AS YOU ARE
There’s a reason why the battle between the Pharisees and Jesus features so largely in the gospels. This is an account of religions’ opposition to life. Legalism is an attitude towards God and a manifestation of religion. Legalism positions us in separation - with us on one side and God on the other and the list of must-do’s in the middle between us and God. Folks can pride themselves in not being legalistically tied to some behaviour. Yet they live a legalistic life because they live from culture of legalism. Legalism is a sub-category of knowledge of good and evil culture posing as the Kingdom Jesus began. It has us living in an old covenant performance- style life.
We should take Paul to be implying that we live from the law whether or not we hold to one law to all of them or to a performance orientation that contains us in the law of sin and death. The law of the spirit of life is a person not a list. This phenomenon is Jesus Christ manifesting as you
‘Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ Rom 8.2 NIV. Jesus moves us from legalism to life in the spirit of His person.
Michael Kepler, a lay person taught by the Spirit of Jesus writes, ‘Although the word legalism does not appear in Scripture, the concept is found extensively throughout. It can be viewed as a works-based religion built upon rules, regulations, or do’s and don'ts that are meant to lead to salvation or securing favour with God.
The results of legalism will lead to fear, accusation, disapproval of others, hypocrisy, a sense of worthlessness, despair, frustration, and guilt, just to name a few. [There are folks who live in anxiety towards Jesus who ‘hope they have done enough to gain admission to eternal life.’]
Legalism takes on many forms. As a young child eager to learn more about God, I picked up a discipleship book for new believers from the bookstore. It taught me I should share the gospel with at least three people each day, either verbally or by using what were called gospel tracts, in printed form. I was instructed to read ten chapters of the Bible every day without fail.’ Any teaching that promotes some addition to Christ is legalistic and as a result, ministers death in the name of life.
‘If someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here’ 1 John 4.3 NIV.
Paul rightly warns that the letter kills. He tells us that the letter kills at the same time that he tells us that we are in a new covenant relationship – union so close that Christ is our life. Here Paul is saying that behaviours and routines additional to Jesus will dull your soul and kill your spirit. Quite simply an adherence to laws or rules whether one or many suffocates the life-giving spirit of Jesus in us. Christ in you, Christ your life is the basis of new testament living. The fact that Jesus loves us as we are - not as we should be – is the ground of our confidence to rely on His life rather than our own performance. Jesus is our life in every way.
A ‘try harder attitude’ is not God’s idea. The fact is, that God comes and lives in you by His Spirit. And not because of you but because of Him. Being hidden and intertwined with Jesus makes you like Him. His Spirit pervades you, manifests as you. This is the mystery of Christ come in our flesh, the key aspect of the new covenant.
‘He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ 2 Cor 3.6 NIV.
Our life in God is not a state of achievement. It is our state of being in Christ.
We can choose Christ as our life or we can choose to be like Christ. The first is new covenant. The second is old covenant and a more sophisticated mode of law-keeping. The new covenant is entirely Christ in us. A pseudo-new covenant notion is, ‘Wow! I see how you loved me Lord on that cross. What’s not to like about that. Because of this I will love you so much that I will not do anything bad!’
Brave words. But it’s not the gospel and not Christ come in your flesh. It’s you come in your flesh. Despite your resolve, your protests of love you do not have the power to love Him that much or reform yourself. You will continue to make unfulfilled promises and persist in disappointing yourself. But when we agree to let Jesus love us as we are, our heart is encouraged and we press gladly into the reality of Jesus as our life. What counts is His performance, not yours. Your position in fellowship with God is forever. Just live in that!