Legalism: a shortcut to sanctification?

Legalism: shortcut to sanctification

Right off the bat we know 2 things as true: God desires us to be holy & the Holy Spirit is responsible for the process of sanctification (1 Peter 1.2). But this process is drawn out — and at times painful.  Aren’t there any shortcuts? Perhaps some ‘spiritual accelerators’? Legalism would say yes.

“Hey christian,” suggests Legalism, “you want to be holy? Just follow this list of expectations:”

  • Stop watching R-rated movies
  • If you’re a girl, stop wearing pants.
  • If you’re a guy, only wear pants.
  • Read 2 chapters every day.
  • No secular music
  • Never miss a church service, etc.

“Follow this list and you’ll be accepted by God, make the Holy Spirit happy, and serve as an example to the weaker folk.”

But the whole point Legalism misses is that God is glorified by both holy lives as well as the process by which we are made holy. The author of Hebrews, after exalting Christ as the perfect Mediator, concludes: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). This is the process of sanctification that glorifies God: repentant & needy Christians, coming before the Throne, seeking help in Christ. To sidestep this process is to undermine our perfect Mediator and rob the Throne of glory.

Herein lies the difference between sanctification and mere self-improvement. When an atheist chooses to quit being lazy at work, we would rightly claim he has chosen an ethical high-road. We would not, however, call it sanctification. In the same way, a young christian may make moral changes in his life due to peer-pressure from his youth group, or in an attempt to live up to his profession of faith. Yet, the mere claim “I quit watching porn” is not proof of sanctification; it may be self-improvement. He has chosen a moral high-road although his relationship with his Savior is at the same stand-still. Instead, God desires to see Christians humbly confess “I quit watching porn because God’s mercy & grace in Jesus Christ transformed my affections”. This alone is fruit of the proper process of sanctification and requires the Spirit’s work in understanding, repentance, faith, dependence & love.

Only when sanctification is fruit of the proper process may it be called the very fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22,23). Ironically, these acts of the heart are never found on a legalist’s list.

The rich young ruler was more moral than many Christians but he never knew sanctification. He checked items off a list but he never drew near to the throne of grace, seeking mercy and grace. Christian, do not swap your great privilege for mere legalism. Do not trade your birthright for a bowl of stew.

One of the reasons millennials are giving up their faith

One of the reasons millennials  are giving up their faith

….It was never theirs to begin with.

It belonged to their parents. And they were spoon-fed it for decades. Surrounded by rules & regulations, the millennials had no option but to meet their parents expectations.

But that is the exact opposite of faith. And that’s why it didn’t stick.

When Christ calls His disciples, He at first attracts them to Himself: His sovereign Will, His eternal love, His endless grace, His transforming forgiveness.

One of the reasons millennials are giving up their faith is because they’re brave enough to admit it’s an empty faith. A counterfeit faith. A faith set in rules, in conformity, in meeting expectations and disappointing no one.

That isn’t faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is all about Him and less about parents. It’s about confessing Him as Lord, confessing ourselves as sinners who can’t wash our own souls before a Holy God, and confessing that He alone can transform our broken hearts.

I hope more millennials give up their faith in order to believe in Christ.

The Fugitive’s Guide to Fleeing Fundamentalism

Photo by Vincepal on Flickr, Breathless Escape

Photo by Vincepal on Flickr, Breathless Escape

There is a form of fundamentalism which insists on defining it’s fundamental doctrines by Biblical standards. This is healthy enough. But there’s a distorted form of fundamentalism, a wicked step-sister if you will, which is often the loudest of the two. It’s main argument is a theological one: God is most pleased when men are most averse to change. The mindset insists that we are safe from God’s wrath when we are nearest to the ‘old ways of doing things’, yet fails to define just how ‘old’ is old enough.

Here’s the deal: my heart goes out to the children caught up in this. While their parents may have voluntarily adopted this worldview, the children have been spoon-fed it since their first attempts to understand the world around them. Their view of God has been saturated with it. As they grow older and face silent questions with no audible answers, they usually become either increasingly hardened or increasingly despairing.

