Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Two Types of Legalism

From http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scales_of_Justice_(PSF).png

"Legalism, in Christian theology, is a usually pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit."

I think it is worth thinking through different types of legalism that exists in various degrees in different Christian circles.

Common Conditions 

For a legalistic system to exist there needs to be a leader, or group of leaders who define the rules or laws, and enforce compliance in some way.  When people break the rules or laws of the system, some form of shame, guilt, or exclusion from the group is applied.

Legalism of Actions

Many religious systems will have a written or unwritten list of actions you must do, and others you must avoid.  Some actions increase your inclusion with the group, other actions will bring on you some level of shame, guilt, and exclusion.

Examples of external action rules can be around

  • what food, beverages, or other substances to consume
  • what words should be spoken, and what words should not be spoken
  • where to be on certain days and where not to be on other days
  • where, how, and frequency of prayer
  • what to read, and what not to read
  • where to give and how much money to give
  • sexuality
  • what clothing to wear
  • music
  • entertainment

Legalism of Thought

Religious systems will also have a set way of thinking. The leaders of the system will promote certain schools of thought. There will be some common beliefs that hold the group together.  Questioning these beliefs publicly will bring some level of accusations, conflict, and exclusion.

I won't try to create a list of examples for this.  The list would be too long. Different religions and their leaders have compiled enormous  lists of things they believe. Beliefs around who God is, what He has done, what our response should be, authority of certain books, authority of certain people, and what the future will hold for different sets of people.  Included in this list would also be questioning any of the action rules listed above. Publicly re-thinking any of external rules in some cases may be considered worse than simply breaking the rules.

Degrees of Legalism

I think the degrees of legalism can be measured by the severity of response by those ruling the religious system.  Throughout history there have been different responses by those in power.

When we study church history we note when religious leaders have also held enough political power, many people who publicly broke the rules of acceptable thought were publicly executed.  In other cases breaking the rules resulted in public shunning. In other cases more grace and compassion may be applied when the rules of action or though are broken.

I find it interesting to note that some of the harshest religious suppressions in history were around legalism of though more than around legalism of actions.  I think religious leaders have killed more people for differences in beliefs than they have for differences in behaviors.

Some Scripture to Consider

In Jesus' day the Pharasees, Sadducees, and other teachers of the law played a role in the legalism that Jesus frequently opposed.  The religious leaders succeeded in having Jesus killed, thinking this would be the best way to preserve their legalistic system. However we believe Jesus came out victorious.

In Mark 7:1-16 we see that some of Jesus' disciples broke the rules regarding how to wash your hands before eating.  The Pharasees and teachers of the law question Jesus about this, and Jesus goes on a lengthy rant related to their legalism.

In Mark 2:23-27 we see Jesus' disciples  picking and eating some grain on the Sabbath. This story again highlights the difference between the way of legalism and the way of Jesus.

Romans 7:6  (NET)
"But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code."

Galatians 4:5 (NET)
to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 (NET)
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

2 Corinthians 3:6 (NET)
who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:17 (NET)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom.

Luke 6:37-38 (NET)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”
(Similar in Matthew 7:1-5)

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 (NET)
For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

I wanted to highlight that there are different types of legalism.  If we look at church history we see both types at play.  The degree of legalistic suppression can be viewed by the degree of authority a group of leaders has had over others, and the degree they feel responsible to be the judge and jury over those under them.

I am not suggesting that having rules is all bad. Jesus said he didn't come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. Having rules in society is good. It is also good to work towards correct thinking. There is just something we see in the example of the Pharisees we want to avoid.  I think it is clear we need to be careful when we assume the role of judge or jury.  I recognize this is as much of a challenge for myself as it is for others.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Importance of The Cross


I want to highlight the importance of Jesus' death and resurrection. I may define the gospel differently than some, and I may prefer different atonement theories, but the work of the cross is still very meaningful to me.

