Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joyfully Biblical or Pridefully Legalistic?

It seems there's a bit of a circus infiltrating Christianity, and it's not the kind of circus that brings joy. It's militant, full of finger pointing, false conclusions, agendas and spiritual pride. And it's robbing God of His Joy.The problem, as I see it, is the tendency to honor legalisms over God's Word.

Legalisms are human constructs, and I challenge anyone to ever see genuine joy come out of them. On the one side are the traditional legalists, who go as far back as the Pharisees in Jesus' day. In today's world, these folks often put more weight on not shopping on Sunday and taking notice of who's skipping Good Friday services than on curbing their own penchant for gossip and spreading ill will. But does that justify the opposing response, equally legalistic, which believes that only church services that offer coffee, allow the wearing of jeans and use electric guitars in worship are truly "God-centered, relevant and seeker-friendly?"

The Bible says a house divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25, Luke 11:17). Isn't this pitting of agendas against one another within the church exactly what Satan wants? Yes. Why? Because it not only saps our joy, it replaces a dedication to the Bible with a selfish dedication to ourselves. 

Traditional legalists as well as contemporary, emergent-church legalists have fallen for the lie that humans know better than God. They like to think they're better at doing Christianity than the last guy or the next guy. They disregard certain aspects of God's Word so they can finger point: "post-modern" contemporaries at the "fundamentalists;" and traditionalists at the contemporaries and "those who aren't Christian." And in the middle, where the majority lives or would most benefit from living, are those who ask, "What has any of this got to do with the Bible?"

But again, if God's Word isn't the authority in a person's or church's life, then agendas, legalisms and denominationalisms quickly demean and minimize it. Even some who call themselves Christians bristle at even the mere mention of the Bible. They see the bringing up of the Bible as being "fundamentalist" or a hostile invitation to debate. Naturally, if the Bible is what one wants to focus on and live out, and someone else doesn't, merely bringing it up will, unfortunately, be misinterpreted as wanting to argue or debate. 

Some traditional legalists fall on their sword over things like when to mow the lawn and their contention that Christians cannot be found in public schools. Wouldn't it be nice to focus on what God says, without all the legalistic fall-out and confusion? Wouldn't it be nice to just get back to Biblical Truth instead of human hearsay?

I need to be constantly on guard of my rebellious nature and thinking I have all the answers. I have to be very careful that, when the day is over and all is said and done, I don't find myself years down the road spiritually haughty instead of spiritually mature. That is why I cling to my Bible, without embarrassment. I guess I don't understand why President Obama's comment was seen as offensive. Of course I cling to my Bible--not just in bad times, but in good! Because my sinful nature can turn on me and others with a snap of the fingers, just like that! The fact that God knows my heart sobers me…greatly. But the fact that he knows my heart in all its range of sin, emotion and struggle, and loves me anyway and still wants to work with me--not against me--is pure joy!

Being joyful is not an invitation or call to be a doormat, tolerating "every kind of evil" and void of Biblical conviction.

To have joy in all circumstances, as the apostle Paul did, we must rely on God, His Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and His Word. Joy is a call to stop looking so readily at and jumping to sweeping and often unfounded conclusions that only seek to find fault in order to justify a legalistically new or old way of doing things. Joy comes out of a humble and prayerful obedience to God (not legalisms) in living--as a church, a family, and an individual--in Christ.

Are we joyful, or just legalistic? To answer that, we must first ask, “Are we Biblical?”

"You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence..." Psalm 16:11

"The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart." Psalm 19:8

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." Psalm 51:12

"Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart." Psalm 119:111

"You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence." Acts 2:28

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

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