Christ the Stumbling Stone to the Self-Righteous
I know a man approaching sixty years of age today who is still haunted by the memory of being raised by hypocritical parents. It has taken him most of his adult life to face the full truth that he was emotionally and spiritually abused by their deception. Throughout his childhood his family attended a church where they were taught you shouldn’t go to the movies. This was so firmly enforced that in Sunday church services people would be called to come forward to an altar and confess that they had done that or some other “sins.” The problem is, his family went to movies on Friday or Saturday night, always in secret. But they made it very clear that he shouldn’t say anything about it. They drilled it into him, “Keep your mouth shut.” Here he is, a little boy, being lectured on the way home from the theater, “Don’t tell anybody on Sunday that we did this.” Of course, they went to see the film miles away from the church so church folks wouldn’t know. Not until recently has the man come to realize how damaging that hypocrisy was to his walk with Christ.
Legalism has no pity on people. Legalism makes my opinion your burden, makes my opinion your boundary, makes my opinion your obligation.
—Max Lucado, Up Words, May 1993
One of the most serious problems facing the orthodox Christian church today is the problem of legalism. One of the most serious problems facing the church in Paul’s day was the problem of legalism. In every day it is the same. Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes his power for vital worship and vibrant service. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing.
—S. Lewis Johnson, “The Paralysis of Legalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April–June 1963
Christ Jesus came to free us from legalism and the false narratives that come with it.
When I was a boy, I grew up in a small congregation in a little town. There was a somewhat affluent man who belonged to the church. All the rest of us were poor as turkeys, but he was just one notch above the poverty of the rest of us, so he shined. He was the president of our little state bank in the town, a bank that later went bankrupt and defunct. He dressed nattily and spoke like a cultured man.
One day they hailed him before the church and accused him of dancing. The church was called into council. You never saw such a dogfight in your life. This man went up to the preacher and slapped him in the face. There I was, a little boy sitting in the church and looking at all that going on, all that acrimonious castigation. They turned the banker out of the church. It tore the little church to shreds.
Now, I’m not saying here whether they should have turned him out or not, but I can tell you how I felt about it as a little boy. As I sat there in the church and listened to the people of the church bring charges against the banker for dancing and all the things that they said to him about him, and all that went on in that session, then they finally voted him out, I saw the sad repercussion in the hearts of angry people. The tragedy made an indelible impression upon me. When I looked at it as a little boy I wondered about those that turned him out, if they were any better than the one they turned out. Maybe he should have turned them out!
—W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Galatians