Jesus’ Surprising Love For Legalists Like MeBlog, Meditations — By Larry Shallenberger on April 15, 2012 at 8:37 am
Back in the day, when God wanted to separate King David from his personal darkness, he sent a prophet to entrap him. The prophet told David about a rich man who killed poor man to gain his sheep. This, naturally, got the king’s ire and he demanded justice. The hook was set, so the prophet told David that he was the rich man who murdered, not for a sheep but for a beautiful woman.
God set a similar trap for me and the hook is firmly in my cheek. Finally.
I hope so.
I’m so tired.
I’ve been posting for a time about my struggles with legalism. I’ve been in therapy for some time now and I’ve become increasingly aware of legalism negative effects on me. I’ve gotten angry at The Ranch, Bill Gothard’s teaching, and the lies I’ve been told about what God is like. When I look back over the past two decades, I see the theme of me seeing legalism andbullying pastors and getting angry at both.
I was King David ready to bring justice… to others.
I’ve come to see that the legalist is me. Even though I had rejected the bad theology and teaching of the spiritual “authorities” who spoke into my early life, I internalized the script. I became the very thing I despised. At some point it stops mattering how the toxic spirituality got into me. It’s in me. It is me. At least good part of me. More than I can handle.
I left last week’s therapy session absolutely exhausted. Becky told me that I was finally at “the root” of my problem. This is all well and good if I had any damned strength left to swing the axe at it. But I was tired, exhausted, and quite frankly ashamed of who I am and the relational damage I’ve created.
According to the Gospel writer Mark, Jesus’ first order of business after Palm Sunday was to pronounce the end of the Temple system. The corrupt legalists weren’t willing to swing the axe to uproot their own sinfulness, so Jesus cursed a whole tree, to visualize the lack of hope and future in their ways.
The scene has a finality to it that’s quite unsettling when you happen to be a legalist yourself.
This morning, however, I felt some hope when I remembered Jesus’ commitment to legalists in the book of Acts. Peter, the guy who Jesus said was the rock that he’d build his church struggled deeply with legalism. His legalism manifested itself in the form of nationalism. He wasn’t willing to eat with foreigners for fear that he would somehow defile his standing before God and communicate God’s love for all people. Ugly stuff. Jesus knew this would happened and still appointed Peter to be “the Rock.” This is a surprising position for the same person who leveled “The Woes” at the Pharisees.
I’ll be honest, after looking at the crap inside of me, I wouldn’t have done it.
Then I remembered that Jesus allowed Pharisees to be his followers. He met with men like Nicodemus and loved him enough to disrupt his sick thinking. Jesus did this with the full knowledge that the Pharisees, even though they were following him, would bring along their legalistic baggage and would someday instigate a destructive, two-city fight that had the potential to cripple people’s faith and effectively stop the spread of Christianity past Israel’s borders.
Jesus, in all his grace, is willing to bring recovering legalists, like me, along for the ride, even though he knows our potential to harm.
For today, that’s enough.