Why don’t they just up and walk away? Because it’s not that easy:

  • Some of the men they most esteem are fundamentalists of this order. Therefore, a stand against distorted fundamentalism is perceived as outright abandoning holiness. They’ve been taught that everyone who isn’t fundamentalist is worldly, so the only reason you would ever leave fundamentalism is because you’re sick of righteousness.
  • God’s wrath hangs over their heads. One step out of line, and an illness, unemployment or even death may visit your family.
  • Much bad has been done by the world. Isn’t fundamentalism what separates me from a dark & disturbing world? When fundamentalism is the only thing you know, it feels like the safest option.

So, regardless of conflicting feelings, they stay. And time passes. The boys grow up without learning how to reconcile differences or make decisions on their own. The girls grow up believing that all colleges are brothels, and men who aren’t fundamentalist are borderline rapist. The wives grow old thinking they have no place except to be pushed around by her husband. And the fathers grow old without finding friendship and help in the world that is just as confused as they are. The whole family has trust issues.

If you’re reading this and have found strains of this fundamentalism in your life, the way out begins in Scripture. Here is the fugitive’s guide to fleeing a fundamentalist heart:

  1. Read Scripture looking for Christ. Notice how He dealt with the traditional customs of His time. He didn’t bulldoze them all but He didn’t adopt them all either. His message of repentance & forgiveness was more important than that. Just how big is that message? And to what extent does He go to proclaim it?
  2. Read Scripture looking for grace. When God pours His goodness out on us because of Christ — and despite ourselves — that’s grace. It happens more often than we realize. The crippled sinner walks due to God’s grace and not due to new crutches. Notice how Christ’s disciples did not adopt a mere lifestyle; instead, they were changed from the inside-out by a grace greater than themselves. Rules can never take you far enough.
  3. Read Scripture looking for your heart. When we listen to God describe our hearts, there’s nothing flattering. Beneath our conservative layers, there’s a rotten core which fundamentalism fails to heal. Even as born-again Christians, our hearts will never hold enough worship & righteousness to catch God’s attention. God meant for His sufficiency to point out our insufficiency every single day. While Biblical truths do affect the way we live, they are meant to transform us at a deeper level: our heart.
  4. Read Scripture looking for references to the Savior as Mediator. How unfortunate that the Christian experience is mostly described in the past tense. But Scripture describes an ongoing process of teaching, leading, helping & forgiving. Christ and the Holy Spirit are actively involved in this transformation. Adopting a tighter set of standards doesn’t automatically promote anyone to a holier clan. Only an ongoing work of the Spirit can make us reflect our Savior.
  5. Read Scripture looking for love that goes beyond what you’d expect. Yes, the Scripture talks about God’s wrath — but it doesn’t stop there. The overarching theme is God glorifying His Name by redeeming really bad people (who thought they were fundamentalist enough) through Jesus Christ’s death & resurrection. This is an unusual love; it should leave us unsettled, not embittered. Notice how, even when God corrects His children, He does so in love.
  6. Read Scripture looking for freedom & forgiveness. The fear that shackles the fundamentalist’s heart is the fear that owns him. Jesus calls us to a freedom that is drenched in grace and secured in mercy. You need not cower any longer. This freedom bids us follow Him and beckon to a world of unsatisfied despondents to do the same.

There are people who are just as concerned about obedience, holy living and true worship as you are. And they follow their Savior with genuine joy. This isn’t about taking a side. It’s about walking closer to His.



One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons – marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Fundamentally afraid

Fundamentally afraid

Parents, are your children cowered into becoming frightened poster-boys of your ideology? Know this: fear eventually wears off. And when it does, they will search for sure footing and find none. They’ll wish you had been honest, upfront and gracious about truth, instead of focusing so much on fear.

Fear is appropriate when it walks alongside truth. But when it replaces truth, fear becomes an instrument of abuse, distortion, and resentment.

A child who is warned regarding electrical outlets will know both fear and truth. This is healthy. But a child who is threatened with monster stories, will one day discover the truth on her own and throw all caution to the wind. Her reckless abandon will be proportional to the fear once ingrained in her.

Children with fear complexes grow up with serious misconceptions. Here are three:

1. They can not articulate their beliefs. Society is curious by default and will question why they believe a certain way. Why do they prohibit this clothing, that drink, or that kind of music? Their answers will be variants of the worst possible thing that can happen. “Because rape…”, “because drunk beatings…”,”because demon possession…”. Bad is bad because it makes terrible things happen. They can not explain beyond that. Their principles are formed by reacting towards evil, instead of acting on truth.

