Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 2. Who are you to judge? .. Who are you to judge? Judging Legalism

.. Who are you to judge? Judging Legalism

Just this last week a furore broke out amongst some Christians against Woolworths. They are angry because Woolworths dares to sell hot cross buns with a Halal certification mark on it. Some called for Woolies to be boycotted. One went as far as to write on Facebook: ‘“I hate woolworths... How can you do that to the Christians, I hope that God will have mercy on you. And dnt be surprised if your shops run bankrupt.. I will pray to my living God and you will see what he is capable of! [sic]”

What you see here is unbiblical judgment against a local food chain because of a sticker on a packet of buns. It does not matter if it is ‘hot cross’ buns or ‘tali buns’ or a ‘bun in your hair’, we are not commanded anywhere in Scripture to bake such a thing or to eat it over Easter, with or without raisins. It is true that people enjoy having them over Easter, but it is a tradition or a preference and it has nothing to do with the significance of the Easter events. So in this case, ‘who are we to judge?’ we must not go beyond what is written. Take the sticker off if it offends you and enjoy the buns. I promise you the bun has not been contaminated and by the way it is not that which goes into the stomach through the mouth that matters, but the heart.

We have already established over the last couple of sermons that Unbiblical Judgment is one of the most dangerous and destructive forces in the life of the church. It is something we cannot just live with as it becomes a cancer in the body of Christ that destroys the church from inside out. This kind of judgment is defined as ‘negatively evaluating someone’s spiritual state or conduct on the basis of non-biblical standards or suspected motives’ always starts in the mind of a person, and then it becomes one of the deadliest sins in the body which is slandering. Through slandering I get others to join me in my judgment of a person. We saw over the past two sermons that the problem with this judgement is that it goes beyond what is written and it judges the things we do not have all the light on, either because the deeds we judge happens outside our view, or Scripture is not clear on the issue. The other problem is that we judge the motives of a man’s heart when it is only God who knows what is in the heart of man. As soon as you say ‘I know what so and so is thinking’, or ‘I know what the intentions of their heart is’, you have elevated yourself to a position where you think you can function somehow like God.

Something that plagued the time of Christ and the time of Paul is something which we call ‘legalism’. We all know that the Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of this sin. The question we need to ask ourselves is what ‘legalism’ is and what it is not, and who is legalistic and who is not.  Legalism is very difficult to define. Some people call me legalistic and others say I am not. Dictionary.com defines legalism as follows: “strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit. In Theology. The doctrine that salvation is gained through good works and the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws”. A basic definition of ‘legalistic’ for our purposes can read as follows.” Legalism is very much the institutional and doctrinal form of judging which permeates a group or a cult. Some will see the issues of others as legalism and vice versa, it normally depends on where you view yourself and then where you position others in relation to you. Somebody once made the joke by saying, that ‘when the German Baptists heard that the American Baptists smoke, they chocked in their beer’. So legalism often centres on what’s right for me is Biblical and needs to be defended as law for our group, be it American Baptists or German Baptists.

One of the complications of understanding the term ‘legalism’ is that the word itself does not appear in the New Testament, so we cannot do a word study on it in detail. Also ‘legalism’ takes on an entire different meaning depending whether you use it in the context of justification or sanctification. When used in the context of justification we normally see things like law, works, personal merits and deeds added to the work of salvation in the life of a person. When viewed alongside sanctification the term usually has to do with some man-made traditions or behaviours that are added to Scripture to show that a person is holy. Some would say, I don’t watch TV, therefore I am holy, I home school my children therefore we are doing a holy thing or you do not have a quiet time early in the morning, therefore you are unholy. There is a tendency among many Christians to create moral standards that are not revealed in the Scriptures, and these man made standards are then placed on equal level with the commands and principles of Scripture.

Turn back to 1 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV) “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favour of one against another.” Now, what is Paul saying to us when he says that he has applied these things to himself and Apollos for the benefit of the Corinthian Church so that they do not go beyond what is written?

We will remember that in chapter 3 Paul was dealing with disunity in the body as certain people ranked themselves behind Paul, other behind Apollos and others behind Cephas. It seems that what the Corinthian church was doing was to judge these guys according to some unbiblical rules or ignorance and then they decided they will follow the one and not the other and they were proud or puffed up regarding their allegiance. What we do know according to verse 6 is that the judgment they made about Paul and Apollos was based on extra biblical standards. Whatever this judgment was, whether it was about the number of converts, or the way they went about ministry, or certain views as far as their freedom in issues like eating meat, circumcision or the Sabbath was concerned, they were judging outside the confines of Scripture.