I'll start with what Jesus said about the meaning of his death.

A Promise for Forgiveness

Matthew 26:27-29 (NET)
And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Throughout history some different cultures have had some sort of blood covenant ritual. In our culture we have a handshake covenant ritual. The roots of the handshake includes a form where the people would cut their hands and shake with bloody hands. Other ancient rituals included cutting animals in half and walking through them. I see Jesus saying that His blood would be a new handshake, a new promise, that our sins are forgiven. With His blood He is showing His dedication of His love and commitment to us.

A Different Kind of Victory

John 12: 23-26, 31-32 (NIV)
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The religous and political rulers of the world thought they were defeating Jesus by killing him.  But what looked like defeat to some was actually somehow a victory. The powers of this world would be driven out, and Jesus would draw everyone to himself.

An Example For Us To Follow

Matt 16:24-26 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
This point is repeated in Matt 10:38-39, Mark 8:34-38 and Luke 9:23-27. There is something to this passage that the gospel writers agreed was important.

So what could Jesus be asking of us here? In what way are we to follow Jesus' example of taking up the cross? It is difficult to fit this passage into some of the atonement theories that explain how God saves us. There is something about Christ's work on the cross that we are to duplicate in our lives to gain the life He wants for us.

These next verses may help..

Our Selfish Self Is Crucified with Christ

Galatians 6:14 (NET)
But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (anointed King), through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 2:20 (NET)
I have been crucified with Christ (the anointed King), and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Gal 5:24 (NIV)
"Those who belong to Christ (the anointed King) Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."
Rom 6:11 (NIV)
"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ (the anointed King) Jesus."
1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."

Victory Over Sin and Death

Romans 6:9-11 (NIV)
"For we know that since Christ (the anointed King) was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ (the anointed King) Jesus."
2 Timothy 1:10 (NET)
but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ (the anointed King) Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!
Hebrews 2:14-15 (NET)
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.
Colossians 1:13 (NET)
He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves,
Rom 4:25 (NIV)
"He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. "
Rom 6:23 (NIV)
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ (the anointed King) Jesus our Lord."
1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
"For Christ (the anointed King) died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,"

A Ransom Freeing Us From The Power Of Darkness

The ransom analogy paints a picture of something bad holding us captive, and God through Jesus' sacrifice bought us out from captivity. (This is different than the idea that Jesus' death was a payment made to appease God's wrath towards us as some theories suggest.)

1 Timothy 2:6 (NIV)
"who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time."
Titus 2:14 (NIV)
"who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."
Matthew 20:28 (NIV)
"just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Mark 10:45 (NET)
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Romans 3:23-26 (NET)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ (the anointed King) Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.
Galatians 3:13(NET)
Christ (the anointed King) redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)
Galatians 4:5 (NET)
to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.
Ephesians 1:7-8 (NET)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.
1 Peter 1:18-19 (NET)
You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ.
Revelation 5:9 (NET)
They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals
because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
1 Corinthians 7:23 (NET)
You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men.
1 Corinthians 6:20 (NET)
For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

Last Sacrificial Lamb

The Jewish religious requirements of killing animals to offer as sacrifices to God is completed.

John 1:29 (NET)
On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Hebrews 10:12-18 (NET)
But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Revelation 5:12 (NET)
all of whom were singing in a loud voice: “Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!”

New Birth, New Life

1 Peter 1:3 (NET)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (the anointed King) from the dead,
Ephesians 2:4-6 (NET)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!— and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ (the anointed King) Jesus,

Colossians 2:12-15 (NET)
Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions.  He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.  Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Demonstration of Love towards sinners

Romans 5:6-8 (NET)
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The Kingship of Jesus and the message of the cross were top priorities of Paul

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NET)
For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ (the anointed king), and him crucified.
(See Paul Proclaiming the Kingdom of God for more on Paul's Kingdom emphasis.)

