“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
This is such a wonderful passage, and it fully warrants about ten separate devotionals. But the reason that it occurred to me to use this one is that this topic has been on my mind a bit lately. Aside from Christians accusing each other of judging, the accusation of legalism has got to be one of the top insults that gets bandied about.
Whenever anyone makes any kind of a claim that they base in the word of God somehow, there will be offended Christians. You are adding to the word of God! You are making up laws! How dare you, you legalist!! Boooo! Booooo!
But there is a huge chasm between legalism and application. God expects us, and commands us to apply His word to our lives. In this passage, which is talking about the life of the body, it is telling us to apply it to each other in wisdom. Let it dwell among you richly. It communicates a sort of intense marinade. Let it seep in and cover you up. Be lost in it. When a dry spot comes up, there should be no question as to what to put on it. We are people who have a lot of principles to apply, and our desire should be to apply it thick. Let the word of God dwell in you richly.
My Dad is fond of saying that your theology comes out your fingertips. Whatever we are doing, we are showing what we think of God. We are showing what we believe. When we act like God has no thoughts about our specific behavior, we are believing a lie about Him. When we act like another Christian thinking anything of our behavior is a direct insult to God’s law, we are lying about Him.
One Christian will say, “I don’t think you should be watching Real Housewives – it isn’t very edifying.” And the cry will go up that a legalist has been found. The difference between legalism and application is that legalism pretends that God’s law said directly “Thou shalt not watch a show about adulterous women with breast implants.” Application would say “What are you doing? This is stupid.”
Legalism is a real threat in our lives, but it comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s law. God’s law is not something to achieve, it is something to dwell in. When someone quotes Titus 2 to buoy up their new program ” Storing Dry Goods God’s Way,” which is sold in a set with the required tupperware, it is safe to say that legalism is in play. A legalist might tell you that real Christians shop for groceries once a week, because there is only one way to do it that honors God, and no arguing about it. Legalists know which style of penmanship God wants you to teach your children. Legalists shouldn’t have to be explaining this chore chart to you because it clearly came down from Heaven on Mt. Sinai, which you would know if you had read your Bible.
Legalism is summed up in Matthew 23 (roughly translated) as ” You ninnies! Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!” Straining out a disorderly countertop and swallowing porn in secret. Straining out less wholesome food and swallowing bitterness. Straining out the possibility that something bad might happen, ignoring the hideous thing that is currently happening. Straining out birthing practices you dislike and swallowing disrespecting your husbands.
Lawlessness on the other hand is simply eating the camel garnished in gnats. Crunchy little gnats baked in whatever current trends are afoot. Little gnats of being entertained by sodomy. Little gnats of listening to the world but ignoring your pastor. Little gnats of dressing provocatively. Little gnats of being pompous. Little gnats of ill will towards the saints.
Here’s the deal. We aren’t supposed to be eating the camel or the gnats. The law was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. He gave us His body to eat. This is our food. This is what we can not strain and ought not try to. The body and blood of our Lord and Savior is sufficient. Let that dwell in you richly.