Issue #89 -------
December 1, 2003
The world is full of pots jeering at kettles.
--- La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
William Shakespeare wrote, "Men's judgments are a parcel of their fortunes" (Antony and Cleopatra, III, xi, 31). That is an astute observation! A reality many men fail to realize is that our ultimate destiny is directly affected by our own standard of judgment. The gallows I construct for you may prove in the end to be the mechanism upon which I myself am hanged. "So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai" (Esther 7:10). Some judgmentalists, sadly, learn the judgment of judgmentalism too late. The standard by which we condemn others may well become the standard by which we ourselves are condemned.
One of the dangers of legalism is that it is inherently self-destructive for its adherents. It fosters a judgmentalism that ultimately can only turn back upon itself. In their judgment and condemnation of others for failure to comply with some legal code, they condemn themselves. If justification and salvation are obtained through compliance with law, then all are lost ... for all are transgressors. "By works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20). This means works of any system of law, not just the Law of Moses. Those who seek to impose some aspect of law upon others, become obligated to keep perfectly every aspect of that law (Galatians 5:3). Legalism and patternism are deadly; they will bring about only the deaths of those who embrace them. Salvation is by grace through faith. Any other path will sever one from Christ and separate one from grace (Galatians 5).
Legalism and patternism are far, far more than just a "bad idea," as some have suggested in an attempt to sugar-coat these deadly doctrines. They are, to put it bluntly, theologies which will send precious people into the lake of fire, which is the second death. This is not God's will, however. He does not wish for "any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord we "shall not be hurt by the second death" (Revelation 2:11). However, not all men choose the pathway of salvation by grace through faith. Some choose law, and in so doing they choose death. It is self-determined destruction. They judge all "law-breakers" as condemned, and in so doing only condemn themselves. They reject all who do not abide by the "pattern," and in so doing are themselves rejected by that same standard of measurement. This deadly deception must be opposed by those who have found life; this bondage must be exposed by those who have found liberty.
In keeping with the above, I would like to share with you some very insightful thoughts from one of the readers who wrote me on Sunday, November 23rd to express his own reflections about the deadly dangers of the legalistic mindset and its frequent attendant harsh judgmentalism. This brother in Christ also gave permission to reveal his name, saying, "My feeling is that it would be personally inconsistent for me to claim the convictions I do, and not be willing to have my name associated with them. Therefore, I would prefer you use my name." The Reflections reader, whose thoughts I will be sharing and commenting upon below, is Aaron Goodman, who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Aaron is the son-in-law of one of the elders with whom I serve, and he is a devoted servant of the Lord Jesus and a young man unafraid to engage in serious scrutiny of God's Word to better determine His will for our lives. He is also a good writer, having completed one book already (which I was honored to be able to review), and is working on another. I have no doubt that in the years to come the thinking of this friend and brother will have an impact for good upon the people of God. Please keep him, and his family, in your prayers. As he speaks out for the Lord, he will come to the attention of the enemy, and he will come to know firsthand the trials and tribulations associated with proclaiming Truth. May God keep him focused and faithful.
Legalism: Its Just Punishment
Aaron began his two page letter to me by stating, "I read your latest Reflections (Issue #87 -- On The Firing Line) a couple of times this weekend, and just wanted to respond because the whole legalism - patternism - grace thing is so near and dear to my heart and mind. Nothing terribly linear here, but I just wanted to share some random thoughts in case they might come in useful for you; or at least maybe you'll find them interesting. By the way, I agree with your comments. But I tend to view things from different angles." One of the genuine benefits of sending out these Reflections is the response I get from readers. There are close to five thousand readers now from all over the globe (thankfully, they don't all write at once!!), and the daily dialogue with fellow believers is extremely uplifting to me. Thus, I'm thankful when people like Aaron take time to share their insights. We all grow from such exchanges.
Aaron's first point is, I think, a very good one. He develops it thusly: "What I see, which is very far reaching indeed, is that what Jesus consistently demonstrated is the idea that our judgment of others becomes the judgment against us. This all fits into a rather elaborate view of God's handling of men, but I have all but concluded that it is man who condemns himself in the end. This is consistent with a just God (what could be more fair, after all, than living or dying according to your own standard?) and it is also consistent with a loving God in that evil is, in the end, its own punishment."