2. They believe fear is a safe place to be. They are taught that the “world is out to get them” (though the definition of what consists of ‘world’ is a grey area). Home is safe, everything else isn’t. Fear becomes the norm. It’s no wonder we’ve seen so many cases of abuse stay hidden for decades within certain conservative movements.

3. They know more about sin than the Saviour. This is a tragedy. They grew up hearing of sin — society’s sin, their neighbour’s sin, their own sin. Everything had a direct relationship with sin. Sin, sin, sin. It’s a broken record, not a celestial choir. When Jesus is mentioned, He is never portrayed as Restorer & Rescuer. The cross is mostly God’s way of making you feel really bad about your sin. There is little victory. No joy. No complete forgiveness. Hope and glory are vague terms. Grace is rarely mentioned and never applied. They live with guilt, condemning themselves for every slip up.

There are many reasons why young people experience a ‘faith crisis’ as they start spreading their wings. Sometimes, it’s because they discover fear isn’t all it’s cooked up to be. When the curtain of fear drops, their shallow understanding of truth crumbles as well. “If mom and dad were wrong about the scare tactics, might they be wrong about everything else as well?

Here’s the good news: Jesus focused on truth. Truth, after all, sets free. These principles never shake or crumble. We discover His victorious Gospel, and read of the cross, where He nailed our sins, “triumphing over them” so that we might be eternally forgiven. In Christ we learn how to rightly worship, live, serve and fear. His Word gives us a new name, new identity & new hope.

If you are still hiding in fear, please stop. There’s a safe haven in the amazing grace of a glorious Saviour. Yes, the world is messed up. Yes, you might have messed up. But His Righteousness outshines it all.

Are you convinced or convicted?


Convincing someone is relatively easy. You throw a flurry of facts in their face, speak with an authoritative tone & share a handful of examples which prove your point. Pronto — they’re convinced. But only until they hear a more convincing argument.

Conviction, on the other hand, is intentional and fruit of personal study. While convincing is fleeting, conviction requires time. Convincing is a knee-jerk reaction while conviction requires reflection. To be convinced, you have only to listen to an argument and come away impressed. But to be convicted, you must roll up your sleeves, dig deep into books, hear both sides of the argument and test your conclusions. In short, conviction requires wisdom, while convincing needs only a moment of shock-and-awe. Convincing is free; conviction is earned.

I’d encourage you to consider your own worldview. It has been said that everyone believes something. The question is why do you believe what you believe? Are your beliefs fruit of being convinced or being convicted? Have parents, pastors & public opinion merely convinced you, or have they guided you towards studying & discovering the answers for yourself? We must taste and see for ourselves that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) and echo Paul’s conviction: “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim 1:12).

When the ground shakes, the convinced are the first out the door. Those with convictions stand their ground.

Homeschooling will not save your soul

Homeschooling will not save your soul 600x362

Homeschooling is fine but we can’t hope it will become something it isn’t. Homeschooling is not:

  • The Gospel of Redemption
  • The infallible Word of God
  • The Holy Spirit, in order to transform hearts
  • The Truth which will set us free
  • The seal and primary sign of a true disciple
  • The means by which God’s people become more like Christ
  • The Good News to a dying people

One of the reasons there are so many embittered homeschoolers is because they expected homeschooling to be something it could never become. Idolatry always leads to frustration.

A lesson from the World Cup about passion

A lesson from the World Cup about passion

So the World Cup is full and overflowing. It’s that time of year where countries come together to do what they do best: bicker about referees! And all this soccer talk has left an impression on me. So, let me tell you about my dog.

Everyday when I come home from work, Fiona bounces out to meet me. She’s like a kangaroo stuffed into a dog suit. And she always has this squeaky toy in her mouth, and she wants me to throw it — get this — so she can go it and bring it back to me. So I can throw it again. She’s on instant replay. It’s like she’s thinking: “I’ll keep getting the ball until either I die or he does.” And the other day I was watching her and I thought, “Boy I wish I could be like that! Not be a dog, and look everyone in the ankles, but be so passionate about something so simple that I could repeat it over and over and over ad naseum!”

