Now that know a lot of Southern Baptists, I’m hearing a lot of discussions of legalism. It’s mostly stories about what my friends were not allowed to do when they were growing up. I thought missionary kids had a lot of rules, but some of my friends couldn’t go to movies or play any kind of cards. People who broke the rules weren’t welcome in their churches.
Even in my amazement at the harshness of this attitude, I know that part of me approves. I like rules. Rules help me make sense of life, relationships and my righteous God. I would have made a good orthodox Jew.
So Paul could have been talking to me. I have to ask, do I push God’s ways on others while not following them myself?
Do I tell others not to steal, but take home things that don’t belong to me from restaurants, banks, other people’s houses? What about that library book I never returned?
I have a lot to say about people living together, but do I accept all the media that promotes sex outside of marriage?
Do I wonder at people of other religions who worship idols, but put people, books, food and my own pleasures before God?
Legalism is about what others think of me and what I think of others. If I follow the rules, others will think I’m righteous. But God wants me to live to please Him, not to impress others.
What God cares about is a changed heart, not the outward signs that I’m obeying rules – even His rules. The Holy Spirit is the One who changes my heart. I have to examine my heart regularly to see if it is right. But the work of the Holy Spirit is not just to change my attitude. He transforms me into a new person. By God’s grace I don’t have to work at it because He’s already done the work.
As a Christian, my life is not about following the law. It’s about pleasing Him.