Legalistic or Relational

This past week I have been blessed to have had my father visit for the first time in over a year.  Additionally, since my walk with Christ, I have not had any real time to spend with him.  My father has only known me as a cynical, selfish, arrogant man; and this week has posed a unique set of challenges and opportunities for me to trust God and to be the man He is calling me to be.  I have a great deal of love and respect for my father, however, I learned this week that we have very different world views.

I learned that viewing the world with a legalistic perspective is very contrary to viewing the world with a relational perspective.  These weren’t the “words” used for our many discussions; however these were the underlying tones.  My father posed many moral or ethical questions and opportunities that the “old Dan” would have answered quite differently.

My father has never met a stranger, and he will be the first person I know to offer a cold homeless person, the coat off his back.  He loves and cherishes his sons and grandchildren, and I was able to witness this more than ever during this last visit. And although my father is an amazing man with a very large, generous, and loving heart, he sees the world through legalistic eyes.  What I have observed is that a legalistic view of Christianity allows a great deal of wiggle room in a person’s actions and opinions.  This is not to say that my father is any less a Christian than the next man, this is to say that legalistic and relational Christians see and act differently in the world.  During our time together and our discussions I learned and gained some insight into my childhood lessons and upbringing.  I was able to see firsthand how a legalistic view of Christianity allows you to compartmentalize Christ into different areas of your life.  Like my father, I am a sinner; we are all sinners who fall short of God’s love.  However, during our time together this past week, I saw several areas of “Godly Compartmentalization”.

I believe compartmentalizing God is due to a lack of understanding repentance.  The root word of repentance is repent.  Merriam-Webster defines the word repent as: to feel or show that you are sorry for something bad or wrong that you did and that you want to do what is right.  …you want to do what is right.  Not just wanting to turn from sin, but turn towards Christ – That is what it means to repent.  In Hebrews 6 the author talks about maturing in understanding – not needing to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds…  In Hebrews 6:4-6 it says: 4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— 6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.  

If you go back to the beginning of the book of Hebrews, the writer is warning believers who have fallen out of relationship with the Lord and returned to their legalistic ways.  He is trying to impress upon the Hebrews that returning to their Old Testament (OT) Judaic ways of rules and regulations, was not why Jesus Christ came and died for our sins.  God saw in the OT that His people were getting wrapped around the axle trying to follow His commands.  The OT Jews took the 10 Commandments that God gave to Moses and created 613 commandments (or Mitzvot).  These were primarily for the priests but some were also designed for men, some for women, and some were only for a certain point in time or for a certain situation; and some were “forever” as indicated in the verses that say “do this forever”.  The Jew’s of the OT didn’t understand that from the beginning in Genesis, all God wanted was for a relationship with His people.  We were created in God’s image Genesis 1:27.  We were perfect.

When it became clear over and over throughout the OT, that because of our fall and inability to stay in relationship with God, He sent His Son to earth to be a living example of how that relationship should look.  Perfect obedience, perfect love and perfect trust in God.  The problem is our humanity.  We are sinners by birth and our only salvation is the through the acceptance of God’s grace.  God gives us grace whether we deserve it or not (prevenient grace).  Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). And in the book of Romans Paul wrote: But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).  These verses demonstrate the (justifying grace) of God. They point to reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God is restored.  Justification is also a time of repentance — turning away from behaviors rooted in sin and toward actions that express God’s love.  As in the book of Hebrew, we are called to grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived (sanctifying grace).  Salvation is not a one-time event, it is a lifelong pursuit of God’s will for our lives.  Legalistic Christians miss this whole message because they are stuck in the prevenient grace stage of the message.

Legalistic Christians believe that regardless of their actions, regardless of God’s will, and regardless of how often they continue to repeat their sins, they are still forgiven.  In part they are correct, however, for true salvation, you must have repentance. You must press on, with God’s help, in the path of sanctification toward perfection. Although perfection can never be obtained in this lifetime, Relational Christians understand that it is a continual process.  A process of being made perfect in our love of God and each other and of removing our desire to sin.  This is the life of a Relational Christian.

God has a plan for all of His children.  All of our stories are unique and designed for His glory.  God transforms each of us in His time and way, so that our lives can be a living sacrifice to bring glory and honor to Him. As Disciples of Christ, our job is go out and make disciples of all people. (The Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-20).  We do this by following the words of Christ in Matthew 22:37-40: 37 Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  This means God first and everyone, everything, and every action you do should be second in your priorities.  This is Relational Christianity.

What type of Christian do you want to be, a Legalistic Christian or a Relational Christian?  Do you want your will over God’s or God’s will over yours?  Are you willing to tell God ‘No, my desires over yours’?

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