Category Archives: Freed

How to Avoid Legalism While Pursuing Holiness?

These are some thoughts stirred up from Sunday’s sermon entitled “Freed to Holiness”

Legalism is a matter of the heart.  Pursuing holiness, especially obeying God’s commands, is not legalism. It is being an obedient child.  However it is doing the commands of God for the acceptance of God or to avoid the wrath of God, which turns a pursuit of holiness into legalism.

To pursue holiness is 1) to be separate from sin and 2) to pursue God’s glory above your own.  A pursuit of holiness can turn into legalism when obedience is done for your own glory or when your obedience is a boast in your deeds rather than God’s power.  Look at the Pharisees in Matthew 6:1-4 or Luke 18:9-14.

A pursuit of holiness becomes legalism when we major on amounts rather than on the heart. For example, we read our Bibles to savor the Savior not to earn favor before God. And we come to the Bible because our heart desperately needs God’s word day after day, moment after moment.  That is different than saying I must read for 30 minutes because any less time is not enough.  “Not enough for what?” is the question. When we talk in terms of time as a measure of holiness then we are usually seeking to avoid guilt derived from comparing ourselves to others or from a standard of holiness established by amounts rather than the intention of the heart.  The word “enough” is a dead give away for legalism as we seek to pursue the freedom of holiness.

We can also pursue holiness by praying to our Father in heaven. This is not to gain acceptance or to avoid wrath. I am accepted in Christ and Jesus is my only shelter from the fatal wrath of God.  I pray in order to commune with my Father, to petition him for needs, and to call out for his power to be exerted on behalf of others.  The legalist would be tempted to find obedience measured in the amount of time he/she prays or the amount of people you pray for (unless you gave your word you would pray for all 15 people in your community group…then you pray for 15 people). Holiness is not about amounts it is about the intention of the heart.

In your mind, the question might arise, “What if I don’t feel like reading my Bible, praying to God, or giving cheerfully? What if I don’t feel like loving my enemy or my neighbor?”  The answer is not, as I have heard before, to avoid “legalism” and disobey clear commands of Scripture. A pursuit of holiness is total surrender to Christ as your Lord and a desire to obey everything he has commanded that we might stay separate from sin.  Therefore the answer is to repent- repent of your lack of desire, confess your feelings of indifference, ask for God to meet you as you seek to obey, and then….Act.  Obey the commands of your good Master.  1 John 5:3 says, “ For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”  They aren’t burdensome because he will give you everything you need-  the faith, the energy, the wisdom, and the way of escape- so that you can obey your Father.

Finally we avoid legalism when we remember pursuing holiness is more about walking by the Spirit than about externally obeying rules. As Christians we are not against rules. We have a loving Lord a good Father who commands us for our good and pursuing holiness is seeking ot obey him.  However as we fully submit our lives to God, we are said to be walking by the Spirit. Not everything in life has a rule attached to it.  And that is by design.  The law as commands was shown to not be able to change the heart of the Israelites. That is why when Jesus came we have been set free from the law of Moses to obey the law of Christ. Christ’s law has fewer commands, and is a stronger call to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as  you seek God’s wisdom. You don’t have a law that says share the gospel with 2 people every day. You don’t have a law that says work for 45.35 hours and that is obedience and that 45.36 is disobedience.  You don’t have a law that says 5 kids is the obedient number of kids and that you should spank them 4 times for hitting and 2 times for talking back.  So how do we pursue holiness in the every day when there isn’t a specific command from God?  Briefly I call it worship and wisdom.  This is walking by the Spirit of God. We worship by cultivating a relationship with God through his word, prayer, deepening church community, giving generously of time and money, etc.  We read his word to know his explicit commands and we read his word to grow in our relationship with God. This cultivates a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who gives us wisdom as we live life and make decisions regarding things where there are no laws. The Holy Spirit guides us into wisdom and growth in holiness through calling the word to our mind, through impressions, internal conviction and encouragement, and through circumstances. The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord (worship), and he will give you the desires of your heart (wisdom is cultivate: your desires growing to line up with God’s desires).  So as we take our thoughts captive to Christ (2 Cor.10:5), prepare our minds for action and fight for sober-mindedness (1Peter 1:13-16) through daily discipline, the Holy Spirit guides us to know what wisdom looks like in certain situations.  I pray not only as individuals but as a community of faith we stir one another up to love and good works, that is we enjoy the freedom of pursuing holiness.