What Paul is doing here in verse 6 is to raise a banner for ‘Sola Scriptura’. Many of you would have seen the statement Sola 5 at the bottom of our website. Now what is that all about?  The “five solas” is a term used to designate five great foundational rallying cries of the Protestant Reformers. They are as follows: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). These “five solas” were developed in response to specific perversions of the truth that were taught by the corrupt Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church taught that the foundation for faith and practice was a combination of the scriptures, sacred tradition, and the teachings of the magisterium and the pope; but the Reformers said, “No, our foundation is Scripture alone (sola scriptura)”.

This is really what Paul is saying to us. It is Scripture alone. Paul understood this, Peter understood this. We read in 2 Peter 1:3 (ESV) 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,..” Paul says don’t go beyond what is written, Peter says that God’s divine power has granted us everything we need, so anything that is added above that and put on the same level as Scripture is legalism.

Christian leaders can so easily manipulate people into accepting extra-biblical standards as if it were Scripture, and in the end they make Christianity burdensome and they set people up to judge one another. I remember as a young man forgetting my tie at home when I went to a youth camp. Man, did I feel guilty. It was like if the Lord were to return and catch me without a tie on, I might not end up in heaven. Only later on, I realised that these are moral issues not recorded in Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible about church dress code and by the way, not even the song ‘blessed be the tie that binds’ (humour intended) has got anything to do with it.  Now this does not mean that a church cannot ask their members to dress in a respectable way. We all make rules, don’t we? You take your wife out for dinner and you dress in a way that exhibits the value of the event. But it is not biblical law. A restaurant makes rules that fit their establishments, we make home rules, and even our employers make rules we have to abide by. The problem is not living in a realm of rules; the problem is judging one another’s spiritual condition on the basis of Scripture when Scripture is silent.

Many Christians confuse ‘truth’ with ‘biblical’ but then at the same time what is defined as ‘truth’ is not always relevant truth. For example, I as a pastor can teach from the pulpit week after week that eating tomatoes is sin. It has to be, because 83% of people who have died in car accidents have eaten tomatoes before, 89 % of people who died in the 2nd world war have eaten tomatoes before, 86 % of people who have gone blind have eaten tomatoes before, and by the way there is no proof that the fruit Eve ate and gave to Adam was not a tomato.  Now, if you don’t believe me that tomatoes are bad for you, I challenge you to put your head in a bucket of tomato sauce for 10 minutes and I guarantee you that you will die. Now if I were to indoctrinate our young people from childhood till they went to university that eating tomatoes is sin, wouldn’t they feel guilty if they took a tomato from somebody and ate it? They will, and by the way they will feel that they are sinning against God and they will even feel that they are being convicted by the Holy Spirit. Now I know the tomato eating deal is no big deal, because we all know that even though all the statistics above might be correct and that you will die if you put your head in a bucket of tomato sauce, that the issues are unrelated. The only guilt that will be developed is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but it is guilt under law that has been generated by legalism and it goes beyond what is written, and so having to wear a suite on Sundays, goes beyond what is written, and the statement that Christians do not watch TV goes beyond what is written, and the statement that you must home school, goes beyond what is written. Now there is a lot of wisdom and truth in some unbiblical statements, but it cannot become law and if you do not obey it you are either unsaved or unholy. To put it in another way – legalism is where a lie weighs heavier than truth and is treated as truth and becomes the standard. Now I started the sermon with the example of the Americans and Germans. Personally I do not smoke and I do not drink at all. I believe there are a lot of sound reasons why someone might want to stay away from it. Even if I could afford the habbits, I will not. I believe that if you become a slave to alcohol in any form and have exhibited behaviour that shows that you cannot control yourself in some ways, then stay away from it. So while we might advice one another and encourage one another to certain behaviour patterns, and while we may discourage one another from certain behaviour patters, we must not go beyond what is written and make laws for other's by which they are judged.

