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It Comes From Galatians, It Really Does.

May 13, 2006

People sometimes ask me why I so loathe legalism. “Mike,” they say, “why do you so loathe legalism? I mean, I know legalism is wrong, I don’t like it either. But when you see legalism you get all like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. What’s up with that?”

Some might think it’s because I’m some kind of recovering fundamentalist reacting with bitterness against the legalism of my youth. Nope, I grew up basic pagan and ever since my conversion I’ve been in good gracious churches. I have no scars to show from the legalists, no personal bitterness.

Well then it must be that I’m a licentious grace abuser and I loathe legalists because they threaten my freedom. Nope, I didn’t really start exercising the legs of my Christian liberty until my 30s. Never drank scotch until a few years ago, after my vitriolic rampage against legalism was already a decade old.

So where does it come from? It comes from Galatians, it really does. My pastor opened this book up for me in 1991 while I was in seminary and showed me legalism in all its lethal vileness. Then I preached it in 1999-2000 and solidified my convictions. Want a sample? Here’s a sermon called “Becoming a Hypocrite: One Man’s Journey” from Galatians 2:11-14.

Jesus spoke gently to prostitutes and severely to legalists. Paul told legalists to emasculate themselves and go to hell. (Gal 5:12, 1:8). Does it bother you then that so many Christians speak harshly to those who struggle with the sins of the flesh, but give legalists a pass, calling them (wrongly) weaker brothers?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2006 4:58 pm

    was that Mark 5 who said the Goodfellas thing? I can just hear him saying that…

    My long haired husband says we should have you and KT over sometime to sing guitar songs and hang out. That would be fun! We should do that soon!

    I’ve had only gracious churches as well, so I am often shocked when I come across it. Mostly I find it here online. Maybe it is easier to be a jerky legalist in print than face to face.

    I think watching you enact a “vitriolic rampage” would be pretty sacry. Does Strongbad know you are moving in on his Rampagin’ territory? Now there’s a licentious grace abuser, man!

    I remember that Galatians series. I may have to dig it out of my tape archive (yikes, whole fields of sermon tapes to wade through!)

    Yes, it does bother me that the culturally condemned behaviors are often considered “sinful” in the church, and the culturally lauded behaviors are considered “weakness” at best, and “strengths” at worst. It seems to be a growing understanding that lawkeeping with an attitude is synonymous with “standing up for what you believe,” with apparently very little regard to Biblical definitions of sin or weakness or strength.

    I am still struggling to understand what God tells me to believe in His word. But I am more and more convinced that legalism and lawkeeping are NOT the gospel. We didn’t keep the law before we were Christians, and we still don’t keep the law now. Only Jesus can and did.

    So I look to Him for my righteousness. And I will gladly join you in your rampagin…

    Strongbad: “See? It’s not all rampage-stompin’-boy style rampages. The pie’s the limit as far as rampages are concerned. ”


  2. May 14, 2006 5:16 pm

    Actually I made up the goodfellas bit. The “some people say to me…” thing was a rhetorical device. (So then you were lying… says the legalist. “Bite me,” says the pastor.) But real people have accused me of either being a recovering fundamentalist or a grace-abuser. My rampages seem to unsettle people and they need to explain me away.

  3. May 15, 2006 9:58 am

    your rampages unsettle me…towards the Gospel.

    As Mike shared I did not come up w/ the goodfellas line. I resent the assertion that I would say such a thing…as I ONLY WATCH G AND PG RATED FILMS, IT WOULD BE SIN TO WATCH ANYTHING ELSE. (caution: humour)

    seriously, on legalsim: I was in a church this weekend at which, from the pulpit, having a “drink” and “buying a lottery ticket” were named as sins. Also, I was encouraged in the preaching to look to the potential good in people as well. *cough* FROM THE PIT! *cough*

  4. May 15, 2006 11:19 am

    Rhetorical devices are cool, as they represent no intent to deceive. But I’m still uncertain what to do about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. I mean they’re harmless (right?), but as one who rejects that the ends ever justify the means (since the dichotomy is false), I can’t find any justification for playing along.

  5. May 15, 2006 2:42 pm

    This post has been removed by the author.

  6. May 15, 2006 2:48 pm

    too many spelling errors to offer to the public…

    here it is again, sorta better..

    oh my gosh…

    I just looked at the date on your link to the sermon, and it was from 1999. Was that Galatians series that long ago? Where did those past 7 years go, huh?

    I am getting old, man…

    I just made myself look a fool at Rentertainment by expressing a statement loudly to the cashier, indicating that a certain long-running cartoon show was 7 – 8 years old already, and still funny. This guy looked at me as if I had spoken in tongues or something.

    Complete and utter bewilderment.

    And then he corrected me that the show was like 17 years old. I was incredulous! No way, I thought! And then he said it began in 1989, and I thought, yeah! that wasn’t so long ago….


    yeah it was, wasn’t it…

    let’s see, from 2006 to 1989…


    carry the one…

    borrow from the hundreds’…


    And yes, I felt pretty stupid. Not to mention that the few who were within hearing distance all thought it was pretty d*****d hilarious.

  7. May 16, 2006 10:14 am

    You sound more like Jules to me.

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