“Letter of the Law”…What’s With That?


I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the phrase, “Letter of the Law.”  Being a pastor, I regularly meet Christ followers who were raised under what I refer to as “law based preaching.”  By definition, I mean preaching that highlights the necessity of religious performance and “doing” over “BEING.”  In other words, preaching that emphasizes man’s role in his salvation and de-emphasizes God’s role.  In my mind, such preaching comes up short, and renders the cross of Christ null and void.    We all seem to struggle with a balanced perspective of genuine Christian living.   
 Individuals who grow up under such preaching tend to be easily identifiable:
1.     Most exhibit anger unaware.  Under legalism, by virtue of its approach, people come up short of God’s righteous demands.  They’re never good enough.  The Old Testament Law, if nothing else, proved than mankind was no match for sin.  Then, add guilt and shame and the end result is frustration, which leads to anger.  Such preaching literally provokes people to anger.  The Scriptures caution fathers not to provoke their children to wrath (anger) by placing unreasonable demands upon them, and by not loving them unconditionally.  The same thing happens when people grow up under a harsh list of “do’s and don’ts,” whereby constantly coming up short of given expectations.  The end result is anger.  I believe it can even turn to misdirected anger toward the Lord Himself; but no one is going to admit that he is mad at Jesus.  Instead, such anger is directed toward the church, its leaders or life in general.  Even those outside the realm of Christian endeavor tend to be law-based in their daily lives – strict and harsh and unrelenting in their approach to people.  It’s a mixed bag, for sure!
2.     Legalistic teaching can produce self-righteous believers.  To escape their real feelings and shortcomings when it comes to effectively serving Christ, some embrace a “super-spiritual” approach to serving Christ.  They assume a type of righteousness that refuses to acknowledge any type of personal spiritual shortcoming.  Instead, they over-compensate and assume a “better than thou” posture and become gatekeepers of the church and usually set themselves up as judges and critics in the House of God.   No one likes a control freak!
3.     Another manifestation of legalism creates a sense of unworthiness in the hearts of people.  This ties in closely to the anger aspect previously discussed.  They never seem to measure up, so they grow weary of falling short, and in frustration give up and depart – some never to return.   I’m convinced, however, that many remain tender toward the Lord, but stay away from spiritual life and local faith communities, believing they cannot be good enough for God to accept.  And they secretly see others as hypocrites who decide to stay the course of law-based living..  It’s a vicious cycle that is repeated; and statistics prove my theory:  Most American churches experience a high dropout rate between the ages of 18-30.  I believe that a sense of unworthiness accommodates their decision. 
       Many have expressed to me their disdain toward church stems primarily from the idea that God is punitive in His approach to humankind, not grace-filled.  One man said, “If I’m going to hell anyway, I might as well have fun doing it.”  HOW SAD!
4.     Legalistic preaching distorts God’s message of grace through Christ (“The law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”)  In so doing, it warps the minds of men to reject grace teachings.  Law-driven people may or may not realize deep within that their belief system holds them captive, but because of deep-seated convictions, although false and unsatisfying, have created a comfort zone and set up an impenetrable defense in their hearts to embrace revealed truth.  Their minds, in this respect, become like steel traps that call bondage, “good,” and liberty “suspect.”  Again, HOW SAD!
Can I be honest?  Legalism not only distorts gospel truth; it captivates both individuals and churches.  It binds them to anger, self-righteousness, and low self-esteem.  It robs them of their gracious and glorious inheritance in Christ.  Sadly, many know nothing but law-based living and literally call its strangling hold THE TRUTH.  May they be willing to open their hearts to the true message of the cross, and then “stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ sets them free.”
Frankly, legalistic people steal the joy away from serving Christ.  They make most everything more difficult than it should be.  Their incessant rules put people on edge and drive them away.  The law of sin and death thrives in an atmosphere where rules are elevated above privilege, honor and affirmation.
At age 62, I find myself coming into a new awareness of God’s grace and I want nothing more than to shed my thinking of anything that steals away the beauty of being “in Christ!”

I hope this blog has challenged you to shed your life of any teaching that holds you captive to partial truth.   When it comes to law versus grace, partial truth is a joy stealer!



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