Careful or Legalistic?

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23

We are caught in a very wide spectrum of Christianity. In Protestantism, we are even divided into different denominations.

When I was in College, there was a conversation that I will never forget. It opened my eyes into every differences we have. It was a conversation between a Baptist and a person from another ‘denomination’. The Baptist one asked the other person what are the doctrines of their church, and the person from another sect answered back that he doesn’t know. He believes doctrine doesn’t matter because we are not under law anymore.

For some professing Christians, they accuse those who worship with hymns or too doctrinal and biblical in their approach of being too ‘legalistic’ or people who are still under law. For them, formality in worship or a formal ‘statement of faith’ reveal a church that is not equipped by grace but by law. They sometimes call others as ‘dead’ and ‘too stiff’ just like the pharisees because of their formality.

But do doctrines really matter? Do we have to assume that those churches who clearly state their doctrines to be ‘legalistic’?

THE TRUTH

Doctrine Matters. Our divisions clearly show that it matters. The But how Biblical and sound these doctrines matter the most. It’s not about formality but being sound. It’s not about legalism but differentiating the wheat from tares.

Scripture plainly teaches that we must be sound in the faith—which is to say that doctrine does matter (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:2-3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). It matters a lot. 

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4).

Sound, biblical doctrine is a necessary aspect of true wisdom and authentic faith. The attitude that scorns doctrine while elevating feelings or blind trust cannot legitimately be called faith at all, even if it masquerades as Christianity. It is actually an irrational form of unbelief.

God holds us accountable for what we believe as well as how we think about the truth He has revealed. All Scripture testifies to the fact that God wants us to know and understand the truth. He wants us to be wise. His will is that we use our minds. We are supposed to think, meditate, and above all, to be discerning.

The content of our faith is crucial. Sincerity is not sufficient.

(c) Grace To You; Does Doctrine Really Matter?

Clarity of the Scripture helps a believer know his stand. Without dwelling more into the teachings of our Bible, we will tend to believe everything that comes our way just because they look and sound good. Discernment is important for every Christian. We must not live around our feelings alone because our fallen flesh is our enemy. Without discernment or godly convictions, we are more inclined to believe that every teaching is true. But in reality, it is not.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:2-5

Without knowing our Bible and delighting unto our God, we can easily be trapped in wrong teachings. That person who said that ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter’ is in danger in believing anything that comes his way. He will not be able to discern if the teachings in his church are true or not.

HOLINESS VS. LEGALISM

So how do we differentiate being careful from being legalistic?

We know legalism is being inclined to moral laws rather than practicing a certain religious faith. In legalism, your source of motivation is to ‘look right’, but deep inside, the person can still be unregenerated and rebel against God.

A Christian who is just careful of his actions do things with discretion because he loves and fears the Lord. His source of motivation is to glorify God and not himself.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16

Just because a person chose to be careful when it comes in dealing with the opposite sex, it doesn’t mean right away that he is legalistic. 

Just because a group of people are clear with their theology, it doesn’t mean they’re legalistic.

Just because a woman chose to dress modestly, it doesn’t mean right away that she is legalistic.

Some believers are too reckless in using the word ‘legalistic’ just for the sake of emphasizing that these people are still under law and not under grace. But remember what Paul said in Romans 6:1-7:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  for he who has died is freed from sin.

Grace doesn’t state that we should keep on sinning. We must be sanctified since we’ve already been justified through Jesus Christ.

TEST YOURSELF

Be careful when you accuse another believer of being legalistic because it may show the state of your heart more than the state of the heart of the one you accused. Ask yourself why does your spirit retaliates on such teaching? Why do you not delight in living holy for Christ? Why are you still not dead to sin?

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test? – 2 Corinthians 13:5

What I’ve observed is that, most of those people who loathe the ones who just want to glorify God in their lives are people who do not spend much of their time in studying the Word of God. For me, the main source of confusion among each and every believer is the fact that some believers love the idea of having a Savior but do not delight in the truth that they need to submit themselves to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I hope you won’t settle in judging other believers as ‘legalistic’ because they live a ‘holy-looking‘ life especially when you don’t know much of what motivates them.

I hope you learn to focus more first in knowing God and falling in love with Him and His attributes because it’s too much dangerous when you don’t know what you truly believe in. Don’t be like that person who answered that ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter because we are not under law anymore‘. Be like the Bereans that were mentioned in Acts 17:11. They study the Word of God just to know if what they heard is right or not.

We are on the end times so be sure where you truly stand and what you truly believe in because maybe you’re trapped in a church founded in so much false teachings.

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