Now there are many forms of legalism. Some of the laws we create are there to prevent sin, which in itself is a good thing; others again are designed to produce holiness, which again is a good thing. The motive is not the problem. The problem is that it makes a mockery of the completed work of Christ on the cross of Calvary; it makes a mockery of grace. The problem is not law, it is the heart. Paul is very clear in Romans 7 that there was nothing wrong with the law. The problem was with the heart of man, as man could not keep the law. Christ then dealt with the law and saved us by Grace and keeps us by grace and we must not want to go back to creating laws. Remember Paul’s encounter with the Galatians in Galatians 1:6-7 (ESV) 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Now most of us know that the problem the Galatians were dealing with was that someone seemed to convince them that Christianity is Christ plus law.

Even Peter fell into this trap. Galatians 2:11-14 (ESV) “11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” There conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, meaning they went beyond what is written. In Acts 15 the council of Jerusalem sent a letter to the gentiles telling them that they are not going to burden them with a bunch of laws, except for a few practical issues, and in so doing we read in Acts 15:28-33 (ESV) 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.” Notice that the softer approach of the Council of Jerusalem brought about encouragement. That is why I always say that we can be hard on principle but we always have to be soft on people.

I believe that from time to time Logos will be visited by people who will judge us by human traditions or legalism. We might even have people rising up from within our own rank insisting that we do certain things in certain ways as if we are commanded by Scripture to do so. Can I challenge us to be humble enough to be challenged regarding our Biblical basis for any of our thoughts? Society will make rules, churches will make rules, families will make rules, and all of this is fine, and I know that some of these rules have as its aim to build up fences against sin. Not too long ago if you were to visit the mineral baths at Tshipise you would have noticed that men and women were not allowed to swim together in the inside pool while outside was fine. The argument was that being together inside might lead to lust and sexual sin, but outside was fine because others were there to observe you. The problem is that rules like these cannot address the heart of man which is the wellspring of life.

Now I believe that in all of the above and in so many issues in life there are dangers that lurk in them and we need to warn one another against such dangers in a brotherly way, but we must stop short of saying that they are sinful in themselves. And we must be very careful about ‘… teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ Mark 7:7 (ESV) You might be fully justified to ask this morning if there is anything that is sin anymore, and is Holiness still a standard. Holiness is the standard and there are many things that are clearly commanded in Scripture, but the central message we must not forget is that Christianity is first and foremost an issue of the heart, and when our heart is set on the things above not on earthly things, only then can we start making dead those things that ought not to exist in our lives because they are really sin according to Scripture. As a Christian ‘I am’ therefore ‘I do’, I do not ‘do’ to ‘become’. We live from our position not towards a position. Because we are holy, because we are a holy nation, we live holy, but not beyond what is written.

Many years ago I was taught a valuable lesson as far as legalism in the ministry is concerned. We were told to study Scripture and to always ask the following question: ‘Is what I am dealing with Biblically Constant or is it Changeable?’ Let me give you a few examples and we can spend hours to unpack these with examples. Prayer is constant – when and how, and how long is changeable. Preaching is constant – a pulpit, Power Point presentations etc. are all changeable. Baptism is constant – with gowns or not, or baptizing the person forward, backwards, downwards are all changeable. Communion is constant, behind a table with two deacons praying for the bread and the cup is changeable. Praise and worship is constant – Hymns, choruses, sung once, twice or even three times, with band or not, clapping, hand raising etc. are all changeable. The Word of God is constant – scrolls, book form, I-Pad, cell phones, audio versions etc. are all changeable.

We all know that so many believers will judge one another on the basis of the changeable things, those things that Scripture is not clear on. Let us put our focus on that which is constant, and then give grace to ourselves and to others to have latitude in the areas of the changeable. The danger of legalism is this. As soon as you have set up a standard then you judge others accordingly. We can guess what Paul and Apollos were judged on. There are some indications that we can work with, but as we end today, our concern is with those things that Scripture is not clear upon which divides us.

Let me challenge you today by saying it is your right, when people place the burden of law onto you, to ask one simple question ­– ‘IS IT WRITTEN’, and if the person is emphatic that it is, you are allowed to ask – ‘IS SCRIPTURE CLEAR ON THE ISSUE’, or must I live on the basis of what you think you are clear about’.

Church family, let us rid ourselves of this sin, which kills congregations when a pastor is a legalist, it kills pastors when the congregation are legalists, it kills the spirit of joy and spontaneity of those who wish to enjoy their liberty, it drains the very life out of a church even though we think it will be doing God a service. God does not need our help. He has given us His word, all we need to do is to obey the truth, and the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

So before we judge others, let us judge legalism, so that we can enjoy our freedom in Christ.


Logos Community Church:- 1 April 2012