Are You a Legalist??

willywonkalegalistHave you ever met an anti-legalist? They’re like the legalistic sort of church folk, only they take things to the opposite extreme. The legalists like Christian movies? Great, let’s hate Christian movies! Legalists don’t read Twilight? Read all the vampire stories!

If you by some miracle haven’t encountered an anti-legalist, go read some random Christian blogs that rant about the dangers of purity rings, or find an online support group for kids whose parents didn’t let them watch PG-13 movies. That should give you the general idea.

So here’s my thesis: Legalism and anti-legalism are twin forms of idolatry. Why is that? Because both lifestyles are based on people’s opinions and our own desire to leave an impression, rather than on God’s will for us. And why is that? Well, that’s what the post is about.

We need to start by defining the terms. What are legalism and anti-legalism, and what’s wrong with each one?

The problem with legalism is that it is contrary to the Gospel. No one can (or should) question that. In essence, legalism takes good and beautiful choices, and uses them to become standards that all Christians should follow. It assumes that we and our perfect homeschool families and flawless courtships (complete with a first-kiss-wedding) can and must earn the approval of God. Anyone who doesn’t do worship services and potlucks exactly the way we do just isn’t as awesome as we are. Our way is the right way, and theirs is the wrong one. God forbid we should ever be associated with those people!

But guess what? Anti-legalism is also contrary to the Gospel. It operates under the premise that moral standards that are not specifically commanded in scripture are a threat to our freedom in Christ. It assumes that Josh Harris and God’s Not Dead 2 must be spurned and ridiculed; Harry Potter is the only way to prove that we are truly free in Christ. Anyone who even tolerates the idea that kids shouldn’t date until age 18 just isn’t as awesome as we are. We must fight legalism and the judgmental attitudes of others! Our way is the right way, and theirs is the wrong one. God forbid we should ever be associated with those people!

Do you see what’s so tragically laughable here? Legalism and anti-legalism are, at their root, exactly the same concept taken to two different extremes. In both cases, decisions are based less on what God is asking me to do, and more on how I see myself and how others will perceive me. It’s just like boys and girls throwing mud pies at each other on the playground because the opposite gender hypothetically has cooties- never mind the actual mud on your own clothes.

Now, to be clear: calling your relationship “courting” instead of “dating” does not make you a legalist, and reading a book by Suzanne Collins does not make you an anti-legalist. The problem is not the action itself, but the motivation behind the action. Both forms of legalism happen when we take the focus off of God and put ourselves and our works in the spotlight. The mindset in both cases is one of “people need to see what I’m doing for God, not what God is doing in me.” Legalism and anti-legalism are both idolatry because the ultimate standard is how I appear to others.

I have to look perfect at church. 

I dare not look too perfect at church. 

I have to save my children from a life of sin.

I have to save my parents from a life of judging lest they be judged. 

People, it’s time to wake up! We simply have to stop putting that pressure on ourselves. God didn’t assign us the responsibility of being perfect; who are we to assign it to ourselves? If gaining the approval of man through my own behavior is my motivation, then there’s no room for God. And a life without God is the most dangerous life I can live.

So what’s the point? Well, here’s a quote. I don’t care if you like Doctor Strange or not (based on what I’ve seen, you probably don’t), but the Ancient One aptly summed up the truth everyone is missing:

It’s not about you.

God is the center. People are not God, and we never will be. It’s not our job to live perfect lives in front of others, nor to prove to others that we have the truth about living perfect lives. If that was really the case, we of all people should be most pitied. It would mean that Jesus’ death doesn’t really matter after all, and God has forsaken us. It would mean that it’s up to humanity to save itself. That sounds blasphemous, yet it’s exactly what we proclaim when we live to create an impression on others. And we can do that just as easily when we’re reading Harry Potter as when we’re listening exclusively to Christian music.

Sure, it’s okay to hate Christian movies, just as it’s okay to skip the Divergent trilogy. But what’s your reason for disliking either? So often, we make decisions based on how we appear to others. If I refuse to spend money at Starbucks, will people think I’m legalistic? If I wear this, will people think I’m making myself cheap? Sure, we should have a care about how we treat others, but here’s the thing: people are always going to judge us. Remember the farmer, his son, and their donkey. If we build our lives based on other people’s perceptions, we will end up dissatisfied and depressed. It’s impossible to create the perfect impression forever, and God didn’t make us to live like that anyway.

