Tag Archives: legalism

A parable about you, Jesus, and some other friends* (A summary of Romans 1-3)

drowning-manA friend who’s a new follower of Jesus asked me to give him some input on how to read Romans. I shared this simple parable on how to outline the first three chapters. Thought I’d share it here.

You and four friends won tickets for a trip to Hawaii on an ocean liner. On the second day of the trip a guy offers to take your picture. The five of you pose near the edge of the port side of the top deck. He instructs you to back up, “Just a little farther back. A little farther. Just a little more,” he says. What you didn’t know was that he removed the rail behind you and all four of you fall overboard into the freezing Pacific while the ship cruises on its way. Continue reading


How To Know If You’re A Legalist (Three tests and a test case) Part 4 of 4

Some other observations about legalistic types from the story of the Prodigal’s big brother:

They tend to miss the party: “He refused to go in …” (Luke 15:28) Lots of legalist-leaning Christians are like that. They may be, in one sense, “holy,” but it’s never a happy holiness. They’re too busy keeping their halo on straight to go in and dance with joyous abandon in the father’s living room. Apparently they don’t know that God is more interested in getting us to know him than with getting stuff done on his farm! He doesn’t give birth to kids in order to get lots of work done in his fields. He brings us into the world so he can befriend us, teach us stuff, and include us in his daring mission.

They’re not very good company: “The older brother became angry…” (Luke 15:28) C.S. Lewis said, “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.” At the very least legalistic people can be some of the least pleasant people on the planet. Always comparing, measuring, bragging – they don’t make very good company. Continue reading

How To Know If You’re A Legalist (Three tests and a test case) Part 3 of 4

Now that we’ve looked at the three tests to identify legalism: rules, reasons, and resources, I propose a New Testament test case.

A test case of a legalist – The son who missed the party (Luke 15:11-32

We’ve all heard the prodigal son parable. The youngest son couldn’t wait for his dad to die, so he demanded an early payment on his inheritance and left home in a huff. He wasted it all in bohemian behaviors and when he got hungry enough he made his way home and plead for a job and a place to stay on the family farm. His dad was so stoked to see him coming around the bend he slobbered kisses on him, showered him with welcome home gifts, and threw a party. The other son, who, being the eldest, you’d would’ve thought he would have been better than this, instead of being glad to see his little brother, stubbornly refused to attend the party. He hated that his law-breaking brother was welcomed back in the family, no questions asked. “I’ve slaved like a dog for you,” he said to his father. “I’ve always kept all your rules and your stupid son is the one who gets the coming home party!” Continue reading

How To Know If You’re A Legalist (Three tests and a test case) Part 2 of 4

In part 1 I said there are three factors to consider in measuring our legalistic tendencies: rules, reasons, and resources. We covered the rules factor and now we’re on to the other two factors…

The reasons…

The second factor in diagnosing the legalistic disease has to do with our reasons for obedience to certain laws. Why do we act one way and not another? What’s our ultimate motive for adhering to God’s rules? Because legalism is more of an attitude than an act, motive is at the core of it. If you’re legalistic, it’s possible you’re doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

There are at least two good reasons to follow God’s laws. First, we should be inspired to live obediently to God out of an inward attitude of gratitude to him for his goodness. We should want to serve him because we love him and want to please the one we love. Our second motivation to follow God’s laws should be that we love people and want their best. When we live for God it always benefits others around us. It therefore boils down to two things: The glory of God and the good of people. Any other stimuli are suspect of having a legalistic core. Continue reading

How To Know If You’re A Legalist (Three tests and a test case) Part 1 of 4

Three tests for legalism – Rules, Reasons, and Resources

You won’t be able to find the term, “Legalism” in the Bible, but just about every New Testament author, and some Old Testament ones, address it as a concept. I don’t think there’s ever been a Christian who, to some degree, hasn’t fallen prey to its lure. In fact, if you don’t think you have, you’re most likely under its hypnotic spell right now.

Few people are so thoroughly law-leaning that you would be inclined to label them a “Legalist.” Most followers of Jesus are made of a mixture of performance-based and grace-based faith. So, while you may not deserve to be branded a full-scale legalist it’s possible that you will discover that you display a legalistic trait or two.

Jesus was born into a religious culture filthy with legalistic types. After he left, within a few years of the fledgling Church’s birth, those with the gene had found their way into every Christian church and most of the Apostles preached and wrote to correct the legalistic disease. Beyond that, the history of the Church has been plagued with legalistic movements. Much of what we know of the Church in the Middle Ages (1,000 years worth!) was predominantly legalistic. The Reformation didn’t stamp it out for good and it prevails until today. The Pharisees are the same yesterday and today and forever! Continue reading

Outer Circle Christians (Part 4 of 6)

[I hope you’ll take a look at the 1st three posts or if you’d prefer to view the entire essay you can find it on barneywiget.com.]

The Father loves outer circle sinners and wants his inner circle sons to love them too (Luke 15:11-32)

The most familiar of the three stories is what we typically call the Prodigal Son Parable. Of all Jesus’ parables, this one probably contains the largest cache of spiritual themes and lessons. Each character is significant. There’s the defiant Outer Circle Son who rebelled and later repented. There’s the Pharisaical Inner Circle Son who detested his father’s fawning over his Outer Circle poor excuse for a brother. And then there’s the father who loves his sons fervidly and equally – both the Inner and Outer Circle one. Both sons broke their father’s heart. One left home, while the other one was never really “at home” to begin with. He was as lost as his younger brother, albeit lost while at home. The younger was lost in his rebellion with an empty stomach and the other was lost in his religion with an empty heart. Both needed to come home! Continue reading

what jesus said at dinner

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14:1-14

There are two dinners in this passage – one’s real and the other’s part of a parable. I never thought about it before, but Jesus wasn’t particularly diplomatic at this dinner as a guest. He sets out to offend pretty much everyone (except the guy he healed). He offends the Pharisees and experts in the law (that term “experts” always makes me laugh in reference to anything spiritual) when he heals the guy on the wrong day of the week. Then, in his parable he scolds the other guests when he indicts them about their pride in taking the best seats. And finally, in his worst social faux pas for the evening he lectures the host by suggesting that he invite another brand of people to his dinner parties! Jesus was definitely not on his best behavior that night!   Continue reading