Why do they draw me in? It’s probably due to the fact that I can’t get my mind around grace. My heart continually searches for churches that emphasize James 2:20, “…that faith without works is dead.” And all I hear is “you have to work to prove to others that you have faith…and then maybe you can rid of God’s disappointment in the whole process.” When I was in High School, I remember going to a legalistic Youth Group. This church reminded me of the Monty Python version of church…”We are the knights who say NO.” The entire church had volumes of things that were big NOs. Here is a little legalism sampler…
NO mixed swimming
NO rock and roll music.
NO long hair for men.
You get the idea. The irony is that there are few NOs in the New Testament (believe me…I’ve looked). The only ones I found were never mentioned at the legalistic churches I attended. For example, here is a little “NO” verse that would have come in handy when I first became a Christian. “So now there is NO condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:1-2) That would have been a refreshing mist of grace to a very parched flock. Or how about these other “NO” verses I found…
“There is NO fear in love. But perfect love (Jesus) drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
“Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ NO other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps NO record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I NO longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21)
NO commandment greater than to love your God and your neighbor.
NO record of wrong doing when you love one another.
NO longer I who lives but Christ who lives within me.
This is very different from the list of NOs I’ve been taught over the years. I have NO problem trying to live out this list of NOs. However, it’s no wonder why my heart drifts toward legalist churches; in practice, I would really make a great Pharisee. I have this natural bent toward perfectionism. And it’s a daily battle to try and figure out grace and freedom in Christ. Everything within me fights against this free gift. A gift I cannot earn. The God of the Universe is madly in love with me, and the Bible says that I am His reward.
And that’s no joke.