Friday, April 07, 2006

Legalism and Lordship

By Daniel Parkins

There's a parable about a famous tailor who made a suit fitting the style of the day for a very wealthy man. The suit did not fit in the slightest, with arms in wrong places and such. However, because of the reputation of this tailor, the man wore the suit. Riding home one day, a man exclaimed, “I knew your tailor was good, but I had no idea he could fit a suit so perfectly to someone as deformed as you!”

Often that is just what we do in the church. We get some idea of what the Christian faith should look like, and then we push and shove people in to the most grotesque configurations until they fit wonderfully! That is death. It is a hideous legalism which destroys the soul. Consider Romans 14:5: “Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in his own mind” (TNIV). The rest of the chapter is a perfect layout of how to counterattack the legalism that is prevalent in our churches today. In Romans, Paul requires the believer to act out of biblical conviction, not personal conviction. Personal conviction has to do with things like smoking cigars or drinking a beer. Biblical conviction has to do with forgiveness and the greater truths.

Paul urges believers to terminate their criticism. It’s when differences of opinion happen concerning deeply held beliefs; our reactions are usually quite extreme. Paul’s point is that every Christian is ultimately responsible to God. And while we do have the responsibility to encourage, correct and edify each other, we do not have the freedom to take part in the work of evaluation. Only Christ has that authority.

In fact, we are to intentionally see the other’s point of view. “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean” (Romans 14:14, TNIV). Paul says that there is nothing fundamentally right or wrong about eating certain kinds of meat, but if someone has a conviction about the meat, he should obey that conviction. Paul then closes the section in 14:23: “But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Paul ends with challenging our attitudes in all that we do. That is the point. If you feel that it’s okay to have a beer, why is it okay? If you feel that it is wrong to have a beer, why is it wrong?

This is a challenge to our usual thoughts because it makes us more intentional. In the end, this is what we are supposed to do: Like Paul, we are to take every thought captive. Legalism is based on pride and personal conviction. Lordship, on the other hand, is based on love and obedience founded on Biblical conviction.

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