In the last year, I’ve realized what damage legalism can do. To a person’s heart. To people around that person. To a community even.
The Bible calls some behaviors and heart attitudes sin. Our culture has shied away from that. We have sugar coated words and made them more palatable. It hurts to say someone is in sin, so we don’t want to do it. This does a disservice to others and ourselves. I’ve appreciated Lou Priolo’s book Teach Them Diligently because it’s where I first heard the exhortation to talk to our children in Biblical terms about their (and our) behavior. Helping us see our behavior for what God sees it is very good. Calling sin sin is being honest.
I’ve seen the opposite happen though and I think it’s actually worse: calling something sin that isn’t.
Drawing lines in the sand for holiness can lead to serious legalism. I’ve seen it happen. Sadly, I’ve done it.
I’ve been snapped out of this kind of thinking in a very painful way, but the lesson is life changing. If God hasn’t specifically called something a sin, I shouldn’t. Believing something is a sin that God hasn’t called it a sin, can seriously hurt people. When taken to the extreme, it can lead to disciplining others. What must God think of someone being disciplined for being in sin, when that person is not?
Oh, let us be careful. We may not agree with something someone is doing. We may even believe that a Biblical principle could apply to a situation. We may even be right that there is a better course of action. BUT if there is any way that another Biblical principle could apply also or that someone is walking in a freedom in Christ, let’s not call their behavior wrong.
Jesus was harsh to those doing this: the Pharisees. They had interpreted God’s Law and drawn their lines. They judged salvation as well as holiness and godliness in daily living. Proud legalism found them staunchly on one side and those who disagreed on the other. While Jesus lovingly confronted sinners, he had nothing good to say to those whose pride blinded them to grace.
Friends, if something is a sin, call it that.
If it isn’t, don’t. Call it grace.