Standards and Legalism
It is not hard to find the Bible repeatedly warning us about “self-deception”; And our flesh is so deceitful and desperately wicked, that we can and are often self-deceived, even when we are “trying to do right”. It happens all the time. Our only hope for deliverance from self-deception is Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
One of the chief ways that this happens within the IFB is around “standards”. I once asked a missionary to define “legalism” for me. His response was, “A legalist is someone who has more standards than I do.” His answer demonstrates just how dangerous standards can be.
Some may not know the kinds of DANGERS I am talking about. Here is a big one: “When a Christian starts lifting up standards to guide his behavior, he stops listening to the Holy Spirit.”
The Lord wants us to be “led by the Spirit”, every waking moment of the day. When we start following standards (our own or someone else's), we allow those standards, to overrule the Spirit’s leadership.
All standards are man-made, because they are all based upon our present interpretation of what the Bible says. This is true, unless you want to call those things that we are dogmatic about standards. The infallibility of God’s Word should not be called a standard because man’s opinion has NOTHING to do with it.
For all these years, my understanding of “God’s instructions to me” has come in the form of Bible Doctrine. When I discovered Mark 7:7 “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.” and clearly saw the DANGER of man-made-doctrines, I became even more set in the plan of only allowing God’s Word to guide me.
The Bible is clear that the Law and the Commandments are good, holy, and just (Rom 7:12). But the purpose of the law is not to make one righteous. The law cannot bring life; only death. The law shows you where you fail. Galatians 3 clearly shows that the law is not of faith and the things we should be doing are by faith not by the law. If you want to go under the Law, you are bound to it in its entirety. You can't select which parts of the law you will apply and which parts you will ignore. You are bound to all the law. If you think you can live up to it, good luck, I know I can't.
Being under grace does not mean you are free to do anything you want. I Corinthians 6:19-20 clearly say we were bought with a price, and I belong to God so I am to glorify Him in my body and spirit. I owe absolutely everything to Christ. Romans 12:1-2 says I am to be a living sacrifice because it is my reasonable service. The entire chapter of Romans 6 talks about sinning willing after we have received grace and how ridiculous it is. But nowhere in any of that does it say you now need to keep the law or have certain man-made standards to stay right with God.
In John 14:15 Jesus said, "if ye love me, keep my commandments." Jesus explained exactly what those commandments are in Matthew 22:36-40 (Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor (everyone) as yourself). If you can love God with everything in you and love every person you encounter as yourself you will have done what Jesus asked you to do. That is something a lost person cannot do. They cannot love God. I can get a lost person to wear a suit and tie to church, I can get a lost person to go soulwinning, but a lost person will never love God. A lost person will not understand the Scriptures. And a lost person cannot be led by the Holy Spirit or discern the Voice of God. They can most certainly do all those other "standards" that we hold ourselves to.
This may be a poor example, but I am going to use it anyway. The Bible talks a lot about vessels. So, for arguments sake let's say before I got saved I was a clay cup. When God saved me, he made me a golden chalice. He changed the very being of who I am and put Himself in me to make me something completely different. When that happened, it could never be improved upon. The only thing I can do now is make the cup dirty or try to improve it myself. I can sin and fill the cup with sewer water and muddy the outside but only God can clean it and make it what it is supposed to be again. I can try to improve upon it by putting bedazzled jewels on it or coloring a pretty picture on it but all I can do is make it look cheap and gaudy. God made it perfect, and He can continue to cleanse it and purify it. When He saved me, He made me holy.
So how do we be that city on the hill and the light of the world?
Share Christ with everyone. Share the joy of our salvation with everyone. Show the world that we are not a set of rules to be followed but a journey of healing and grace.