A friend commented on my post about drinking, “Why do Christians need to stray off the road into legalism…or licentiousness for that matter? They need to be more level headed….like us!” Haha
Yes, yes, yes! While my post was specifically inspired by a conversation about drinking, the point of my post was really to vent my frustration with legalism.
I remember my pastor explaining “fence laws” in a sermon once. These are laws that rabbis put around the Jewish law (Torah). I had to look it up online so I could explain it properly. The website, www.becomingjewish.org, explains fence laws as follows; “The gezeirah are laws instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidentally transgressing a Torah mitzvah. These laws are generally referred to as putting up a fence around the Torah. An example of such a “fence” is the prohibition of handling a writing instrument on Shabbat so one would not accidentally violate the mitzvah to rest on Shabbat.”
So the rabbis essentially put up fence after fence around each individual law to make it almost impossible to break the law. The problem is that those fence laws were treated as if they were God’s law when they weren’t. It’s one reason the Pharisees hated Jesus. He didn’t follow their fence laws.
It seems to me that the legalism that can creep into modern-day churches is just like the Jewish fence laws. While the intention may have been good the end result just wraps people up into bondage. Jesus came to set us free. We should want to obey his commands because we love him, not because we are trying to win any man’s approval or check a bunch of things off a check-list. When we have to obey tons of laws, we feel defeated and smothered. Most people will eventually bolt when they’ve been suffocated by strict and controlling leadership.
Think of it with parenting. I have rules for my kids but as they get older I give them a good bit of freedom. If they show me that they can’t be trusted, I’ll pull back on the freedoms because they are still my kids and while they are under my roof, I have a responsibility to raise them right. But I’ve seen so many people “rule” their kids right out the door. They think they are doing the right thing by setting up fence laws for their kids. They truly do have good intentions but I think they are motivated by fear and don’t even realize it. They think they’re being good parents but if they are too strict, most of the time the kids will bolt as soon as they get the chance. Even if they don’t physically leave at 18, they leave emotionally. They do things in secret that they know their parents would never approve of. It’s their way of fighting back after years of obeying extremely strict rules. Sadly, these kids often view God as a strict task-master and they check out on him too.
I am so thankful that I go to a church that does not set up fence laws. (I go to an awesome church, actually! Check out The Chapel here.) But I write about this because I know that lot of people have walked away from God because at some point they went to a church or lived in a family that was controlling and full of fence laws. People get a wrong image of God when they view him through the lens of legalism. And that bothers me.
Love God. Love others. It’s that simple. Christianity shouldn’t be a long list of dos and don’ts. I’m not saying it’s easy but I do think it’s simple and too many churches make it way too complicated. I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t love God or others as much as I should. But I don’t walk around feeling guilty about it. I just keep asking God to give me more love.
He’s not done with me yet but he’s also not mad at me for not always getting it right. He loves me anyway. Nothing can separate me from his love. Romans 8:38 & 39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” How comforting that is!
I hope it comforts you, too!
UPDATE: I posted this super early on Sunday morning and was so excited when Pastor Jerry’s sermon was all about freedom vs. legalism. He said everything I wanted to say but in a much more educated and intelligent way. To watch his excellent message, click here.