The Opposite Of Legalism

                               By Phil Scovell

          I was  listening to  a Christian program  that I  have personally
     heard, and appreciated, for literally decades.  The guess speaker that
     day was one  I had heard in previous  broadcasts.  He calls  himself a
     preacher  but I  have  heard others  refer to  him  as a  motivational
     speaker.   He  appears  to be  both,  that is,  he  teaches and  makes
     Biblical principles  applicable,  by story  telling  and  illustrative
     examples.  That sounds like a preacher  to me but in all fairness, his
     goal very likely is motivational but  not just for the sake of  making
     his  listeners feel  good.   He truly  brings home  the importance  of
     having a personal relationship with Christ.
          Later it  was explained  he also holds  public speaking  training
     seminars around  the country at various times for people to attend and
     thus to become better public speakers.
          As  I  sat  and listened  to  the  first part  of  this  two part
     presentation,  I felt  spiritually uncomfortable  for some reason.   I
     didn't feel  he  was  wrong,  necessarily,  nor  did  he  in  any  way
     marginalize the Bible  or Biblical precepts, as  far as I  could tell,
     but something  felt wrong.   I focused more  closely on his  method of
     public speaking,  the stories  he told, the  humor he  incorporated in
     order  to illustrate a point,  and I found  nothing out of  place.  In
     fact, his  speaking technique was  flawless.  Still, I  felt something
     was wrong but  could not put my finger  on it.  The feeling  I had was
     spiritual in nature.
          The  next day, the  second part was  broadcast so I  took time to
     listen.  It  was in the  second presentation I  recognized what I  had
     been feeling earlier.   It had to do with the implication of Christian
     legalism or what some now call performance based Christianity.
          In one of his  stories, he told about  how he had learn to  fly a
     small airplane.   As  he flew along  one day,  he entered  small puffy
     clouds to see what it would be like.  After experimenting a few times,
     by entering  and exiting various small clouds, he found a larger cloud
     and entered it.  Later, when he popped out of the cloud, he was flying
     completely upside down.  This frightened  him a great deal, of course,
     and upon landing, he signed up immediately for  instrument flying.  He
     commented on there  being a large  number of thick  books filled  with
     rule after  rule after rule and he memorized them all in order to pass
     his  instrument exam.   Now, he  said, he  doesn't get lost  in clouds
     because he  flies by what the instruments tell  him.  He compared this
     to  how we get the most joy out of  living for Christ.  It was at that
     point I turned my radio off.
          Sitting in  the silence of my room, I reviewed everything the man
     had  said.  Frankly, I really had  no major disagreement with anything
     he had  been teaching until  he came to  the comparison of  living for
     Christ by rule.  I turned the radio off because I had already lived 50
     years of  my life by  legalism, rules and regulation,  and performance
     based Christian  methodology.   Now I  knew from  personal experience,
     such did not work and wasn't even a Biblical concept or principle.  It
     is, unfortunately, still  widely taught and  accepted as Bible  based.
     His implication, or application,  seemed to be that all the  rules had
     to be kept or; what?  No joy?  At least that was what I got out of his
          A basic definition  of legalism  is living by  a set of  Biblical
     rules.  Some  weaken this statement by considering  the Christian life
     to be  a set of "Christian rules" lived by.   I trust you are noticing
     the words I  am using.  If  not, you'll miss the  progressive downward
     drift.  Another lower level of definition might be a set of "religious
     rules."   Still  others may reduce  it to  just a  "set of  rules," or
     "moral rules," by which we all should live.  I've even heard some call
     them "cosmic rules," or, "universal rules."  Regardless,  the key word
     is "rules."   In our case as born again Christians,  I am staying with
     the  first definition  because unless  you  are born  again, it  makes
     absolutely no difference what rules you live by; you won't be going to
     Heaven because  you lived by any  set of rules even if  you think they
     are godly in nature.  Notice, I used a small  letter "g" there and not
     a capital "G" to illustrate.
          Concerning born again Believers specifically, and Christianity in
     general,  we often  think of  Old  Testament law  when thinking  about
     legalism.   These rules were  required.  Yet no  one was ever  able to
     keep the letter of the law so  a sacrifice was offered once a year for
     all the sins of the nation collectively.  According to Chapter 7 and 8
     of  the book  of Hebrews,  Jesus  fulfilled all  Old Testament  law by
     becoming the supreme sacrifice for sin.
          Growing  up as  a  independent  Baptist,  we  considered  liberal
     churches  to be  those types  of  ministries that  kept few  Christian
     standards.   For example, in  my own life, I  was not allowed  to play
     with neighborhood  friends on Sundays.   I could  not ride my  bike on
     Sunday.  We never went out to eat on Sundays.  My sisters didn't  wear
     shorts.  As  a young assistant youth  pastor in the mid  seventies, my
     wife didn't  wear shorts or  slacks but only  skirts and dresses.   We
     didn't own a television for a period of time.  In fact,  my whole life
     was made up by two lists of things I did, and didn't do, for the Lord.
     The good list was long but  the negative list was just about as  long.
     I  didn't smoke,  go to  movies,  drink, cuss  or swear,  and  I could
     continue until a book was written on this topic.  The question is, did
     I do  anything wrong by living this way?  No.  Nothing I was doing was
     wrong,  on the  surface, and in  many respects,  was beneficial  to me
     personally as far as self discipline was concerned.  It had nothing to
