Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Curse of Soft Legalism

Well, a couple of days ago I listed about 16 characteristics of the lives of disciples of Jesus, as culled from chapters 14 to 16 of the Gospel of John. As I gathered that list together, trying to figure out what Jesus had in mind for the disciples after he was gone, I noticed that three of these characteristics stood out, and in fact all the others followed from these three. Those three, you may recall, were 1) believe in Jesus, 2) love Jesus, and 3) Abide (or remain) in Jesus.

So the list of 16 got whittled down to three, but here's the point I want to strongly make: this is not a spiritual to-do list, and I am not here to urge all Christians to believe, love, and abide with all their hearts and souls. Why not? Because it wouldn't do any good. Urging people to climb spiritual mountains is a decidedly unfruitful activity, did you ever notice that?
"C'mon, dude, you just gotta believe more. I mean, really believe! And you gotta love Jesus with everything you've got, man. Full-stop, whole hog, pedal to the metal, etc. And, dude, I don't think you're abiding enough. You really need to abide. Abide, man! It'll change your life!"
Nope. I'm not talking about that kind of thing. And if you read through John 14-16 again, you'll see that Jesus doesn't talk in any sort of importuning tone at all.

Now, I think a lot of modern Christians might be prone to ask, but isn't that what preaching is all about? I mean, doesn't the preacher just get up there and urge us onward toward and upward, toward more faith and more doing and more whole-heartedness? Toward everything we're supposed to be and do!

But wait a minute . . . let's think about fruit again. That's the metaphor Jesus used. You can water a tomato vine, and pull up the weeds around it, and take care of it in other ways, but importuning the tomato vine will not cause it to produce fruit. And I'll tell you something else: urging people to, say, love God more, or love God better, or love God more whole-heartedly . . . is only soft legalism (Jared Wilson calls it Optimistic Legalism) and it produces no more fruit than did the old hard legalism of the sin-obsessed Bible-thumpers. Soft legalism is the curse of the modern church.

So what then does it mean to believe, and love, and abide in Jesus? If these are not a to-do list, what are they? I'll try to get to that in my next post.

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