Tag Archives: legalism

Do you have strong or weak faith? – Titus 3:9-15, Part 2

13 Aug

Do people in your church family have differences of opinion about how Christians should behave? In my church there are plenty of different views. Should Christians drink alcohol? Should people view R-rated movies or MA-rated TV shows? Should people purchase luxury items? Should we vote Republican or Democrat, or maybe even a third-party? Should Christians wear two-piece bathing suits? On and on the list goes.

As we saw in the first post in our series on Titus 3:9-15, the Christians in the churches in Crete were having some disagreements too. To better understand the issue that Paul was addressing in the church in Crete, through his letter to Titus, we’re going to hit the pause button on Titus for a few posts and look at a related topic Paul wrote about elsewhere.  Paul writes about the concept of the weak and the strong in Romans 14 and 15, and in 1st Corinthians 8 and 10.  In Romans he calls it weak or strong faith, and in 1st Corinthians he calls it weak or strong conscience.  His principle is the same.  It goes like this: when it comes to various matters in life, some Christians have a weak faith approach, and some Christians have a strong faith approach. 

Those who are weak in faith, or weak in conscience, lean toward the side of not participating in a certain action because they believe it is wrong.  Another word for these people is “cautious.”

Those who are strong in faith, or strong in conscience, lean toward to the side of participating in a certain action because they believe it is okay.  Another word for these people is “free.”

Cautious or free, neither is in and of itself sinful, but if the cautious become too cautious, and if the free become too free, they can become sinful.

Paul uses a real-life situation in the first century Roman Empire to illustrate what he is talking about: meat sacrificed to idols.  To worship in some Greco-Roman temples, people would bring animals to be sacrificed, its meat would be cooked and eaten by the priests of that temple.  Leftover meat would be owned by the offerer of the sacrifice, perhaps to be used in a feast, or sold in a meat market.  Christians had access, then, to meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Should they eat or should they abstain?  It was a big controversy in the church, because, of course they don’t want to participate in idol worship. But just because they ate that meat at a later party, or bought it in a meat market, did that mean those Christians were somehow complicit in idol worship?

Paul says Yes…and No. If you want, read his teaching the passages mentioned above. I’ll just summarize it here.

First of all he says, idols are a sham.  There is only one true God.  But, he says, not everyone knows this.  Some people from that culture used to be idol worshipers, and now they have become Christians. Those people, he says, “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food, they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol,” it defiles their conscience, which is weak, or cautious, and they believe they are sinning against God.    

On the other hand, he says, food is just food.  It doesn’t bring us closer to God, as the pagans believed, to sacrifice meat to the gods.  Thus there are Christians who eat it, enjoy it, and thank God for it, and they are not sinning against God.

The issue to Paul is that those who have a strong conscience, who are more free, have no spiritual dilemma eating the meat, and thus could become a stumbling block to those who are weak.  Paul says, don’t be so arrogant and bold about your strong faith, that you destroy the faith of the weak.  It is better to abstain.  But is Paul saying they should always abstain?  Is he making a blanket condemnation of eating meat?  Not at all.

Then he says a bit more in 1st Cor 10, starting at verse 23: “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising an issue about it.”  In other words, if you get invited to a meal, even if it is at the home of an unbeliever whom you could suspect of serving meat that had originally been sacrificed to idols, don’t bring it up.  Don’t say, “Uh, I’m a Christian, I don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, so I need to ask you, is this meat clean?”  Don’t get self-righteous about it.  Instead, Paul says, just eat it.  “Don’t raise questions of conscience,” he says.  Just eat it. 

But, he clarifies.  If someone else volunteers the information, “Hey, this meat was offered in sacrifices,” then do not eat it, so as to guard the other person’s conscience, as they are likely weak in faith, and thus by abstaining, you will be guarding your own conscience too.  In Romans 14-15, he will go on to say, that abstaining, which is the act of sacrificing one’s own freedom for another, is a loving act.

So in a church family, there are people who are weak, and there are people who are strong. It’s like that in every church. Christians who have differences of opinion about matters. The same was true in the churches in Crete. Those who are on the weak/cautious side, should not judge or condemn those on the strong/free side, and vice versa. Also, those on the strong/free side should be ready to abstain from a certain action out of love for those who might think that action is sinful. Check back in to the next post, as we’ll dig a bit further into how the interplay of the weak and the strong works out in the life of a church.

Woe to you, Christians – Part 2 – How to stop the two main things that will cause your death

11 Nov

Imagine you have been invited to your pastor’s house for dinner and some leaders of the church are there.  It is a nice meal with pleasant dinner conversation.

