Deadly Church Legalism Becomes a River of Life

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The first two irreplaceable pillars of New Testament church meetings that we discussed last week—1.) Edification and Equipping, not Evangelism, and 2.) Participatory, not Observational—can very quickly become by-the-numbers legalism before we realize it is happening. Satan, the enemy of our souls, is a liar and master deceiver. He tricks us into trying to keep God’s law, like good little boys and girls, bringing spiritual death to individual church members or even to the church itself. 

It is pillar #3 that guarantees that will not happen. Nothing smashes our addiction to the delicious fruit of the Forbidden Tree like this addict-killer. It is: 

3. The church meeting provides a place for “walking in the light” with my brothers and sisters.

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9)

 “Walking in the light” means walking in transparency with my fellow church members, providing a forum for openly confessing personal sins of which I am aware, and having them pray for me, and then I do the same for them.  As James says, “Therefore, make it your habit to confess your sins to one another and to pray for one another, so that you may be healed…” (James 5:16 ISV). “Make it your habit” means that I naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously (NSU) find myself much more aware of my sin, and, NSU, eagerly and joyfully, ask my brothers and sisters to pray for me!

Some of us hard-working Pharisees are learning this brand of “do nothing” Christianity, but only slowly and painfully. On the other hand, those who are obviously and publicly  blatant sinners respond much more readily than do Pharisees to the love, affection and special attention of Jesus toward wicked but repentant sinners, like Mary Magdalene and Zacchaeus. .

For example, a good friend of mine happened to mention to a non-Christian work-associate (who was an ex-con struggling to successfully reenter society} that he met regularly with a group of Christian friends. In response to his associate’s question, “What do you do?” my friend answered, “We confess our sins and pray for one another.” His associate’s spontaneous reaction was, “Can I come too?”

It is sinners, who know they are sinners, who are walking by faith with the Holy Spirit living through them, who are attractive to non-Christians, but not so much to Pharisees like me. We are know-it-alls who have all the answers, with a considered opinion about everything, and see ourselves as having climbed the ladder of holiness higher than those poor sinners with whom we associate. We, like the Pharisees in Jesus day, are sure that being a down-and-dirty (anything more than theoretical) sinner couldn’t apply to me. 

As I have begun to understand this truth, I have hoped to find an awareness of failure and weakness in authors and speakers who were “walking in the light.” Sadly, they were in short supply. Most Christian leaders have not yet learned what Paul had learned toward the end of his life: “This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is this transparency, released in the church, that touches hearts and changes the world. 

However, “walking  in the light,” and “confessing my sins” as 1 John 1:7, 9 tells me to do are not buttons to push to be holy. If I put on the “grace” eye-glasses rather than our natural “good” or “evil” ones, everything changes.

For example, what if my optometrist tells me, “IF you can read the bottom line of the eye-chart, THEN your vision is 20/20?” Is reading the bottom line of the eye-chart the cause of my 20/20 vision, or is it the effect?  Obviously, it is only the effect—it is evidence of my already-excellent vision. 

In the same way, are walking in the light and confessing my sins the cause of my fellowship with other believers (v. 7) and my personal forgiveness by God (v. 9)? . No, they are just like reading the eye-chart’s bottom line; simply the naturally-occurring (NSU) evidence of God’s corporate presence and my personal forgiveness! Putting on the gospel glasses my Divine Optometrist provides me changes everything.

As the church constructs these three pillars to support it, there will be room for all kinds of furniture to fill the church, some biblically prescribed. When we are together, we are instructed to have the Lord’s Supper with our brother’s and sisters, and repeat the Lord’s prayer together. Many have found congregational recitations of various creeds and liturgies to be very helpful. With the three pillars in place, as a result of the church’s careful maintenance, there is room for a plethora of variations.  

It is this three-pillared church meeting that provides the conduit for the river of living water the Lord promised would flow from us to inundate the world: 1.) Edification and Equipping, not Evangelism, 2.) Participatory, not Observational, 3. Walking in the Light Together. The word is out! Jesus rules, through His church, right now, over all the earth, with love, joy and faith, Attack (by simply believing this)!

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  1. Patty Lueken says:

    Haven’t had time to stop and read many emails these days, but so glad for a day of being snowed in so I don’t have to run out the door and I had the time to soak in this wonderful reminder of the freedom we have in Christ to admit our shortfalls and ask the Holy Spirit to show us our part in a conflict, etc.

    Going to be printing this to put in my journal and sharing it with others! Thank you! Love you & Jill!!

  2. MexiBilly says:

    “Those who are well don’t need a physician…
    I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
    – JC, Matt 9

    Some of us come into church sick, sad, and sorry, get all churched up and are then astonished at the rapidity and severity of our relapses! We’re better off realizing that sin is a terminal disease requiring lifelong treatment with confession and repentance, and hearing the gospel.

    “I feel much better since I gave up hope.”

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