There is much to commend this notion that the evil perpetrated against others may just well "come back to haunt" the perpetrator. "What goes around comes around" is not a proverbial saying without some basis in fact. As the brother of our Lord pointed out, mercy will not be extended in judgment to those who withheld it from their fellow man (James 2:13). Those who show no mercy, will be shown no mercy. Those who refuse to forgive others, will receive no forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:15). After all, Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Forgive us our debts, JUST AS we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). As Aaron suggested, what could be more fair than each man experiencing the ultimate effect of his own standard?! As the wrath of God was being poured out upon the wicked, the angel of the waters said, with regard to the afflictions of those experiencing that judgment of wrath, "They poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it" (Revelation 16:6). If you live by the sword, expect to die by the sword. Yes, in many ways, evil is indeed its own just punishment. Perhaps we could characterize this as the Haman Hypothesis ... the epitome of poetic justice!
The apostle Paul wrote the Galatian brethren, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Those who do all in their power to destroy another, whether that be a co-worker, a spouse, a Christian, or one who has wronged them, can expect to reap destruction in return. We reap exactly what we sow. If you are planting the seeds of ruin in the life of another, expect to reap for yourself a hellish harvest in return.
Aaron continues: "I have personally known men who are like those you mention with regard
to claiming to possess 'the only perfect doctrine.' Generally, the way they make this claim is: '(1) We don't judge
others. But we do say that only those who follow the Bible will be saved. Oh, and by the way, (2) only we
follow the Bible.' You know as well as I do that the longer you think about this type of pride and error, the deeper
and more complex you see it to be. It is false in the most obvious and basic of ways. But what is most astounding
and frightening about the ones to whom I am referring is that if you ask them (and I have) if those who are sincere
of heart in following a different doctrine than theirs will be saved in the end by a loving God who reads the hearts
of men, they will say 'no.' My picture of such people on judgment day, then, is one of them having to come to terms
with the following:
Such men, in this scenario, stand condemned, and solely by their own standards. I believe this is
essentially why Jesus presented the Pharisees with a bleak and tragic outlook. They had created this same
situation for themselves."
Such men, in this scenario, stand condemned, and solely by their own standards. I believe this is essentially why Jesus presented the Pharisees with a bleak and tragic outlook. They had created this same situation for themselves."
And this is the sad fate of a judgmental legalism. In condemning others, they only succeed in condemning themselves! Being imperfect in doctrine and practice themselves, and condemning others for being imperfect in doctrine and practice, they stand self-condemned. What is truly astounding is that they can't seem to perceive this horrendous reality. Thus, I firmly believe the legalistic, patternistic mindset is a "deluding spirit" which truly causes them to be "blind guides of the blind." Their fate is to fall into the pit. I will even be so bold as to suggest that legalism is at least partly in view in Paul's following statement --- "They did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). I believe, based on the context of the epistle, that it was primarily legalism that Paul condemned as "a different gospel" and a "distortion of the gospel of Christ," and for which many of the Galatian brethren were "deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-9).
Is the second death self-determined? The answer is a resounding YES! Paul told some in Pisidian Antioch, who had rejected the message of grace, "You judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life" (Acts 13:46). Jesus Christ is the way to LIFE. Those severed from Him because of their pursuit of salvation by works of law, however, will receive the wages of their desertion -- DEATH. As Aaron points out in his letter to me, "We need to pray for them. They are in a bad way."
Legalism: Manifestation of Evil
Brother Aaron Goodman continues: "Which brings up the next idea. A great deal of the cause of this legalism - patternism - grace idea is the view that the primary importance of Jesus' life will play out only in the eschaton, and only in soteriological terms. In my opinion, the centrality of Jesus' teaching and praxis is about the nature of the kingdom, and the call to enter into it -- TODAY. A large part of the meaning of the incarnation is one of humans coming into full contact with God. Christianity is about becoming the Love of God; entering into the eternal and omnipresent (therefore, here and now) kingdom where God rules. I firmly believe that our view should be one of entering the kingdom NOW. If we (any/all of us) continue to view Christianity primarily in terms of the kingdom to COME, and only then with concern for SALVATION, we will forever sit here and talk about doctrines and anti-doctrines. However, if we come to view Christianity as a path of coming into ever deeper contact with God, as evidenced in the incarnation of Christ, all of these issues will fade into obvious futility."