Do you think you would take this time to point out all the things you didn’t like about the people around the table?

Some of you might!  Some would be mortified of doing that.

Jesus, in Luke 11:37-56 was invited to dinner with a Pharisee, and an expert in the Law was there.  Before dinner Jesus chose to forgo the traditional washing, and the Pharisee noticed and was surprised.  Jesus saw this as a cultural open door, and stormed through it.   Over the course of the next few minutes he proceeds to insult the Pharisees and Law Experts, using a prophetic Woe Oracle against them.  I introduced the concept of a Woe Oracle last week.  Woe Oracles used funeral language to proclaim “if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will die!”

I also said last week that perhaps the American Church would do well to listen in to this sharp conversation.  Stats have been telling us that we are declining.  Maybe there is something that Jesus was saying to the religious leaders of his day that could help us avoid death in our day.

So what were the Pharisees and Law Experts doing that was so wrong?  Two things.  They were being hypocritical and legalistic.  Read through the Woes again and you’ll see how they were not practicing what they were preaching (hypocrisy), and they were burdening people with extra laws (legalism).

Is it possible that the decline of the American Church is attributable, at least partially, to our own hypocrisy and legalism?

I know this is a difficult passage. These are hard and harsh words from Jesus. He is speaking to those who are living a lifestyle of hypocrisy.  I know that we are not the Pharisees, but don’t we all have areas of hypocrisy?  I know not too many of us are living lifestyles of complete and total legalism, but I don’t want to let us off the hook here either.  Instead I think we all should wrestle with a passage like this.  We are disciples of Jesus.  And Jesus certainly called out his disciples, who had areas of struggle, many times, just as he is calling out the teachers of the law here.  I think it is always good for us, as people who are disciples of Jesus, who desire to make our hearts more and more like the heart of Jesus, to take a hard and honest look at ourselves and see what areas we have improved in and what areas we still need to work on. We should always have teachable hearts, ready to make changes and to do the hard work to change attitudes that work themselves out into our actions.

To use the language of the parable Jesus told to the Pharisee, in what areas are we clean cups on the outside and filthy on the inside?  Are we living secret lives?  Are we hypocritical in any way? We need to get that out in the open, confess it, and change.

This does not mean that you need to be proclaiming all your junk to the public all the time – that is not what I am saying. I am saying that our hearts should be beating like Jesus and that will naturally overflow into our actions.

Additionally, we need to address any potential legalism in our lives.  If the Gospel is about grace through faith, not by works, we can hinder people from the Gospel by emphasizing rules.

Do we believe that following these rules define us as a Christian? If so, is it possible that we have led people astray by communicating to them the perception that they, too, if they want to be a Christian must follow those rules?

Let me give you an illustration. In the early church, in Acts chapter 15, the leaders of the church called a conference. At this point the church was maybe 10 years old or so, and it had grown a lot from the original 120 who started out. Guys like Paul and Barnabas had gone on mission trips and non-Jews from outside Israel had become Christians. Some of the Jewish Christians, including some Pharisees who became Christians, heard about these non-Jews becoming disciples of Jesus, and while they were happy, they felt that the non-Jews needed to start following the Old Testament Jewish Laws now. Especially the law of circumcision. Imagine that. These Jewish Christians felt that adult male non-Jews needed to be circumcised! Ouch!

Paul was totally against this. He argued that the message of Jesus was that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled in Jesus, and that Christians, disciples of Jesus, didn’t have to follow those Laws. Those Laws were essentially the treaty or the covenant between God and Israel, not between God and the church. Paul was right, and thankfully the leaders saw things Paul’s way and they did not require the non-Jewish disciples to get surgery. Whew.

Just like them, let us not put rules and regulations in place of faith in Christ and a life of discipleship!  What defines us as a Christian is that we have hearts that beat for the Lord. That we are his disciples, and our lives are totally arranged about being a disciple who makes disciples.

So in conclusion, the message of Jesus’ Woe Oracle to the Pharisees and teacher of the law is that we should remove hypocrisy and legalism from our lives. We should not be one person on Sunday at church and someone very different in our private lives.

Have you heard the story of the police officer who recently committed suicide because he had a double life? Two sets of families?  We don’t ever want to hear Jesus say Woe to you Church, and that means we should live a life fully for him. Ask him to reveal any hypocrisy in your life. And then remove it.

If there are rules you are imposing on others, maybe even unwittingly, would ask God to reveal them to you, so you can present a pure Gospel and not trip people up on legalism?