In the 1990’s, many changes began to occur in our country. One notable change was a scandal in the White House, when President Clinton was accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a young intern. He initially claimed innocence saying, “I did not have intercourse with that girl!” Of course, it later became known that his definition of intercourse was different than most, and he was certainly inappropriate in his actions. Many people demanded his ouster for such a lapse of judgment in the White House, but the majority of the American public were willing to forgive and forget. This indicated a change in our country, which no longer saw it necessary to put a greater expectation on leaders than would be put on the average person. This also represented a moral lapse in our country, as sexual restraint was quickly becoming a relic of the past.
As the country began to embrace a more libertine view of morality, the Lord spoke a word to me that I shared with our local congregation. God said, “There is a new legalism coming.” This legalism would replace the moral underpinnings of our society. No longer would we be held to the standard of God’s Word, but people would replace God’s laws with a new secular morality. This new legalism would give society a sense of morality based on human ideas and expectations.
Twenty years later, I am witnessing the full impact of this legalism. Legalism is defined as “excessive adherence to law or regulations.” As Christians, we use the term to describe when laws become more important than personal faith. During the charismatic movement, the Holy Spirit had moved in the church to get people to focus on a faith experience, rather than a legal one. This was very appropriate, according to the Scripture. The law of the Old Testament is a good example. The Jewish people had put the law before their relationship with God. When God manifested Himself through the person of Jesus Christ, the people chose their laws over Him. This issue is addressed frequently in the New Testament.
Faith and the Word-Centered Life
Christianity must, first and foremost, be about our faith. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. His righteousness preceded the giving of the law. This is an important understanding of Scripture. However, it should be noted that the regulating laws to order the Jewish nation came after faith. God is not a God of lawlessness. Jesus the messenger of mercy and grace made this very clear in Matthew 7 when He said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Jesus went on to tell the story of the wise man, who built his house upon the rock, versus the foolish man, who built his house on the sand. You will not have the blessing of God unless you keep His Word! It may not be immediately evident, but it will when the storms of life come…and they will come.
In this era of the new legalism, as Christians, we must be mindful to understand the need for faith, followed by a Word-centered life. The new legalism is evident everywhere you turn. Have you noticed how often the news reports of people being offended and demanding apologies from other people? Have you noticed the frequency of people, not only demanding apologies, but that people get fired from their jobs? What an oxymoron! The libertines are demanding apologies and judgment upon those whom they disapprove of; yet, at the same time, they are demanding acceptance of their life choices. This only proves the need for governing laws, as well as the human need for governance. Unfortunately, without God as a source, our laws do not come from an expectation to live above the human condition. For this reason, laws will be regularly changed and modified to conform to the brokenness of the human condition. These laws will not be laws in the end, but simply rules by which they will defend their desires and demand conformity from others.
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 2 Peter 2:18-19
In the end, people do not want freedom, they want approval; this desire can only be satisfied in the Lord. We must be vigilant in our understanding of God, and His ways, and always know that “whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.” Today, I am challenging you, as a believer, to see the craftiness of new legalism—don’t let it infiltrate your thoughts, but rather be renewed in your mind. We can answer the call of God as hope for a generation, even through conflict with their messaging!