1 Corinthians 1:18 (NET)
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 15 (NET)
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ (the anointed King) died for our sins according to the scriptures,  and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.....
We see in this gospel explanation Paul makes a proclamation of the Kingship of Jesus, His death, and His resurrection.  Paul talks about the significance of the resurrection for this entire chapter ending with this. He describes how the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope in a future resurrection, as well as currently defeating sin and the religious law.

1 Corinthians 15:50 - 57
“Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

What I don't see:

  1. I don't see the gospel being defined consistently in terms of the cross. I believe a more balanced view of the gospel takes into account the 23 verses in the gospels that reference the gospel or good news. It would acknowledge that Jesus and His disciples are recorded as preaching the gospel and explore what that may have sounded like. It would recognize a reason given by Jesus for why He came: "Jesus, however, said to them: “I must take the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that was why I was sent.” Luke 4:43. Here is a link to my study on the gospels according to the gospels.
  2. I don't see the penal substitutionary atonement theory. I don't see Jesus' death as a payment made to God for the debt of sin. I see the ransom verses making a case that Jesus bought us out from the powers of darkness. I see more evidence of Jesus bringing us to God, and less that Jesus saved us from God. For more on this see: Overview of Different Atonement Theories and 10 Reasons Why I'm Not a Fan of Penal Substitution...
  3. I don't see anything like “you must believe the following about the cross to be saved”. I see the New Testament consistently addressing the questions “What must I do to be saved?” with “Place your trust in the person of Jesus”. I do not see lists of essential beliefs attached to passages that address this question. Placing our faith or trust in the person of Jesus is more than believing specific information about him, no matter how correct or important the information is (James 2:19). For more on this see: What Must I Believe Part 1

Summary of what the cross does mean to me:

  1. Jesus said that His blood would be a new handshake, a new promise, that our sins are forgiven. With His blood He is showing His dedication of His love and commitment to us.
  2. It was an act of death to the things of the world, and this brought true life
  3. We are to follow His example of putting our selfish ways to death. We are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God
  4. A place of victory over sin and death that we can participate in. Jesus broke for us the power of death and brought for us life and immortality.
  5. A source of healing
  6. A source of freedom from slavery
  7. A ransom freeing us from the power of darkness
  8. A ransom that justifies freely by his grace
  9. A ransom that frees us from bondage to old religious laws
  10. A place of adoption as children with full rights.
  11. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to His kingdom
  12. The last sacrificial Lamb
  13. A new birth for us into a living hope through His resurrection
  14. A demonstration and example for us of extreme love for sinners
  15. A hope for a future resurrection. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is old religious laws.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus the anointed King!
  16. The message about the cross is a message of the power of God.

I find a lot of meaning in these verses. Some of these meanings hold a bit of mystery that is hard to comprehend.  It has been good for me to put these thoughts together. I recognize many will see things differently, and I am OK with that too.

I welcome any feedback.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You are not far from the kingdom of God


I am continuing with post #53 of a series on the secrets of the kingdom, (click link for a summary of passages considered so far).  Taking a look today at:

Mark 12:28-34 (NET)
"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions."
Most religions have a tenancy to come up with many different rules to live by.  Some of the rules may help guide people towards loving God and people better. Other rules may not.  The parallel passage in Matthew 22:37-40 goes as far as saying all laws should be able to be summarized by these two statements.

This passage paints a picture for me of a man on a journey who is approaching a kingdom. The kingdom isn't a typical earthly kingdom, but a domain ruled by the authority of God. This verse is one of a few that imply we can enter this kingdom now. 

The expert in the law in this passage seems to understand the rules or parameters of the kingdom of God, however we are not told if he accepts and enters in.  I suspect understanding the correct answer to this question isn't quite enough. 

Some may be concerned about which comes first, the chicken or the egg. In this case does loving God and people get you into the kingdom of God? Or does living a life of love towards God and all others flow naturally when we are living under the reign of God?  The later sounds safer theologically.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.