Thursday, October 16, 2008

Legalism - or - Real Faith Applied?

The Bible says in 1Tim.3:1-7 that pastors specifically, are among many other things to have a good reputation so that they do not fall into reproach.

In thinking about this yesterdat, I began to wonder how this applies (what it actually looks like in practice) to any professing Christian - and not just pastors. In a pretty small nutshell, what it essentially means is that we're not to conduct ourselves in any fashion that could bring disgrace and shame to the name of Christ. Personal and public conduct covers a huge territory. From the way we dress and speak, to the associations we have, to the places we go and things we do. It's about our lifestyle and living one that brings glory to God rather than brings shame to Him. How this is actually lived out with each individual believer will look and sound a little different, depending on where in the world they are. A believer in a small country villa in Germany might not look or sound like a believer in downtown LA. Yet, He is the same Holy Spirit working in each believer, without a different standard for the believer in Germany than He has for the believer in LA. The more I thought about that the more complicated it seems to get - and the more I realize I don't fully understand how it all works. I suppose I'd have to say that cultural nuances may look different on the outside but it's still the same faith on the inside.

One aspect of being called to live above reproach that I've heard countless times (and read again just recently), is the accusation of "legalism" that comes up when this is discussed, preached, proclaimed or declared. The accusation is almost always the same and it follows along the lines of "well maybe we should have a list of approved things that meet your standard". Generally said in a rather sarcastic, condescending way, and generally said by those that feel a bit more Christian Liberty Muscle Flexing is in order. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say that, read something that someone wrote that said it, or heard from another Christian that they heard it, I'd have so many nickels it would be ludicrous.

Its really hard to have those conversations because you're not on the same page to begin with. Getting on the same page has often proved to be rather difficult. (But it is possible, and can be a great blessing to both parties).

The thing is, it's not about being legalistic. It's not about living according to some other believer's list of do's and don'ts, but it's about living a lifestyle that is Scripture Approved. That's the key right there.

While that's the key, that's also a source of disagreement since my understanding of Scripture and someone else's understanding of Scripture may differ in gigantic ways. I know that for me, I cannot dress the way I did when I was unsaved. I cannot go to the places I went, do the things I did, speak the way I spoke, or associate with the people I associated with. In many cases, I can't even listen to the same music. I cannot conduct myself that way because none of it brings glory to the name of God. All of it glorifies sin, self and the flesh. For me, it isn't about being legalistic its about being realistic, and understanding what sin is, and how it manifests.

Scripture tells us that bad company corrupts good morals (1Cor.15:33). Either we believe that or we pretend it's not there, or applies to someone besides you, but that's what it says. I know for me, it is a factual statement. In a prime example, I once went quite some time without hearing a single cuss word on any kind of tv show, movie or in public. Then, we rented a movie that was loaded with cussing and the very next time I got angry, those very same words desperately wanted to fly out of my mouth. I was quite stunned at how easily this happened. I know I'm not the only one that this sort of thing happens to either because the Scripture doesn't say bad company MIGHT corrupt good morals. In fact, the verse clearly says do not be deceived into thinking it DOESN'T happen. It can, it will, and it defintely does. It may manifest itself differently for each person but it most certainly will happen if you're surrounding yourself with bad company. Obviously this can be any kind of ungodly or purely worldly influence, whether it's people, music, junk on the internet, fashion, movies, etc. Whatever you're consuming your time with, filling your ears or your mind with, is your company.

Since He is the same Holy Spirit with every believer, and since the Bible says and means the exact same thing in any language, surely there must be only one standard for holy living. Right?

It's not my standard, or yours, or anyone else's standard but God's. If then, God sets the standard it makes perfect sense to me that each believer would be inclined to examine his own conduct, and ask a few self-exam type questions. Such as - does this glorify the Lord? How does it bring Him honor? Is there a good possibility someone will stumble over this? What does my reputation say about me? What am I known for, both by those that know me and those that only know of me? I admit, I don't ask myself those questions nearly often enough, even though I know I should. Like everyone else I suppose, I get distracted, I get busy, I get lazy and I get forgetful.

The other question I've wrestled with over the years is "does my Christian liberty or my cultural status grant me license to do as I please?" First, Christian liberty to me means that I am no longer a slave to the sin I was once bound up in. I have been set free from that and been given the power, ability and desire to strive for a high and holy standard. I want that, where I once didn't care. For me, my liberty in Christ doesn't afford me license, it affords me grace and conviction to put others first, where I once couldn't care less what anyone thought or how my conduct affected them. Secondly, my cultural status notwithstanding, my desire is to please the Lord and not man. If how I conduct myself accomplishes both (pleases the Lord and encourages others) then thats a great thing. Yet, there is no way I can bring myself (biblically) to a place of pleasing others first, regardless of whether or not it pleases the Lord, with the idea that the ends justify the means. That's a large load of hooey, in my opinion. For ample proof of just how much hooey is associated with this, take a trip with google to see what goes on within Christian ministries that boast of being culturally relevent.

To get you off to a shining start: Contextualization Gone Hog Wild

If then, the conduct of a believer is so important that it's addressed over and over in Scripture, then it's Scripture that should be our standard. Whether this is in evangelizing, pastoring, ministering to your neighbor, the way we dress, think, act, etc. No, it's not legalism to strive to live according to the written word, it's just Basic Biblical Christianity.

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