The Joy of a Wrecked Life

Sunday, at the end of my sermon entitled, “Freed to Slavery: the joy of total surrender”, I said that our Master, Jesus, sets us free to love others so that people might find freedom in Christ.  As an illustration I read some excerpts from a Katie Davis’s book, Kisses From Katie.  Katie is college age woman who is has found freedom in Christ and now uses her freedom to intensely love others with her life. Here are some excerpts that describe the joy of total surrender and I hope encourage us to love faithfully, daily, liberally, for the glory of God and for others to experience the joy of a “wrecked life.”

You see, Jesus wrecked my life.  For as long as I could remember, I had everything this world says is important. In high school I was class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car. I had wonderful supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. But I loved Jesus.

And the fact that I loved Jesus was beginning to interfere with the plans I once had for my life and certainly with the plans others and for me.  My heart had been apprehended by a great love, a love that compelled me to live differently…. I began to delve into the truths of Scripture. As I read and learned more and more of what Jesus said I liked the lifestyle I saw around me less and less. I began to realize that God wanted more from me and I wanted more of Him…. Slowly but surely I began to realize the truth: I had loved and admired and worshiped Jesus without doing what He said.  This recognition didn’t happen overnight; in fact I believe it was happening as I explored the possibility of overseas volunteer work, it was happening as I took my first three-week trip to Uganda, it was happening as I fell in love with a beautiful country full of gracious, joyful people and immense poverty and squalor that begged me to do more. It was happening in so many ways, and I couldn’t deny it. I wanted to actually do what Jesus said to do.

So I quit my life…

She goes on to describe how this quitting of life was a surrendering of her whole life to Him and His ways.  She says,

I no longer have all the things the world says are important.  I do not have a retirement fund; I do not even have electricity some days. But I have everything I know is important.  I have a joy and peace that are unimaginable and can come only from a place better than this earth.  I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully.

During the first few months I lived in Uganda, in fall of 2007, I wrote, “Sometimes working in a Third World country makes me feel like I am emptying the ocean with an eyedropper.” Today, it often still feels that way. I have learned to be okay with this feeling because I have learned that I will not change the world.  Jesus will do that.  I can, however change the world for one person…. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute.  In fact, it is worth spending my life for….

People often I ask if I think my life is dangerous, if I am afraid. I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable. Matthew 10:28 tells us not to fear things that can destroy the body but things that can destroy the soul. I am surrounded by things that can destroy the body. I interact almost daily with people who have deadly diseases, and many times I am the only person who can help them.  I live in a country with one of the world’s longest-running wars taking place just a few hours away.  Uncertainty is everywhere. But I am living in the midst of the uncertainty and risk, amid things that can destroy my soul: complacency, comfort, and ignorance. I am much more terrified of living a comfortable life in a self-serving society and failing to follow Jesus than I am of any illness or tragedy.  (Kisses From Katie, pXVII-XIX)

Have we experienced the joy of a wrecked life? This life will take us to places we never dreamed. It might not be Uganda or even overseas, but the point is not as much where are you surrendered but are you surrendered wholly to Christ?  Do we want our lives, driven by His love for us, to count in the loving of others?  My prayer is that when we look back at our lives we will not only stand in awe of the grace that set us free but we will say, by that same grace at work in us, “we used our freedom to love like Jesus” (Galatians 5:13).  I pray we hear these words,  “Well done good and faithful slave enter into the joy of your Master.” (cf. Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 25:21).