Laying Down the Law


No one lays down the law faster than the one who thinks he's keeping it himself. So, why is legalistic thinking so common among Christians?

In my many years of pastoring, counseling, and traveling, I've found an all-too-common and dangerous theme among Christians: no one lays down the law better than the one who thinks they're keeping it themselves. 

At one point, this was probably not the case. In the early days of our faith, we were overwhelmed by the desperateness of our need for God's grace. We saw our sin everywhere, and we were constantly thankful for the daily mercy and patience of the Redeemer. We were patient with the people around us who struggled, because we knew that they were essentially no different from us. 

But as we grew, things began to change. We felt as though we deserved to belong in the community of God's children. We became proud of our theological knowledge and ran short on patience for Christians who were "just too lazy" to really know their faith. We started to look down on brothers and sisters who struggled to produce a harvest of faith. 

I'm concerned that we've become comfortable with living outside of the body of Christ. Even if we're engaged in small groups, we might not be truly open and honest. We're quick to minister to others, but we're not very open to receiving ministry ourselves. We're eager to point out the flaws in another believer, but we're not good at receiving confrontation very well. If we're able to mask these traits at church, it's bound to leak out at home with our families. 

You see, if this statement is true - that no one lays down the law better than the one who thinks they are keeping it themselves - then the opposite would also be true: no one gives grace better than the one who thinks they're in desperate need themselves. Brothers and sisters, you’re most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you realize you desperately need every truth you could give to another. You’re most humble and gentle when you realize the person you’re ministering to is more like you than unlike you. 

I once heard a pastor unwittingly verbalize this problem well. My brother Tedd and I were at a large Christian life conference listening to a well-known pastor speak on family worship. He told stories of the zeal, discipline, and dedication of the great fathers of our faith to personal and family worship. He painted astounding pictures of what their private and family devotions looked like. I think we all felt it was very convicting and discouraging. I felt the weight of the burden of the crowd as they listened. I was saying to myself, "Comfort us with grace, comfort us with grace," but the grace never came. 

On the way back to the hotel, Tedd and I rode with the speaker and another pastor, who was our driver. Our pastor driver clearly felt the burden and asked the speaker a brilliant question. "If a man in your congregation came to you and said, 'Pastor, I know I'm supposed to have devotions with my family, but things are so chaotic at my house that I can barely get myself out of bed and get the children fed and off to school, I don't know how I would ever be able to pull off devotions too,' what would you say to him?" 

The following response is not made up or enhanced in any way. The speaker answered, "I would say to him, 'I'm a pastor, which means I carry many more burdens for many more people than you do, and if I can pull off daily family worship, you should be able to do so as well.'" There was no identifying with the man's struggle. There was no ministry of grace. With little compassion or understanding he laid the law down even more heavily. 

Does this pastor's response make you angry? It should. As I heard his response, I too was angry ... until I remembered that I’d done the very same thing again and again. At home, it was all too easy for me to meet out judgment while I was all too stingy with the giving of grace. I was blind to what was going on in my heart; I was proud, unapproachable, defensive, and all too comfortable. I thought I had arrived, so I didn't need what other people need. 

How about you? I'm convinced I'm not alone. I think, sadly, we're much like the Pharisee Jesus describes in Luke 18:9-14. All too often, we stray from where we originally found identity vertically, in Christ, and have migrated to a people who get identity horizontally, from our own "righteous performance." 

Before you get up tomorrow morning, before you start with the craziness of your day, please pray these three prayers: 

  1. "Lord, I am a desperate person in need of a help today." 
  2. "Lord, in your grace, would you send your helpers me way?" 
  3. "Lord, would you give me the humility to accept that help when it comes?"
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