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Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Danger of Labelling a Christian a "Legalist."

There is no doubt that Christian standards of holiness are lowering across the globe. We shouldn’t be surprised by this as the Bible tells us that there will be a progressive decline into worldliness. As individuals we can probably see that our “willingness to compromise” in some areas has grown stronger as we succumb to cultural influences and pressures over time. We eventually give in because we are fed up with standing alone on a particular issue or because we forget why we took a stand on that issue in the first place or because we wonder whether taking a stand is really that important. We become distracted and, like the Church at Ephesus, forget our “first love.”

But what will happen if Christians continue to “blend in” with those around them? When there is no visible difference between us and our non-believing neighbours, friends and colleagues, what happens to our message of HOPE in Jesus? It is nullified and becomes void and irrelevant. Unless our lives are visibly different, people will simply not be interested in hearing our message. How can we proclaim the life transforming power of God if our lives have not been transformed and if we are the same as our worldly counterparts?

I’m not speaking here of pretending to be people that we are not; pretending everything is fine when we are facing trials and struggles to create the illusion of happiness so that people won’t lose confidence in God. This is spiritual pride and a reason for a lot of loneliness in some churches where people feel they have to pretend they are okay as everyone else seems to be okay. So we all walk around telling each other we are okay when actually we are not. That is not Biblical Christianity. Being real and honest about our problems and showing vulnerability at difficult times shows humanity that makes our message more authentic to non-believers. It also helps them to trust and confide in us as they realise we can empathise with them when they are struggling. The point is that even in the midst of our trials we should be seeking to trust God as we know that He is faithful and will not leave or forsake us even when we fall into sin or other difficulties. Our hope is always in Him even when we face hardship or have a tough time understanding our circumstances. We believe that God is teaching us something through any and all troubles so they are not in vain. We are looking for the spiritual life lessons that we can learn.

Every day as Christians we make decisions that impact those around us, those who are still walking in darkness, whose spiritual eyes have not yet been opened to the truth of the Gospel. The reality is that these people are on a broad road to an eternity in hell. Do we really believe this? Do we have any care or concern for those people? Do we constantly remind ourselves “there but for the grace of God go I?” or do we sit in judgement over them and leave that conversation for another day?

Why are we allowing ourselves to compromise in areas that in the past would have been unthinkable? There is a danger that in trying to be more “relevant” and “progressive” we are wandering into sin and taking others with us. Have God’s standards of holiness changed? The obvious answer is “no” because God Himself does not change. Non-believers are closely watching us and our lifestyles to see whether our message is genuine. Subconsciously they are looking for an excuse to reject God and Christians who are not seeking to live holy lives can easily be used as that excuse. You may not even be aware that your conduct has resulted in a life-changing decision for another person, but God is aware as He cares for every soul. We are His representatives here on earth.

In a recent discussion a fellow believer commented that it would be good if we could have a “24 hour break” from being Christians. This person was struggling with the constant pressures of the Christian life; attempting to be different and to not conform to worldly standards. His comment will resonate with true believers as if we are striving for holiness in our Christian walk our lives will always be hard. The Christian life is a constant battle and “we are not wrestling against flesh and blood.” (Ephesians 6.) But the reality is that there is no break, certainly there are times of rest and reflection, but even during those we are still Christians and should still be seeking to trust and follow God.

Sometimes it seems that new believers have an advantage here as they see things with greater clarity than those who have become weary of the battle. Some relatively new Christians said to me recently that they didn’t understand why Christians were arguing about a certain topic in the Bible as God’s instructions on this topic were clear. Their faith has not yet been corrupted by worldliness so in their mind’s there was no debate, they accepted the Bible as the inspired and 100% accurate Word of God. How different would our churches be if we all did that? If we stopped listening to the enemy asking us “Did God really say?” to justify our sin, and returned to a simple belief in God’s Word.

Maybe as Christians we should examine our current standards and see whether we have lapsed into worldliness or conformed to our various cultural standards over time. What we eat, drink, listen to, watch, say, wear, read, write, think, and how and where we spend our time and who with, is important to God and does impact those around us often unintentionally. Sometimes not doing or saying something when we should is just as damaging and stops others being bold and speaking out.

We should then ask the question whether the changes in our behaviour/lifestyles are acceptable in light of God’s Word or whether we need to re-evaluate our standards.  This may involve swimming against the tide and standing alone for a time but this is what God calls us to do. Think of Paul, Daniel, Joseph and Job and the many other Scriptural examples of those who took a stand, or the more modern examples of the McArthur family in the Asher’s Bakery case and those individuals who have stood against Sunday trading. If more of us supported these individuals instead of hiding away or distancing ourselves then none of us would be forced to take the stand alone.

I will end with a word of caution as per my post title. Sadly it is often opposition from within our own ranks that does the most damage to a Christian seeking to live for God. How careful we must be before labelling a fellow believer as a “legalist.” Surely we should seek to encourage that believer and should not be doing something that might harm their conscience (Romans 14 vs 13-23.) In any case we should first make sure that whatever it is they are doing that has so offended us is not just our own sinful conscience seeking an excuse for our own sinful behaviour.

Let us pray that God will help us to humbly examine our behaviour in light of Scripture and seek ever increasing standards of holiness for His glory.