And that’s really what all this hubbub about soccer is about, isn’t it? There are 22 grown men running back and forth after a ball for 90 minutes. Not that big of a deal really. But it’s the passion that makes the difference, see. If you paid 22 grown men millions of dollars to run after 22 balls on a treadmill of sorts, no one would watch. But it’s the idea that these soccer teams are made up of the best players, guys who have dedicated their entire lives to this one sport. Soccer is their gift in life — it’s their whole life actually. And that’s passion, and that’s attractive. And it’s catching! I can take the money I earn from my dead end job and turn it into something passionate by buying the jerseys, and flags and investing in my team! So that, as fans, we become part of the passion that is radiating off of the team.

We love the idea of passion! We’d be addicted to it if we ever found enough of it. Our teenage years were spent dreaming of meeting someone so perfect that we have no alternative but to be dumbfounded with passion. Overcome with a profound sense of intense emotion. We want to be possessed by romantic loveliness and kiss people in the rain like that movie The Notebook and get married to the soundtrack of the Twighlight movies. In our careers, it sounds so amazing to work in a startup. We’re captivated with the idea that three guys can build an empire in their parent’s garage out of nothing but passion and granola bars!

There’s an article about this guy who spent the past 35 years building a kinetic sculpture of San Francisco out of 100,000 toothpicks. And everyone thinks “This is colossal!” primarily because it is. The first year he was building it they all thought, “How cute, he’s gluing toothpicks together. Didn’t he have a childhood?” And now — 35 years later — they’re buying tickets to see his sculpture at the art gallery. Dedication like that is inspiring and motivates us to find a passion of your own that fills a void of boredom in your life, and that’s awesome too.

That might be one of the biggest turnoffs of Christianity actually. You say you serve a sovereign God Who is greater than all other gods and can hold the entire milky way in the palm of His Hand. You say He’s not only forgiven you for being the scum you admit to being, but He’s gone out of His way to adopt you into His family and promise you eternity. That sounds colossal. But have you seen how you worship? It’s more ‘ho hum’ than ‘awesome’. Where’s the joy? Does He save you to be lethargic? Isn’t there something wrong when Amazing Grace loses it’s ‘amazing’.

No one wants to be a puppy running after a ball, on repeat. We want truth that leave us full and overflowing. And that’s where passion starts.

The love of God is peculiarly the work of the Holy Ghost…. Therefore the way to get it is earnestly to pray…. We are no more able to love the Lord than cold water is able to heat itself…so the Holy Ghost must breed that fire of love in us, it must be kindled from heaven, or else we shall never have it.

John Preston (1587-1628), The Breastplate of Faith and Love, 2 vols. in one (1634; facsimilie repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979), 2:50.

5 reasons why legalism is a dangerous drug

Legalism can be addicting. It gives us the high that we’re floating on a holier-than-thou cloud of paradise above the other sinners. Here are 5 reasons to quit:

1. Legalism says it’s all about you. Christ is offered a backseat.
2. Legalism suggests that you are the Lawmaker, instead of God. It also appoints you Judge & Executioner.
3. Legalism gives you a pat on the back every time you meet your own standards, instead of leading you to glorify your Redeemer.
4. Legalism teaches that it’s more import to have an appearance of righteousness than to know the righteous Son of God.
5. Legalism preaches that true joy is just a matter of obeying the right set of commandments, instead of discovering God’s grace.

Paul said it best: “For men will be lovers of themselves, …. rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim 3.1-3)

Bonus readGrace is not a Thing by Jeremy Treat

A person can say, yes, all of this Bible and Christianity stuff is nice, but the place where I’m really going to find joy is in my ‘fill in the blank.’ Whatever you think is going to give you ultimate satisfaction in life is what you worship.

Ligon Duncan, via

John Knox’s marriage proposal to Elizabeth Stewart

Four years after the death of his first wife, John Knox met his second soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Stewart, and the proposal took place at the dinner table.

“Addressing himself to the young lady, he said ‘My bird, are you willing to marry me?’ She answered, “Yes, Sir, only I fear you’ll not be willing to take me.’ He said, ‘My bird, if you be willing to take me, you must take your venture of God’s providence, as I do. I go through the country sometimes on my foot, with a wallet on my arm, a shirt, a clean band, and a Bible in it; you may put some things in it for yourself, and if I bid you take the wallet, you must do it, and go where I go, and lodge where I lodge.’ ‘Sir,’ says she, ‘I’ll do all this.’ ‘Will you be as good as your word?’ ‘Yes, I will.’

Upon which, the marriage talk was concluded, and she lived happily with him, and had three daughters from him.”

