FREEDOM FROM RELIGIOUS LEGALISM
One of the greatest strongholds of Christianity is legalism. It is because of legalism that the mainstream churches are condemning Gays. Church leaders have a heavy responsibility to preach according to biblical standards and not necessarily according to the level of their experiences or the lack of it. For example, although we may not have experienced the miraculous and the supernatural, it should not stop us from preaching healing from God or the gifts of tongues. We are to preach the bible. Similarly, our heterosexual experiences, which are in the vast majority, should not restrict us from preaching that God does not condemn homosexuality. We should not see the bible through our own experiences, but let the bible renew our minds and spirit each day to reach another level. It is not that Gays are anti Christ, but because the Church leaders have strayed their course to preach humanistic morals, and an anti-Gay doctrine, which is not in the bible, many Gays have left the church and few Gays would enter. In our religious legalism, we have blasphemed the name of Christ (Rom 2:23,24) and make gays doubt their faith in Christ. If not for God’s grace, our Church leaders would have a difficult time to defend themselves at judgment seat under law! for being the forefront of excluding at least 5% of the World’s population, i.e., 300 to 600 million people.
The standard (Webster's New Collegiate) definition for legalism is: strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral Code. A stricter general definition of legalism is found in the Oxford English Dictionary: The principles of those who hold a theological position of adhering to the commandments of the Law (Lev 27:34) as opposed to the Gospel; the doctrine of Justification by Works, or teaching which savors of that doctrine. The laws are a series of practical do and don’t. (Col 2:21,22). Some have even redefined Legalism as a belief in religious absolutes! They claimed that Christians are legalistic in believing in absolutes, namely the central truth of which Christ is the only way to God and not through other gods/religions. Such people have mistaken legalism for faith, and misunderstood that legalism is only meaningful as in the name suggest in the context of the Law, and man’s outward actions to abide by it. There are of course Christian Legalism and rules pertaining to it. However, these are indications of our lack of faith in God’s grace and mercy in contrast to our natural inclination to be religiously legalistic.
The desire to be legalistic is intrinsic to mankind and comes from the natural tendency for a proud mankind (Deut 8:14) to show and prove that from within themselves, their own works, abilities, deeds, they are able to justify themselves apart from God. This is best described by the common worldly saying that “God helps those that help themselves”. The god is self, which is pride in our own abilities, the root of sin. In order to show that mankind could not make the grade based on their efforts, the standards must be clearly defined. God did just that by giving the Hebrews, the Old Testament Laws to follow and the Hebrews duly accepted the covenant agreement to follow it and to accept the consequences of death (Exo 21:1) if they fail but correspondingly blessings if they succeed. Hence, biblical legalism is man’s attempt and boasting that they can follow God’s perfect standards. In order to show that man has failed to follow God’s Laws, the laws are very precise, clear, numerous, and very detail.
(Rom 3:20 NKJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The intention for the legalistic laws and for the Jewish legalism is to show forth the need for Christ, that we are sinners and will never be able to follow God’s laws. God called the Hebrews “stiffed necks” (Exo 33:5) for their stubbornness to insist that they are good enough despite failures after failures. Christ made it simple. – we are to admit that we are sinners and accept His death and resurrection to pay for our sins. The inward legalism is now replaced by a dependence upon Christ work at the cross of Calvary. The bible called this a mystery and truly by faith. Many who professed to be wise Christians have shown their foolishness by reverting to legalism. (Mat 23:23) They claimed that surely it is not just that simple to believe in Christ by faith. There must be more they exclaimed to just having faith. They wanted to add finished works at the Cross of Calvary, a complex series of rules and regulations. They exchange faith for an unseen God to carnal faith (Exo 20:3,4) in prayer to the saints and dependence on Mary, of doing penance. We create many “Christian’ rules because deep inside, we are unsecured in our faith. But Jesus sees us by the measure our faith only that has saved us (Mark 2:5, 11:22, Luke 5:20, 7:50).
Many come against the supernatural move of the Holy Spirit with sign and wonders because such require faith and could not be duplicated by works or can be seen (Heb 11:1). These are elementary and foundational principles yet without faith we will never move further. (Heb 6:1,2) They believed only what they can see, touch and understand. Their whole “faith” is centered upon themselves, and their limited experiences instead of Christ (Heb 4:2). Speaking in tongues and miracles have passed away they proclaimed not realising that the presence of the Holy Spirit along with the demonstration of its power has left them because they are so adamant of following human laws but refused to listen to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit. (Mark 15:17) Legalism thrives in Christianity because we have a crisis of simple faith, the simple faith to believe in Christ Jesus. We could not accept the mystery and supernatural nature of the cross that all are saints in Christ Jesus, that a new believer is no more righteous in God’s sight than the Senior Pastors of the Mega Churches for Christ is our righteousness. Our lack of faith is clearly shown when we preached law instead of grace and called it biblical (John 1:17). When we do that, we will move away from Christ, from His core message of eternal Jubilee (Isa 61:1,2).
What is freedom or liberty? When are we free? One day, there will be freedom for the Gay Community. As a society, in this last century, we have moved from sexual and racial discrimination and now slowly but surely rights for the sexual minorities will follow. Will there be a day when we first realize everyone as being equal? Is it that important? Equality should not take precedence over freedom in Christ. In order to truly live in Freedom, justified in God’s sight, we need to live by faith in God’s saving grace. What are we free to do? We are free to do God’s will and purpose He has created us to do! Not by compulsion but from a willing heart.
