Legalism is a MASSIVE Deterrent to EvangelismFriday, July 16, 2010
Do you know anybody who's got serious issues with legalism?
That would be those who are all about the rules...those who make up various ways to try to be holy and please God, but don't get those ways from the New Testament part of the Bible or from the Holy Spirit. They ache and churn within over what is a misplaced desire for holiness.
It's actually not a desire for holiness at all, but a desire to be righteous, to justify oneself as being godly, or to make oneself feel better with things that feel holy. So everything in life is boiled down into do's and don'ts that help them feel better. This is called reductionism.
People who struggle with legalism will admit to a passion for holiness, but the way it works out doesn't look to God like holiness. He's already provided holiness in His Son, Jesus Christ. I'll never be holy in and of myself...no matter how hard I try. But Jesus was. And He's my substitute. His holiness was given to me. Now I'm as holy as He is. And my task in life is to live in what He's declared about me...and not to try to keep earning it or maintaining it.
One of the problems that legalists have in their efforts in holiness is that they don't have many friends outside their group. They gather, you see. Legalism is always looking for friendship. It has to! It's not secure in its friendship with God. So it needs others around who look, smell, feel, see, and hear what they do. This is called exclusivism.
A result of reductionism and exclusivism is that anyone who's not in your group cannot be your friend. You cannot allow them to influence you. Think about it. Do you know anybody who's a legalist who has real friends? Do you know any legalists who have lost or unsaved friends? This makes legalism a deterrent for evangelism. Legalism is Jesus-repellant. Here's how it works.
1. Legalism deters Christians from evangelizing the lost. That's because for legalism the fight is within (instead of without, as the Ephesians 6:10 ff. teaches), the efforts are focused on maintaining holiness. This is rightly defined by Bible as keeping oneself free from the influences of the world.
This is mistakenly applied by legalists as building a barbed wire fence around oneself made of rules, standards, principles, do's and don'ts so that the evil, ugly, sinful, perverted world will not touch me.
It's a very superstitious view of the world, to be honest. Inherent is the idea that talking to an unsaved person or having a meal with them can somehow defile you.
As a result, legalistic Christians don't want to talk to lost people because...well...they're lost! And lost people are ungodly. And ungodly people will influence you to do ungodly things. And we don't do ungodly things. So stay away from lost people. And real evangelism is dead.
Sure there are evangelistic campaigns, some decent, and some downright perverted. My experiences have ranged from a "pack the pew Sunday" evangelism push (which simply tries to get the lost into the doors of a building so that the legalists don't have to go out and get defiled by interacting with lost people)...to the stunts the local independent fundies pull here in town where I live.
They show up at Wal-mart from time to time sporting buns, ankle-length denim skirts, zero make up and, of course, picket signs that tell people they are going to hell. For shopping at Wal-mart? Okay, maybe they've got a point there. But that's not their ultimate point!
Shouting, screaming, and yelling at by-passers and customers, this method is somehow supposed to make lost people want to come to Jesus and repent of their sins? This brings me to the second deterrent legalism has to evangelism.
2. Deters lost people from hanging out with Christians. When lost people see Christians misbehaving like this, they want to run as far away as they can from Jesus. Why do you think the people in Jesus' day flocked to Him...away from the religious leaders of the day? Because He LOVED them. He really, actually, genuinely loved them.
But legalism doesn't love people. It loves principles. It loves practices. It loves itself. And lost people can tell it...they can also smell it...miles a way...which is why many of them don't come to our Sunday morning meetings. Which is why WE must go out and get them...just like Jesus said in one of His parables.
"Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame... Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full" (Luke 14:21, 23, NLT).
Legalism will never go out into the highways and byways. It will stay intently focused on maintaining its holiness. And lost people will intently stay away from Christians. It's a MASSIVE deterrent to evangelism.
So ditch it as fast as you can! Run to the scandalous grace of Jesus Christ so that He might fill you with His unfailing, everlasting, real love for you...and so that you'll be an ambassador for Him, making friends with sinners, just like Jesus did, in order to seek and save the lost. Grace is the place...not legalism.