As described by Mr. Robert Millar, minister of Paisley, to the historian of “The Sufferings of the Church of Scotland,” Mr. Wodrow, on November 15, 1722. [via]

If any smart aleck tries this move with my daughter while I’m eating dinner, I’ll politely excuse myself from the table and throw him under a bus.

Dear son: your dad is messed up

Your mother and I are counting down the days until you shake the hospital room with your first wail. Our home is a small one, and sometimes our bouncing dog makes it seem smaller, but you are most welcome to fill it with your little giggles, abrasive screams and tender tears. We love you.

Here’s something you should know: much of our world is made up of appearances. From advertising, to entertainment, to the small talk of social interactions, it seems that putting on masks and pretending to be a different ‘you’ is quite common. Most everyone has a shinier version of themselves which they put on and off, depending on who’s taking notes at the time.

But I don’t want you to see me in my shiny armor. (I’d rather get rid of it, really.) Instead, I want you to see me the way my Saviour sees me. It’s the only accurate portrayal of who I am. When you look up at me, look for these things:

  1. Your dad is a sinner. He’s messed up. God created him with a beautiful purpose: to know & worship the Triune God. But your dad missed the mark. Repeatedly. And purposefully. Your dad wasn’t an awesome person with just a few faults. He was faulty all over. He was like 200 lbs of swiss cheese, bespeckled with holes. Drained of any righteousness and yet overflowing with pride.
  2. Jesus Christ saved your dad. And saved is a pretty big word. It’s the words loved, rescued, washed, freed, adopted, and called all rolled into one! A whole bunch of wonderful things happened to your dad — yet none of it happened because of your dad. God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved me, rescued me in Jesus Christ. He bought a slave and promptly called him ‘My child’. I hope to share this story with you many more times.
  3. Your dad keeps messing up. It’s frustrating, I know. Just ask your mom. Your dad messes up more often than you do in your cute little diaper. Before God’s eyes, your dad is completely blanketed by the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit is molding and shaping me. But you’ll see this over and over again: when you compare your daddy to Jesus, there’s a huge gap. Dad doesn’t mirror his Saviour perfectly. However, your parents find relief, forgiveness and comfort in Someone Who is perfect. Someone Who not only began a good work in us, but will complete it.
  4. God is pouring this thing called grace on your dad and, boy, does he need it. Grace is the sharpening tool, the correcting rod, and the comforting blanket. I need grace because Jesus Christ is the only standard — the only appearance — that God is pleased to see. There’s nothing that pleases our Father more than His Son. And grace is how God is making His children become more like His Son. Grace is the fuel that motivates the Christian in his Heavenward journey.

Here’s your dad in his true colors: sinner, growing, depending and needy of grace. So your dad isn’t the defining item in your family. He can’t fix everything, protect everybody, or meet every need every time for everybody for all eternity. He certainly doesn’t have all the answers. Only God Himself can make worthwhile change in your dad, your mom and you. Only God can fix our sick world and its messed-up values. Only God can make something beautiful out of our messed-up stories.

Welcome to our home, baby. It must be a place of  broken hearts and not shiny masks. Hearts that find their meaning in the only Father worth knowing.

“Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.” – J. Gresham Machen

Many Christians rush to develop what they will call a “Christian worldview” by arranging isolated Christian truths, doctrines, and convictions in order to create formulas for Christian thinking. No doubt, this is a better approach than is found among so many believers who have very little concern for Christian thinking at all; but it is not enough.

Albert Mohler, via

Mr. Hoover, if you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.

Calvin Coolidge, to Herbert Hoover, via

Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success-oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God.

– Jerry Bridges, “The Pursuit of Holiness” via

Worth a read

Pr. Jeff Amsbaugh reflects on what must change within the fundamentalist movement. His post is directed at young Baptist preachers, but is worth a read by everyone who has (or had) interaction with fundamentalists.

In summary:

  1. We must not live in fear of our friends.
  2. We must not encourage ‘hero worship’.
  3. We must recognize the usefulness of unity. (“We must believe that compassion is not compromise.“)
  4. We must recognize the glory of grace. (“When Christianity becomes nothing more than an itemized list of abstinences, then nothing is done to address heart attitudes.“)
  5. We must recognize holiness does not sprout from legalistic lists.
  6. We must seek to abolish the problem of pride.
  7. We must recognize that attempts to satisfy the flesh will only lead to exhaustion & frustration.