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Were you raised by a legalist?

Many of the men I mentor were raised by legalistic parents or in a legalistic church.  While they believe legalism isn’t spiritually healthy, they’re often clueless as to how to teach their own children to live Christ-like lives, without rules.

The first thing I tell them is this; you can’t raise children or spiritually mature adults, without teaching them that there are rules for Christian living!  Isn’t that legalism?  I don’t think so. Legalism is a form of Christianity that adds extra-biblical, man-made rules, to God’s laws.

So, here are some ideas to teach your children or those you mentor, to organize their thinking about these issues.  All Christian thoughts, and moral, or ethical teachings fall into one of these three general categories: 1.  Biblical These are the ideas, stories, laws and commands clearly taught in the Bible and in particular, the New Testament.  (Some commands in the Old Testament, were obviously only for Israel.)  But, at a minimum, true followers of Jesus are to live as Jesus taught which includes the many rules and commands he laid down for his followers.  These commands are binding on all Christian, for all times, whether you’re a legalist or not.  We’re not only to live by them ourselves, but commanded to teach them to others.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 7:21

So a biblical Christian is committed to live as the Bible instructs.

2.  Extra-Biblical Ideas These are ideas that are not expressly found in the Bible, like the idea of Sunday school, Christian schools or para church organizations.  They are based on the principles of scripture and are good things for us to do, but there’s no command “thou shalt send your kids to Sunday school.”  These ideas are extra-biblical.

Here are some other examples of extra-biblical ideas that may be good and even helpful for Christian living, but they are man-made rules, not biblical commands;

• It’s a sin to drink alcohol or smoke. • You should go to church twice on Sunday. • We should only sing hymns and psalms. • Only ordained pastors can preach and baptize. • Only elders can serve communion. • The King James Bible is the one true version. • You must pray before every meal. • We should live separately from non-Christians. • Christians should listen only to Christian radio or read Christian books. • The pastor should wear a suit or tie. • We should dress up for church.

Please hear me out. Some of these ideas may be helpful for living out the Christian life, but others are actually harmful.  Why?  Because, over time, these traditions often take on a “thus saith the Lord” status and we begin to judge other Christians by a standard God never set.  Jesus went crazy with the religion leaders when they valued the “traditions of men” over the commands of God (and I’m sure he still does today!).

“So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:  These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’” Mark 7:5-8

3.  Un-biblical Ideas These are ideas, taught by some Christians that are absolutely wrong and antithetical to the teachings of scripture, such as;

• All sins are alike. • We’re all sinners, so we should never judge. • Hetero-sexual sex outside of marriage is okay, as long as it’s with someone you really love. • The Bible doesn’t prohibit homosexual sex and marriage if it’s in the context of a loving commitment between two people, for life. • The Bible is a helpful book, but many of its ideas are outdated and no longer binding on modern Christians. • The major stories of the Bible didn’t actually happen (creation, Adam and Eve, the flood, Job, Jonah, etc.), but are simply allegories to teach us truth. • God loves everyone; therefore, he’d never send anyone to hell except people like Hitler, murderers and child abusers. • There are many ways to heaven. The important thing is that you’re a good person.

These ideas are unbiblical. They are contrary to what the Bible actually teaches and must be rejected by all true Christians.

Summary If God tells you how to live and you do it, that’s not legalism, it’s wisdom! If man adds to what God teaches, then commands others to live that way, that’s legalism! And, if anyone teaches unbiblical ideas, that’s sin.

I’d enjoy hearing your comments. How have you thought about these issues?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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