I have taught for many years that our Lord Jesus came into this world NOT for the purpose of establishing another RELIGION, but to renew a RELATIONSHIP. It is union with deity, not uniformity of doctrine, that will prove redemptive. Satan has done everything in his power to subvert that truth. If he can shift our focus away from relationship, and get us to spend our time fussing and feuding over our religious and traditional perspectives and preferences, he can do great damage to the kingdom. There is no question that one of his primary tools is legalism. Love will take a backseat to Law every time; regulation over relationship is the order of the day. It is deadly.
The concept of immediacy is also vital with respect to the kingdom, relationship, and salvation. "Pie in the sky by-and-by" is the motto of a "maņana" mentality. Paul did not say "tomorrow" is the day of salvation, he said it is NOW (2 Corinthians 6:2). Religion looks to a future reward for "services rendered." Relationship, however, is its own reward, and we experience it every day in Christ Jesus. We abide in love, not law. The yoke of bondage has been lifted ... now! We are, in the here-and-now, free in Him. When disciples begin to realize this fact, they will also begin to value the joys of family. Unity among brethren will become far more important than uniformity among factionists. We need to quit gazing into the clouds waiting for His return, and begin looking around us at the work of healing that needs to begin. Family relationships need to be restored, unity needs to be promoted, the grace of God needs to be proclaimed, and this will not happen as long as Satan can divert our attention with squabbles over sectarian preferences.
Aaron wrote, "We need to stand against the binding of dogma onto other human beings. We need to grow to be courageous enough to say that a legalistic view (one which is legalistic AND attempts to make itself binding on all people) is quite simply a manifestation of evil. This is not to judge the legalist himself as evil, but it is to say he is partaking in and promoting evil. Perhaps not HE, but his THEOLOGY, is of the devil. Although I develop an argument for this in my second book (that I am now writing), I am not alone. Thomas Merton alludes to this (in my opinion) in his work 'The Moral Theology of the Devil', and Paul Tillich, in his 'Systematic Theology' (in the introduction to vol. 1), says simply that fundamentalism has traits of the demonic. This, to me, is the true reason we need to stand against binding legalism and fundamentalism; they are opposed to God. The evil of legalism and fundamentalism is especially vile, for it passes itself off as godliness, uses this lie to destroy people, and in so doing taints the entire image of our faith."
About all I can do, in view of such compelling reflection and testimony, is simply say AMEN! May God help us all to come to greater perception of the subtle wiles of Satan. He disguises himself as an angel of light, so we should not be surprised that his devices pass themselves off as godly (such as legalism, patternism and fundamentalism). May the heavenly Father guide each of us, His beloved children, into greater unity and harmony, and may we truly come to perceive that the way to restored relationship with Him is in a PERSON, not in a POSITION or a PATTERN.
Today (December 1, 2003) marks the One Year Anniversary of these Reflections. The first issue, entitled "Musings on a Movement," was sent out on December 1, 2002. Over the past year interest has grown tremendously in this Internet - email ministry, and the number of readers has grown from a handful of friends to several thousand throughout the globe. I believe this demonstrates a genuine hunger and thirst for in-depth study of God's Word, a growing desire for responsible reform, and a longing for unity among all believers. I appreciate so much those of you who have supported this ministry in your prayers, with your financial gifts, and by sharing these studies with others. Please keep this effort in your daily prayers, and may God richly bless each of you as you have so richly blessed me.
One of the readers of these Reflections has a special request. His name is Jack Bruce, from Texas, and he is doing some research into those who have experienced hurt from the churches they attend, or who have been the victim of "grumbling among brethren." In putting together these statistics he assures anyone who writes that they shall remain anonymous. If you would like to contact Jack for more information, his email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, your article "On The Firing Line" was a wonderful article that really touched a nerve. I can relate to so many of the Reflections that you write, and you have taught me much. I just really appreciate you, Al. I think from the reader responses I read that you probably realize what a tremendous impact you are having on people who are struggling with these same issues (grace versus legalism). I look forward to every one of your Reflections, and I often share your messages with my wife and our friends. You are a breath of fresh air. Please keep it up. I am learning much from you. Thanks!
From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:
I can't remember where I heard or read this, but I think it is a good definition of Grace, Mercy and Justice.
I have got to tell you how much I am enjoying your work on the translations. I taught and preached with the NASB. I fell in love with the New Century Bible when I got a copy with Max Lucado's notes. However, when I want to just enjoy reading God's Word and not have to do a lot of thinking I read a newer version called The Message. I am sure that I will be condemned straight to Hell if a KJV lover ever reads this note to you.
