Jane walks into her older brother John’s bedroom without knocking. His head is up against the window screen, as smoke is rolling from his lips. “I’m telling!” shouts Jane. John is frantic. He briefly tries threatening his little sister, but quickly realizes that’s not working. Second step; begging and bribery. Finally he elicits a promise. “Ok,” Jane says. “I promise I won’t say anything to mom and dad.”
Within five minutes, mom and dad are in John’s room screaming at him, with Jane watching from the doorway. “You lied to me!” John yells at Jane. In a very snotty tone, Jane replies, “I said I wouldn’t SAY anything. I never said I wouldn’t write them a note! So there; I didn’t lie!”
Did Jane lie?
Troy is a church leader. He gives counsel. He counsels one woman not to let her husband live under the same roof while they prepare for a divorce. Troy has had repeated sexual activity with people other than his wife. Because this activity doesn’t actually include intercourse, he boldly proclaims to his wife that he has never been unfaithful, or had sex with anyone else.
Is Troy lying to his wife? [FYI, I know “Troy”. I’ve changed his name to protect the guilty.]
Have you ever heard a Christian use a phrase like “But I didn’t actually lie?” Have you ever used a phrase like that?
“It’s OK to be as dishonest and deceitful as you want, as long as your words are technically correct.”
This is what someone is saying every time they say “I didn’t ACTUALLY lie.” [And most, if not all, people lie. Just call it what it is, and don’t be a hypocrite!]
Most of my life, I’ve heard Christians say, “If you preach too much grace, people will use that as an excuse to do bad things.” It has been my experience, repeatedly, that the more frequent danger is using the law as an excuse to do bad things. (. I believe this was also the experience of Jesus.)
In Matthew, he spoke to the religious people, saying,
“You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? … What ridiculous hairsplitting!”….
Matt. 23:16-22 The Message.
One of the hallmarks of religious legalism is a literal adherence to words.
Here’s more of what Jesus had to say:
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but when it comes to things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it…Do you have any idea how silly you look, …nitpicking over commas and semicolons?…on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Matt. 23:23a, 28 NET & The Message
Hypocrisy is the heart of Phariseeism…..
Phariseeism is birthed out of religious legalism. Phariseeism is the scum, covering the dung-heap of religious legalism. It is truly a stench, and it is diametrically opposed to grace.
We read of being called to a “new kingdom”. This has been so misapplied, it’s not even funny. It has been used to control everything from the way we dress, to the music we listen to. When in fact, the new kingdom is actually a new mind-set; a changed heart.
In this life.
It’s a kingdom where equality, justice and compassion reign.
Religion truly is the way of the world. It’s “word-for-word legal system” exists to compare, compete, and control.
This is why religious people love rules. They can follow a list, instead of concerning themselves with inequality, social injustice and environmental rape. A list makes comparing oneself to others a whole lot easier. It also makes it easier to think we have God “over a barrel.” “I didn’t actually lie, so…”
“So, see, I didn’t do anything wrong!”
A few years ago, I wrote an article about using a phrase like “At least I don’t…”
That is another favorite phrase of the pharisee. Again, this is aided by maintaining a strict list of dos and don’ts, so we can keep a number system of how much better we are than someone else.
So is there no escape from religious legalism? What hope do we have against being a pharisee? (You already know the answer.)
Grace. That scary, wonderful, mystical gift from God. A gift so awesome, so powerful, we almost always feel a need to “play it down”; to somehow, soften it’s blow. If we don’t maintain a strict set of laws, our friends will certainly fall into error!
I’ve heard many sermons about trying harder.
“No, we can’t keep all the law, buy we should do our best, and trust God for the rest.”
When James says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it,” that’s not a call to try harder to keep all the law. You’ll still stumble, and be guilty of all of it! Rather than a call to try harder, it is a statement that shows the futility of living legalistically.
It is ONLY grace that keeps us. It is by grace we have been “saved*,” and continue being saved. Now we can finally give up the religion of sin-management.
[* “Saved,” not from any eternal damnation which doesn’t exist in the 1st place, but saved from our own selfishness.]
On a personal level, yes, I still have many struggles in my life; not the least of which is a lack of tolerance for religious people (“Love the religious person, hate the religion,” right?)….
As I have been coming out of right-wing evangelical fundamentalism, my “religious activity” has all but ceased. But, I believe, my focus on what are truly the “things of God” is more intense than ever.
Grace, grace, grace, and more grace. We can NEVER overemphasize grace. The Jesus we read of in the Bible boiled everything down to this: Love God, and love people. I’m seeing a worldwide move away from religion, and towards God. Though the institution will surely hate it, I believe nothing will stop it.