“This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Throughout my journey, I have discovered the Pharisees of my time. I guess I always thought that the Pharisees were men who existed only back in the time of the Bible but I am learning that they walk the earth even today.
Pharisees are those who know all about rules and regulations. They believe that faith is a job. They believe that how you act and what you wear are sure signs of your spiritual maturity. They focus on technique.
A Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus approaches Jesusi n the dark of night because he cannot be seen with Jesus. Nicodemus is curious about the ways of this simple carpenter. He recognizes something within Jesus, a passion that he once knew but has lost. I find the fact that Nicodemus goes to Jesus in the dark of night fitting because I am learning that legalism, the way of the Pharisees, offers no true light.
There are those who believe that grace is a job. It is about works and it has to be earned. Jesus tells us that grace is a gift from the Father. You believe one of two things about salvation: that it is based on the work you perform, meaning our salvation becomes our responsibility; or you accept it as a gift from God. Do you know what that means if you believe that salvation comes from works? It is saying that Christ was beaten and crucified for nothing. That He was tortured and cursed for no reason. It is such dark thinking, but legalism is a dark world.
Those Pharisees of today know how to talk a good talk and walk a great walk. From the outside, they sparkle and shine, but something on the inside is missing. They lack the joy of the Lord because they live in fear. It is the fear that they will never be able to do enough and will continue to make mistakes.
Legalism can be compared to a slow torture. If you have never known the strike of legalism, be incredibly thankful that you have been spared. Legalism will crush your dreams and smother your spirit. It is just enough religion to keep you hungry but lacks real nourishment, leaving you to starve. You don’t starve alone though. Your pastors do not know where to find the food that you crave either, and so together, you all starve. Your diet consists of rules that are bland and lack the vitamins needed to survive. You are then left feeling that if you want to be a part of “this fellowship,” you had better follow their rules.
That is the darkness of legalism. It is rigid and lonely. It doesn’t need God. There is no room for forgiveness. It is a search for only those that are innocent. You are constantly left defending and explaining yourself. Legalists are fixated on themselves and not God.
I found this description of Legalism:
It makes my opinion, your burden. There is only room for one opinion, which makes me wrong.
My opinion opposes yours, which makes you question not only my right to have fellowship with you, but you question my salvation as well.
That Christians must toe the company line. We are not to think but instead to follow.
Legalism places the fear of man within us and we become people pleasers. I became a people pleaser. Always worried what others were thinking. Trying to follow all of the rules in order to be accepted. Scared to death to speak my mind or share my opinion for fear of rejection. Though I was uncomfortable, I stayed because it felt safe. Though things did not always feel right, I knew better than to question those in leadership and chose to stay in step and march down the path of least resistance until God changed me.
To be honest, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I shared my heart, which questioned a leader and whether his actions were Christ-like, and was told that I no longer had the right to fellowship within the walls of the church. My salvation was questioned as well. That is legalism but I did not recognize it at first. I truly believed what they were saying about me. In addition, it wasn’t just the leaders saying these things. There were friends and family that made me feel the same way.
Slowly God has been peeling away the film that has covered my eyes for so many years. I began to see people, (friends, family, church people) in a completely new light. Those who judge, condemn, and have critical spirits are not spiritual. They are legalistic. Jesus reveals to us “our human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit” (John 3:6). Our parents, our families, pass down our beliefs and traditions but it is up to us to choose what we will believe. Our spiritual life is not an endeavor we work for or an inheritance but instead it is rooted in the Holy Spirit. Our achievements are created by God.
Spirituality does not come because we attend church three times a week or do good deeds for others. Salvation is God’s to give. Grace was His idea and His sacrifice (His Son). He offers it to those that He chooses and when He chooses. Our job then becomes to share with others. NOT to screen people.
“The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit” (John 3:8). The wind does not seek after our help in doing its work. It is silent and invisible just like the Holy Spirit. Religious leaders like to control and manage. Structure is a friend to the pastor but that doesn’t mean that it is always the practice of God.
Grace is God’s gift and legalistic thinking removes His gift. God gives us salvation out of love. He loves us so much that He gave up His One and Only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not be lost but have eternal life (John 3:16). There is no system, no rules or ritual. It is about a relationship with the creator of the universe. It is about a generous God who offers eternal life, not by what we achieve, succeed in, or agree with but instead, by what we believe.