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Just Check the Box

A couple of years ago my son, Matthew, asked me why I use to be so legalistic. My first reaction was to justify and emphatically convince him that I was not legalistic. Point made. There are a lot of reasons for leaning toward legalism such as your personality and/or your environment. In my case it was both. It is very easy to have a checklist of what makes you think you are spiritual and others unspiritual. We must, however, fight the temptation to add our specifics where the Bible is very unspecific. Unfortunately, I had drawn lines in the sand where God has not.

We do this in many areas of our lives such as dress, music, and others. Matthew likes to remind me of the time he asked me if he could listen to Phillips, Craig, and Dean and I told him we were not going to listen to rock music. Oh, by the way, I really enjoy them now and a couple of their songs are among my favorites. There are some who will see this as compromise and I have even wondered about that myself at times. When I asked one friend if we were compromising he wisely, I think, said, “Nope, we are growing up and maturing.”

J.D. Greear has written, “You’ve been waiting for the bottom line. Fallen human nature loves laws, because we love self-justification. But laws keep us from dealing with the real issue—the heart. The law is easier to preach too—. Laws preach nicely. But the gospel writers resist the temptation to reduce Christianity to laws. They focus on the hearts.” If we are not careful we can be like the Pharisees found in Matthew 23 who appeared beautiful on the outside but Jesus said that on the inside they were full of every impurity.

Legalism has been defined many different ways but here I am referring to it as a preoccupation with the obeying of rules and regulations. The tricky part is that my list might be completely different than yours. For example, there are cultures where if you smoke there is no way in their minds that you are born again. If we are not careful we become very judgmental and place all of the emphasis on obeying rules instead of a daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, there are commands we are to obey and we must never minimize what God is specific about.

Alistair Begg says it well, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” So often we get caught up on the things that are not plain in God’s word and we hold other Christians to our standards instead of God’s. My music, my clothes, or how many times I am in church each week makes me far more spiritual than you. Romans 14:1, “Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. Paul lists different preferences and then in verse 13 emphasizes that we should not criticize one another.

First, we must be honest about our nature.

We must never forget the total depravity of man. We are shaped from birth with the sin curse that causes us to naturally lean away from God and lean into sin. The power of the flesh in our life is real and if we are not walking in the power of the Spirit daily we will lean away from God’s best. This can cause us as Christians and churches to become hyper critical of anyone and everyone who does not have the same checklist that we have.

Second, we must not allow our freedom in Christ to be reduced to a set of manmade rules.

Then our faith becomes a religion of human achievement and we want others to notice how spiritual we are by how much we give, how much we fast and the rest of our checklist. Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are shadows of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” The reality is that many settle for the cheap substitutes instead of Christ.

Third, remember that Jesus said the world would know us by the love we have for one another.

This has been referred to as the final apologetic. “The word apologetic comes from the Greek word apologia. The original idea was that it was a defense or an answer given in response to a charge…So in Christian apologetics, we’re making a case as to why what we believe is true and accurate and logical.” The world will know that what we have in Christ is real and true when the love of Christ for one another is evident.

Fourth, be careful about how you use social media.

It is sad to see many Christians seemingly airing their dirty laundry or pet peeves in a way that a lost world must be shaking their head saying, “And they are suppose to be all about loving one another?” Social media is a wonderful tool that enables us to share the good news and encourage one another to love and good deeds. The temptation seems to provide a venue where you can hide behind a keyboard and say things you probably would not say to that person if they were present.

Fifth, lets build churches that are gracious, longsuffering, and kind.

Nowhere did I mention being weak.  I love this quote a pastor tweeted recently, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.” Am I more focused on my checklist than I am on knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection? Am I more disturbed by some things Christians are not doing on my checklist than people who are lost and far from God and headed to hell? Is my life characterized by love and encouragement for my church and the body of believers?