     do, on the other hand, with my relationship with God.
          I was  listening to one  of my favorite radio  preachers recently
     when  he used  an  illustration that  disturbed me.   He  was actually
     speaking on the topic of having a close personal relationship with the
     Lord.  He  wanted to  prove that  his listening audience  did not,  in
     fact, have such a relationship.  This was, by the way, a taped message
     before a  live audience  but I  heard the  tape over  his daily  radio
          As he taught, he asked how many people listening to him  had ever
     been in  a service, church  meeting, where someone gave  a spectacular
     testimony.   He suggested,  that the  testimony  was something  highly
     unusual such as a person encountering an angel or something like that.
     Then he stated  that most people hearing such  a miraculous testimony,
     will sit in their seat and rather than rejoicing with the person, will
     think to themselves, "Well, God never does anything like that for me."
     He  declared   this  was   pure  and   simple  selfishness  and   self
          After the program was over, I sat  and reviewed in my mind all he
     had  said and  wondered why  I felt  uncomfortable about what  he said
     about selfishness.  It didn't take long for the Holy Spirit  to reveal
     the truth to  me.   The Bible  teacher, unfortunately,  may have  been
     right  but  only  under  some  circumstances.    Most  people  that  I
     personally know,  are  envious of  such  deep and  personal  spiritual
     encounters because they desire to know God that intimately.  This man,
     by the way,  preaches dogmatically against legalism but  in this case,
     as well  as at  least one other  example he has  used, is  nothing but
     legalism in its rawest of  forms.  Why are we  so afraid to live  with
     Jesus as the only rule to live by?  Why do we have  to perform to make
     God happy?  Why do we have to have a Sunday school pin that is as long
     as  a football  field that  we ostentatiously  have to wear  to church
     every Sunday to  make sure people know just how faithful we have been?
     Have you ever wondered why tithing is preached so imperiously?  I have
     heard  it preached  more  than once  that  if you  don't attend  every
     service, including Sunday night services and midweek services, you are
     casting  your vote  that the church  close its doors  on those nights.
     Yeh, and a chicken has lips, too.   I have even heard it preached that
     if you work on Sundays, you are living outside the will of God.  I was
     in a church  once that when weddings  were conducted, if you  had been
     involved  with premarital  sex, you could  not be  married in  a white
     wedding gown, if  you were the woman of  course, and you could  not be
     married, in this church, in the main auditorium.  Please show  me this
     in the  Bible.  Why do we  have to read the Bible  once every year, or
     twice  or three times, to be spiritual?  I've read the Bible 114 times
     in my life, and once I read it twice in one month from cover to cover,
     and guess  what?  I  ain't one bit  more spiritual than  you are.   In
     fact, I know many people that are so far superior to me spiritually, I
     look like a spiritual midgut in comparison.  I know Jesus  though, and
     we are friends and he is my brother and He loves me  like his own son.
     Come to  think of it,  I am, that is,  one of His  own sons.   So why,
     please  tell  me, do  we  have  to  become Christian  circus  animals,
     preforming  before others, in order  to be loved  and accepted by God?
     That's right.  We don't.  How do I know this?  Well,  the thief on the
     cross wasn't  Baptized.  He never  graduated from seminary.   He never
     read  the Bible,  He wasn't  even the member of  a church.  Yet, Jesus
     said  today, right now,  he was  going to  join Him  in paradise.   Go
     figure.  The thief  on the cross didn't even have time to practice his
     Christianity but we are going to see him in Heaven.
          May I ask where you are in God  today?  Are you a performer?  Are
     you  an achiever?  Are you perhaps a  spiritual goal setter?  "Oh, no,
     Brother Scovell.   I do all  these things because I  want to.   I like
     pleasing  god."  Me,  too.  May  I respectfully submit  that God isn't
     impressed with anything you  can do even if you  are a Christian?   He
     doesn't collect  Sunday school attendance  records.  He  doesn't print
     bibles  to sell to the Christian  public.  He doesn't market Christian
     preaching tapes of His sermons for tax deductible gifts of 6 dollars a
     piece.   He doesn't  sell crosses  you can  wear around  your neck  as
     necklaces.   Quite  simply, He  loves  you just  as you  are.   No, He
     doesn't appreciate sinful  living nor does  He bless sinful  behavior.
     However, you haven't  committed the unpardonable sin  just because you
     didn't read  your Bible  and pray  for 15  minutes this  morning.   He
     hasn't  stopped  loving you  because  you didn't  take  communion last
     Sunday.   His standards,  my friend,  are far  above  anything I  have
     mentioned.  No, you cannot, nor  will you ever, be able to obtain  His
     standards.  He has fulfilled all that for us and thus, when we come to
     Him, we come to Him on  His terms.  His terms are, "Come  as you are."
     Did you ever stop and  think that God doesn't look at you with clothes
     on?  You are naked before Him and He isn't ashamed of  you either.  He
     is waiting  for you to  stop being ashamed  and accepted for  who, and
     what, you are in His sight and not yours.  As long as you see yourself
     as you  are, you  won't see yourself  as Jesus  does.   In short,  the
     opposite of legalism  is Lordship.   Seeing yourself as Jesus  does is
     Lordship.  So  what do you  see?   If you se  anything less than  what
     Jesus sees, you are denying the fullness of the Gospel message and you
     are believing  lies about  yourself.   It is  time to  stop lie  based
     thinking so you can stop performance based spirituality.

     Safe Place Fellowship
     Phil Scovell
     Denver, Colorado
     Mountain Time Zone

                            End Of Document