Feb 14

Sermon Follow-up: “Self-Made Religion”

2011 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Sermon Follow-Up

In Sunday’s sermon, “Self-Made Religion,” Ryan preached from Colossians 2:18-23 to warn us against the danger of self-made religion. Self-made religion, to be sure, comes in many different forms. One of those forms, which is as subtle as it is dangerous, is legalism. Paul wrote to the church, “…why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations …according to human precepts and teachings?”

In his article “Legalism and its Antidotes,” Dominic Smart expands on the danger of legalism:

Legalism is primarily a God-ward thing. It’s a way of making and keeping yourself acceptable to God. From this flows the legalism that is directed towards one another. It’s a way of scoring sanctity points in our fellowships, and exerting what one postmodernist called a “truth regime” – it’s about pride, power and control. It simultaneously glorifies man and “unsecures” man. Thus, its true opposites are grace and faith.

Yet it is so plausible. The need for order, structures and boundaries feeds our quest for control. Our very ability to keep some rules feeds our pride and gives us the impression that our relationship with God is somehow founded upon this ability.

…It often arises out of a good motive: to be holy. We don’t want sin to rule over us, we don’t want to grieve God or to stray from his path. And it is a narrow path compared to the one that leads to destruction. So in order to avoid big sins we add rules to God’s word – hedging sinful territory around with codes that are intended to keep us from it. It is the well-intentioned, keen and committed who are most prone to it. The half-hearted Christian couldn’t really care enough to veer towards legalism (though he or she makes up for it with many other errors). It was the scribes, following good Ezra, who developed “the traditions of men” which people preferred to the word of God: a preference that Jesus blasted in Mark 7.

But all this focuses the mind on self. It takes the mind and heart away from Christ, the Proper Man. It takes our faith away from His sufficiency and misplaces it upon ours. We live to achieve his approval; we forget that we are already alive and accepted in Christ. Ever so plausibly, we are sold a different gospel: one that isn’t really a gospel at all. And the desire not to sin in some big way can be little more than a mask to hide our lack of faith in Jesus, “who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption”. (1Cor 1:30). Holiness is not a matter of living on eggshells with a God who is reserving judgement on us and might turn us away at any moment.

It really is a deadly false thing, this warped alternative, this lie, this all-pervasive and hideous distortion of Christian living.

Smart goes on to unfold the following eight ways in which legalism is a distortion of the Biblical gospel:

  1. Legalism cannot deal with sin
  2. Legalism cannot bring us closer to God
  3. Legalism sends us in entirely the wrong directions as we progress through life
  4. Legalism is narrow-minded and sinfully boring
  5. Legalism encourages, even protects hypocrisy
  6. Legalism ends up trivializing life with God.
  7. Legalism produces a false gospel
  8. Legalism robs God

We recommend the entire article, where Smart expands on each of these points and follows them up with eight antidotes to the poison of legalism.