Developing Spiritual Muscles

Quite often church “experts” seem to imply that particular methods will produce certain “guaranteed” results. They offer proven and tested methods that will produce growth in your church just like it did in their church. First of all, we should be ready to listen and learn from others when we can. Teachability trumps gifting every time.   If you have to choose, make sure you take the less gifted over the expert who knows everything because they will accomplish more in the long run.

We sometimes focus so hard on the machinery (the blueprint or the game plan) that we forget we need to have the muscles (the strength and power) to accomplish our task.   Systems, flow charts, and organizational structures are important. They provide a track to run on and clear next steps for those desiring to move forward. We can become almost enamored with the charts, nut and bolts, and the details so that we forget about the need for His power and presence.

As a church there are some things we must focus on so we do not lose sight of where we are headed and how we can get there. For example, Christians know that they need to have a daily quiet time with the Lord. Then they must develop a system that determines the how, where, when, and what that will look like. Answering those questions will help make their goal of a consistent daily quiet time a reality in their lives. Yes, if you fail to plan you are planning to fail!

I heard Rick Warren speak on the following “Renewals.”

First, focus on Spiritual Renewal. This is how you are staying centered on God and as a church leaning into His presence. We develop habits (prayer and Bible study) that cause us to love God more. This renewal teaches us who He is and who we are. As a church what structure have you developed to help your people to stay centered on who God is? The muscle behind this process is the Holy Spirit. Being Spirit-filled is indispensable (absolutely necessary) to spiritual renewal.

Second, focus on Relational Renewal! This is how you stay connected to one another and learn how to love people more. As spiritual maturity begins to occur we need to connect people to God, one another, and then to a purpose. It moves a person from being self-centered to being God-centered and others-centered. Spiritual gifts enable us to serve God well. Leaders equip us for service and then when members have willing hearts they begin to exercise their gifts.

The problem is when we are more focused on serving ourselves than we are on serving others. It is easy to focus on how wonderful our gift is and want people to notice our giftedness. The key to the proper equipping and exercise of our gifts is to remember that they are given to serve others. If you want people to notice your gift then realize that what you are really saying is, “Look at me!”

Third, focus on Missional Renewal! This ensures that we remain compassionate for our cities, communities, and neighborhoods. We not only want to love people more but we also have a burden and desire to love “more” people. Once we connect members to their purpose (everyone needs a role and responsibility) we focus on equipping them for ministry. It simply involves showing the need, how they can meet the need, and giving them the opportunity to meet that need.

The machinery of processes and structures is important but the muscle (the heavy lifting) occurs by being spirit-filled. In the book of Acts we would have to be blind not to see that this is required of all leaders. The Lord has never delegated His authority to anyone who is not filled with the Spirit. When the church in Jerusalem was faced with what to do with Gentile believers, stated, “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours— to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things.”

We must remain sensitive to His direction and leadership. Acts 10:38 says that Jesus was “Anointed…with the Holy Spirit and with power.” In Acts 4:8 it says that Peter “was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them.” Once again, notice the order! First he was filled with the Spirit and then he spoke. There is wisdom in us following that process. You could add to this list the 120 in Acts 2, deacons in Acts 6, Stephen in Acts 7, Barnabas in Acts 11, and Paul in Acts 13.

Being spirit-filled is required. Where do you start?

First, begin with God’s word! This is our foundation and the Holy Spirit will never lead us to disobey His word. Many people are looking for a vision when they need to be looking for a verse in His word. When we place ourselves under the authority of God’s word it does the heavy lifting for us because it decides for us what we will do and what we will not do as we live by its principles.

Second, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance! His fullness gives us joy, vitality, and energy in our service to Him. He does the heavy lifting and it is our task to remain yielded to Him. If we refuse to remain surrendered to His leadership then we will be left to our own plans and policies. Then we will have to run the machinery in our own power. Before long we will begin to go through the religious motions without His help or assistance. The result will be an unspiritual body.

Third, listen to God’s people! We need one another and there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. Godly and spiritual people in our lives serve as our filters in making sure we are in agreement with God’s word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The machinery is necessary and important but we need the muscles that can only be found through the power of His word and the Holy Spirit!