To the legalist, almost everything is black and white. There are no grey areas. The Bible calls these “disputable areas” (Rom. 14:1). The historic church has called them adiaphora. Simply put, grey areas are things of which the Bible does not approve or disapprove that we have cautious freedom to participate in. Legalists love to focus on these grey areas, just waiting to rob you of your freedom. They have their “scruples” and if you don’t live by them, watch out! Their lists are long and varied.
Let me calm down for a moment. All of us have our “scruples,” including you! I remember at seminary one of my professors had problems with mixed bathing (girls and guys swimming together). I had a guy at Credo a couple of day ago whose church believed that men could not have a beard. Three days before, I was with two people who came from a tradition that said they must have a beard! I, personally, have a problem with people who asked for raised hands in church when evangelizing (“I see that hand”). Oh, I have my reasons, but I can’t really justify them as being biblical or the act as sinful. They are just scruples. These are things I don’t like, make me uncomfortable, and make me squirm. But they are things about which the Bible is indifferent.
The lists are long.
- Drinking alcohol
- Taking anti-depressants
- Going to the movies (or even having a television)
- How one dresses
- Colorful language
- Where you go to church
- When you go to church
- If you go to church (in this case, people require you to be in a church building once a week—in other words, church is always a building you go to rather than something that you do.
- Celebrating Halloween
- Playing Santa Clause with your kids
- Starting a church in a bar
- Driving a Camaro (okay, now this one is objectively right!)
- Having breast implants
- Wearing make-up
- Living in a very large house
- Standing on the side of the road begging for money
- Seeing nudity (remember, in the Bible lust is the issue, not nudity—there are societies of people who don’t wear much clothing at all)
- How often one has communion
- Baptizing in a pool
- Being too involved in politics
- Not being involved in politics at all!
- Styles of worship music
- Eating meat
- Head coverings
- Listening to rock and roll
I could go on and on. I could also get a lot more controversial, but I have probably hit on one of yours and at least made you uncomfortable.
Each of us can be legalistic in a way. But the problem is not so much the scruples themselves, but when you require others to live by them. Legalists pressure people to live according to their lists and drain people of their freedom. The result is paralyzing. It creates great fear and a distorted view of God and the Gospel. We need to get over the scruples and understand that there is a lot the Bible does not speak on. We are not bound to the opinions of others.
Paul speak directly to this in Roman 14. He says of those who are looking down on others for not following their list:
“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”(Romans 14:4)
We answer to God, not the lists of others. This is the Gospel of grace. This is what relieved the apostles as they lived in fear of the mile long list of the Pharisees. But Christ came in and set them free.
Romans 14 speaks of those who are free and exercise this freedom as the “strong.” He speaks of the one who has scruples as “weak.” But the strong person is not to regard with contempt the one who is weak (Rom. 14:3). And this is important as it is easy to get angry with people whose weakness keeps you from exercising your freedom in Christ.
However, we also must realize that there are “professional weaker brethren.” These are people who tell you to live by their lists so they don’t stumble. But the problem with these people is that they should have grown out of this mentality. Paul does not intend for the weak to stay weak. I have to repeat that as it is so important: Paul does not intend for the weak to stay weak (much less make a profession out of it). At some point they need to concede that what they are preaching, teaching, requiring, and demanding of us is unbiblical and does not bind the conscious of others.
If we were to bow to every scruple of every believer in fear of offending them, we would be able to do nothing. Nothing! The least common denominator would make us immobile. These “professional stumblers” (another good name) are legalists. Let me rephrase, they are legalists so long as they require you to live by their list of grey areas.
Friends, we must be willing to fight for our freedom. Yes, you will lose friends and family members. Yes, pastors, you will run a lot of people out of your congregation. But it is worth it. Christ was always running people off as he was unwilling to bow to the scruples of others. In fact, they hated him for it. You may be hated, maligned, gossiped about, and hung on a cross, but we cannot give in. Legalism is the most destructive enemy of the church there is. Grace and legalism cancel each other out.
What are some of the things I missed on the list?