I won't write about how much I enjoy your work and your writing. I have done that several times in the past. I consider you to be my greatest gift from God in the last 20 years; a gift I share with all I can, and not one person has complained, but all have been thankful. I truly love you and thank God for you every day. May our Father bless you and your family as you labor to share the light of His Word.
From a Reader in Texas:
Enjoyed your discussion of the KJV. I have just finished the recently published book, "God's Secretaries" by Nicholson, which is an excellent study of the background and history of the KJV. The chapter on the King's instructions to the translators and the limitations he puts on them is especially interesting.
From a Reader in Washington:
Another great Reflections! The KJV can be a great version because of it's poetic style. In fact, like you said, we can memorize some verses easier in the KJV ... however, it is very confusing at times. I hope our KJV only friends can see that people have a hard time with it and extend a bit of grace toward those of us who love Jesus as much as they. Keep shedding light in a dark world, my friend.
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, your scholarship and deep love and respect for God's truth comfort me greatly. I tremble sometimes when my heart parts with views held by my dear brothers and sisters. I will never love them less, but can more comfortably tolerate my differing thoughts when folks like you share my divergence. I laughed aloud Sunday morning in class when someone described how in the long ago a good sister led the singing sitting down, but a man stood up! And I was the only one who laughed (unless God shared the humor).
From a Reader in Nevada:
I just read your Analysis of the KJV and it is indeed great. Just when I thought I already knew it all, you have given me more information. Thank you. Al, I often think those who dogmatically hold to the KJV or other divisive ideas just consider the purity of their ideas to be more important than the consequences of their ideas. They are spiritually egotistical. And that egotism is the only thing profound about their thinking. How would these folks have lived without the written word before printers were invented? Or when so few people could read? And, sadly, I used to be numbered among them. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Texas:
My dear brother, I just now got around to reading your latest Reflections -- #88. I will probably print it for filing under "translations" in my good old Baker Topical Filing System! Thanks! I also, as I always do, enjoyed reading your "letters" section. You had a letter from a Texas reader to which you responded -- about the meaning of "grace." You asked for thoughts of other readers on what we believe to be the nature of grace. I am a very simple guy. Not a scholar (as if you couldn't tell!). My thought is this: Grace IS the sacrificial death of Messiah Jesus for my sins. Thanks for your humor in apologizing to the Dachshunds of the world recently! I thought that was really neat of you! I love you my friend, and hope you are having a marvelous Thanksgiving Day with your family and other lovely people.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Brother Al, I've written to you in the past regarding MDR, but I imagine you get plenty of email. I just got through reading (again) part of your debate with Darrell Broking. Every time I start to get stuck in my legalistic mind trap I like to go read what you wrote to him regarding the Present Indicative in Matthew 19:9. It's so very true. I don't say that out of just sentiment, or because I am remarried, but because it makes sense; it's the most harmonious view. I've also read Dr. Osburn's essay as well, and it concurs with your view, as you know.
From a Reader in Kentucky:
I truly look forward to reading Reflections every week. I may not understand everything, but I have noticed I now take a closer look at Scripture and what is being said. Keep up the great work!
From a Reader in Kentucky:
Hey, Al! Have you looked much at the English Standard Version yet? I began using it a few months ago on a trial basis, and now I'm hooked. It's similar to the old RSV that was my favorite, and yet it has some vast improvements (in my opinion), including a not quite so theologically liberal (modern) slant on OT translating.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I enjoyed the last issue on the KJV. There is just so much about translations that people do not understand. Communicating with each other in English is difficult, so much more so from another language. You commented on the TNIV. You are right about the feminization aspects of the translation and I suppose that it will bias many against it. However, in some places it made needed corrections. One is found in Philippians 2:4 where the word "only" was dropped to keep it in line with the humility of Jesus found in the following verses. I also think Romans 12:1 is better than the '84 NIV edition, in my opinion.
The best part of this issue was the comments from the elder/preacher at the end. Having experienced the opposite from what he was saying, I think that they are a very biblical congregation. That would be the type of congregation I would want to work with. I wonder if it is a growing trend or an isolated example?
From a Reader in California:
It's weird how those who demand a "yes" or "no" answer to questions they deem so important to salvation are rarely, if ever, asked questions by others demanding just a "yes" or "no" answer, because those of us who would ask them a question already know their answer to it, and most likely we have been party to asking others, in times past, the very same things, demanding the very same thing: "Just YES or NO, please." It's a very old dodge.
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