Why Legalism Sucks

It’s been a strange week for me.  I’ve really fought hard, wrestling with the verses we’ll be covering this Sunday.  I find it so important not to take the easy route of pointing fingers everywhere else when dealing with the subject of empty religion or legalism.  I honestly believe these are constant struggles that all of us, no matter how nobly we begin our journey, have to guard against.  I have a wealth of old anecdotes about how legalism oppressed me or twisted my thinking…yet the real challenge is to not live in the past, but have an eye on the present.  How do these issues effect Eastgate, or myself personally?  That’s where things get dicey…I’m more than happy to offend myself, but I hate the thought of offending someone else.  Unlike Jesus,who, in our text, let loose with a full on Ultimate Fighting Cage Match against religious stupidity with no apparent hang-ups about making Pharisees cry .

We’re going to be reading Luke 11:44-54 this Sunday, finally finishing up the chapter.  I probably could have broken this section into two parts as well…but I don’t want to belabor the point.

This section tells us that lawyers not get in on the discussion, which is never a good thing.

Actually though, the “lawyers” in this section are not lawyers like the one’s on Law and Order…it’s another term for Scribes.  They were experts on the Law of Moses, as well as the Talmud.  They learn right away it is not wise to pick a religious fight with Jesus.

Four more woes are leveled at legalistic religion.  If you were to summarize each woe, what would you say the warnings are?  v47-51 create a serious accusation against …saying that experts on religion as an end in itself are guilty of innocent blood all the way back to Abel.

Whoa, that’s a pretty serious woe.  But what do you think it means?  Why Abel?

What ways can you think of that will guard our hearts against legalism and empty religion?  How do you keep the main thing the main thing?

Stuff to gnaw on ’till Sunday.

7 comments

  1. For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

    For the wages of sin is death…

    “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

  2. Is legalism just a framework to shore up pride? A way that I can say, “I’m better than you, smarter than you, more dedicated than you?” The same pride that leads people who comment on the Internet to relish pointing out simple mistakes like using “antidote” instead of “anecdote”, rather than thinking about the real point of the message? Boy, what sinners those guys are. Glad I’m not one of them.

    1. AAAAAgh! Ok, nicely done Scott…appreciate the subtle correction. I would love to blame spell-check, but I don’t think I honestly can….so instead I’ll do the only evangelical thing to do…I’ll blame Obama.

    2. A watershed event for me was when a former roomate point out this:
      Gal 2:16
      know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
      It’s kinda the ultimate suck – not being justified, isn’t it?

  3. The tendency for humanity is to always prefer us over them. I think Scott nailed it. It’s funny (in a sad way), when you look at most of what we do it’s about lifting ourselves up and putting someone/something else down. From late night comedians, to news pundits, to the snarky things we tweet — it’s all about how smart we are. It helps us stay that gnawing question, “are we good enough?” While we may not be good enough, we are better than _____, so that somehow makes us feel better.

    With the reference to Cain and Abel, maybe we see the beginnings of the conflict between “true righteousness” and “our own righteousness”. Cain had a form of righteousness; he made a sacrifice to God, he tried. But he had determined to do it his way. When God shunned his gift, he didn’t look for a way to repent and learn; instead he killed the one that God had accepted. There seems to be no mention of Abel dancing around saying, “God loves me and he doesn’t love you…” it seems to be just that Abel was around that infuriated Cain. You see the same inclination in Luke. After Jesus had finished speaking they didn’t gather and say, “You know, the ole boy might have a point.” No, instead they began to parse his talk and see where they could entrap him. Fast forward 2000 years and you see this continuing in Nigeria, China, Egypt, Pakistan and 100 other places where Christians are killed. And in all of the places they are condemn for not following someone’s idea of “the law”. Legalism doesn’t only suck, in many places, it kills as well.

  4. I think Jesus was trying to tell the religious leaders they were misinterpreting the law and why the law was given. For example, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” was not sent from God to convict but to show how much He loves us and to communicate and make us aware of the weakness of our human nature. We can kill others with our words and actions and also by not caring about other people. We only have the power to overcome sin by His power within us.

  5. Even if it was spell check’s fault I think we should blame Obama. How can he allow such a faulty, devilish technology to be available?

    Certainly, these are constant struggles and to stray from the present just makes us more vulnerable.

    I’m the same way as you, there is no doubt that it’s easier for me to offend myself than others. In our study on Proverbs, I’ve found one of the most challenging themes to be reproof. It’s easy to make a sarcastic mocking of my own problems, but do I have the courage to call someone else out? It’s hard but as Jesus very passionately shows us, we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters to help keep them on track. And this may actually be the tame version, Matthew provides the unrated director’s cut for us. Sometimes loving others involves a heated display of correction. It sucks.

    Woe #1 is a clear violation of the law without acknowledgement. I think given the context and prior dialogue, Jesus is still more angry about their attitude toward the sin rather than the sin itself. The warning seems to be that the Pharisees were still propping themselves up as holier than thou, despite their own knowledge that they weren’t.

    All of us when we put ourselves in a position that says “we’re better” need to adjust our attitudes toward humility asap.

    Woe #2 involves the lawyers burdening people without any constructive way to help. There are two warnings here. The first are the burdens, which the lawyers placed on people, many of which come from the Talmud. We must remember that our instruction comes from the Bible, not extra-biblical literature. The second warning seems to be more focused on the lack of help than the burden itself. After all, God instituted many of the burdens through Moses, but the lawyers weren’t helping the people they were instructing and thus were left to repeat the sin, but likely with a more self-deprecating attitude.

    We must interpret our roles correctly and then encourage others in their walk.

    Woe #3 is interesting. It seems as though they are getting in trouble for their ancestor’s sins and there is certainly an element of that. But I believe Jesus is saying that they would have done no better, that they would have killed the prophets in the same way that their fathers did. And they did. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, God incarnate!

    In the same way we must learn from the generation before us.

    Woe #4 was directed at their interpretation of scripture and their refusal to accept The Word, which was right in front of them. Not only were they too stubborn and prideful to accept God’s wisdom and knowledge, thy were twisting it in their presentation to others. As leaders, they were not responsibly getting the true word of God out to the people.

    We must humbly seek knowledge, that we can offer to others who seek it.

    Abel is obviously there as a the first person murdered in human history. Zechariah puzzled me, until I found that in the Hebrew Bible, 2 Chronicles is the last book. Abel and Zechariah represent time markers as the first and last people killed in their text. Moreover, it emphasizes the distinction with Jesus. When he is martyred by these same people it will be as telling and meaningful a persecution as any of those who died before him, from Abel to Zechariah.

    The best guard we have against legalism is prayer, remembering God’s words against such action, and community. And we will be taking part in all 3 on Sunday!

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