelmed by what Christ did on the cross. So what should you do? God expects you to exercise your will, overcome your feelings (that desire to be lazy or head to Disneyland) and by faith get up, get going and do what you know Christ wants you to do, and trust that you will be blessed through your obedience.
Why do you spank your young children? Because the Bible commands it, and your children need to be trained in obedience–shown there are consequences to sin, shown they can’t obey in their own strength, and desperately need Christ before they submit to Christ. You don’t wait for them to be overwhelmed by the Gospel of grace–you show them God loves them enough to deal out consequences for sin through loving parents, who graciously, kindly, show them their sin and their need of a Savior through the self-controlled administration of some firm but minor pain applied to the buttock.
Legalism says, “I’m a spiritual believer because of the things I do–I go to church, have a MacArthur study Bible, spank my young children, don’t celebrate Halloween, homeschool my kids, don’t let my kids date, dress up for church, vote Republican, and don’t drink coffee, soda, beer, tea, wine, Starbucks, Red Bull and especially not Boba.”
No, spiritual Christians are believers of the heart. They want to please Christ, delight in Him, walk with Him, obey Him, and they do so by being saturated in God’s Word daily, living moment-by-moment dependently in the Spirit, confessing all known sins of omission and commission, following God’s Word in dependent obedience, seeking to serve Christ in the church, and share Christ with the lost in the world from a heart that wants to say every day, “Christ is my first love, Christ is first in all my speech, action, attitudes and thoughts.”
I don’t see my obedience as earning points with God, I see obedience as pleasing the one I love from the heart. I don’t see choices outside the Bible as making me spiritual–but from my heart, I am seeking to honor Christ with all my choices. Legalism and license are eating Christians alive today. Thankfully the Lord has much more to say about it next week. Let’s pray.