In the Christian Context, freedom and liberty is not defined in terms of equality. It is defined as freedom from bondage. Even in the Old Testament Laws, there was grace and mercy in the day of Jubilee occurring every 50 th year where slaves are to be released despite legally owned by others (Lev 25:10) in remembrances of God bring the Jews out of Egypt (Lev 25:38). We may be equal but ultimately not free, for we are all born as slaves as children of the first Adam who has given up his inheritance to Satan resulting in spiritual death and bondage (Rom 5:14). We need to be born again, to be a child of the second Adam, to Jesus Christ, that we may be truly free (1 Cor 15:22). We will then be able to escape from the confines of religious legalism because we have been accepted apart from the works of our hands to abide by the law. When Mainstream Christianity comes against Gays using the Jewish laws, they are essentially coming against Christ and forgetting that Jesus came to fulfill the law. When one is truly free, there is no need to specifically strive to follow written laws, because our hearts are now naturally soft to follow the Spirit of God to do what is right. We now walk by the Spirit and not by the fleshly limitations of the written law. By reverting selectively to the Jewish law to come against Gays, it is a strong condemnation of the Church and their carnality and hypocrisy. There is true freedom in Christ alone. What do we live by? The just shall live by faith and not by the law (Rom 1:17).
Some have argued that we will be in danger of antinomianism, where there is no need to follow strictly by the laws as a demand. In essence, we all live as though there is no law although outwardly clinging to the delusion that we are religious and law minded (John 7:19). Jesus defines disobedience to the law as extending to the thoughts of the heart, truly condemning us as law breakers despite our self-righteous claim that we are able to abide by the law. We are no different than people who claimed that there is no need for the law, at least they are being honest and recognize that they are intrinsically lawless. Irrespective whether one claims the need for law or otherwise, we are all condemned as sinners in the sight of God (Rom 3:23). We could not save ourselves through the law because we are intrinsically unrighteous and produce sinful actions despite all our efforts. The Law just makes it clearly obvious and without doubt because it is so well defined. It is a very good teacher to lead us to frustration and see that we are sinners. Christianity is about Christ being our righteousness through His death and resurrection (Rom 1:17). The Laws does not define us anymore. We naturally produce good works if we are indeed born of God.
The bible was written in a multi-cultural and multi-religious environment, perhaps even more variety of gods made by hands (Acts 19:26). In the mist of all, Jesus had no hesitation to claim that He alone is way and the truth to God (John 14:6). All the other religions are legalistic by nature. Jesus’ message was about peace with God. He went about that peace by dying for us. He could have sent legions of Angels to kill the Hebrews, but He chose the path of sacrifice (Mat 26:53). True Christianity has always been about sacrificial love to give and to honor others. Yet the form of Christianity we see of the Christian right is about hatred and false morality, of movements trying to restrict basic rights of gays, How far has the church fallen and yet know it not!
Institutionalized religion has caused many deaths in history from the Crusades, to the inquisitions, to the rise of Nazism. But these are not biblical faith and beliefs rather imposters, of institutionalized religion using Christ name in vain to justify their actions and legalism. Their experiences do not reflect biblical Christianity and faith. Christianity is never by compulsion or by the sword. It is not even by hard sell persuasion. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. There is freewill and never any compulsion to receive the living water of salvation (Rev 22:17). Christ died freely for us that we might freely received Him by faith. Ultimately, it does not matter much if only 20% of the world is Christian so long as each is given the opportunity to know the truth for God respects each person’s rights. Yet, the Christian Right does not even respect basic human rights of gays. Yes, every soul matters and that is why they must be told of the God News of the Gospel and not a distorted Gospel where our sexual orientation somehow excludes us from the House of God.
In Mat 24:14, the bible says that Jesus will come back when the Gospel is preached to the ends of the world, to every tribe. It does not say that when the whole world has become Christians. The Great Commission is to tell or give witness the gospel story (Mark 16:15) as it is and not to conquer the world. Indeed, when a nation becomes “Christian” more likely than not, the Human Carnality and religious legalism prevails and the Gospel message diluted to gain wider acceptance. This was what happened in Europe and is now happening in America. In Europe, the majority is Christianity and one could hardly recognize the church as of a biblical faith. The end time Church body (Rev 3:16) will be a church on a whole that is neither completely cold nor warm and is not of God. It is so entrenched by the ways of the world that it is neither here nor there. Indeed the church is now so polarized to the right and legalistic (too warm) and to the left and liberal (too cold) that there is not room for Christ as the centre of the faith. Yet, in God’s grace and mercy, God is making things right and visiting the church (Rev 3:20). He is knocking at the gates of the church. You would not see Him in splendor and majesty announcing His appearance with His entourage of angels, but you may see Him in the form of a gay couple seeking to be part of the church. That which is most despised by the world and by the church, God will use to represent Him. Hopefully, the church will open its doors and not repeat the story of Bethlehem when there was no room at the inn to receive Jesus in. Jesus is knocking today. “Anyone Home?” Would the church welcome Him in today!