The thing we need to change is our motivation. We should really be making our decisions based on what God asks us to do. That’s the life He created us to live. Where does God want me to spend my hard-earned money? Does my clothing reflect the honor that God has given me as His son or daughter? And yes, people will still judge us or think ill of us, and sometimes that will hurt, but it doesn’t matter as much when we know we’re doing what God would have us do. It’s truly amazing how the earth grows strangely dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.

It’s all about God, anyway. What right have we to add to His commandments?

Advertisements

To Christians With “Overprotective” Parents

overprotectiveparents

Here are two things you should know.

1: This post is a letter written to Christian kids under age eighteen. If you’re not a Christian and/or child and you want to read this post, take it for what it is: not written for you.

2: This is an insanely-super-long post, so if you don’t have a lot of time and/or are highly distractable, don’t read this post right now. Bookmark it and come back later after you’ve taken care of your important to-do things.

What to do about overprotective parents?

Full confession: I’m eighteen now and make my own decisions. Before I turned eighteen, though, my parents were what they jokingly call “overprotective.” Meaning, I didn’t read Harry Potter until one year ago, the kids in our family couldn’t watch the Disney movies with ghosts until we were too old to appreciate the slapstick humor, and most of my siblings still don’t have Facebook. Basically, I’m saying I know what it’s like to have parents who say no.

Maybe you’ve said/heard people say things like this:

Dad shouldn’t try to control me so much!

I may not know everything, but neither do my parents, and I know myself a heck of a lot better than they do.

Harry Potter isn’t going to damage me; it actually teaches some really good lessons.

I know my parents are well-meaning, but they don’t understand me.

It just hurts that Mom doesn’t trust me with something as harmless as a children’s book series.

But are we looking at this all wrong? I’d posit that we might be, that maybe overprotective parents are not a curse, but rather a blessing. I thank God and my parents for most, if not all, of the decisions they made, even though I disagreed with them at the time.

To explain why, I need to start from square one:

Everyone is overprotective sometimes- and thank God that we are.

When people say “overprotective,” what do they really mean? No one knows the future, obviously, so there is no way to be just the right amount of “protective.” People have to be either under- or over-protective, and most folks like to err on the side of caution.

Let’s just take the most basic example: a seatbelt. Every time you get into your car and put on a seatbelt, you are necessarily being overprotective. Gee whiz, you’re probably not going to wreck every single time you’re in a motor vehicle. What’s the big deal? In fact, while we’re at it, we could probably do away with those giant concrete barriers in the middle of the highway and just use one yellow line instead of two. It would definitely save the government some money. Buckling up is a time waster.

Yet, if you’re smart, you buckle up. You know that if you don’t have a seatbelt on, you could get hurt– just like my friend. Last month, driving back from vacation, a distracted driver rear-ended her car at high speed, totaled the vehicle, and gave her whole family whiplash. If my friend hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt, she would have flown through the windshield and probably died. This is why the law requires people to buckle up.

If you don’t crash, a seatbelt is an inconvenience that wastes maybe five seconds on every drive; if you’re in a bad wreck, it’s that fine line between life and death. Next time you pull into the driveway safely after a road trip, thank God that He made people to be overprotective.

Of course, overprotection can be a good or bad thing. Where do overprotective parents fit in? Well, let’s get to the next point:

The keyword is not “overprotective.” It is “parent.”

Let’s say you’re a mom or dad who just brought home your first child. Congratulations, balloons, meal trains. Now what do you need to do? More than you think. Contrary to popular belief, your job as a parent is not just to clothe and feed that hypothetical child and make sure he/she doesn’t do bad stuff at parties until age eighteen; you as a parent are now responsible for an actual soul. When God creates a child, He doesn’t just make a body with a brain that sometimes functions with ample caffeine. He creates a person with a soul that will live forever. (C.S. Lewis wrote a good explanation.) God gives children to you, the parent, with the responsibility to make sure that you take care of their little souls, lead them to seek out and obey His plan, and teach them diligently in the hope that they will come to a saving relationship with Christ.

This is why we have Mother’s and Father’s Days. Because, all things considered, your parents are doing a pretty freaking awesome job.

I don’t know about you, but when I step back and realize the overwhelming responsibility of my parents to care for my soul, I find it really hard to be mad about not reading TwilightIn fact, I even have a little bit of gratitude that Mom and Dad made the best decision they could for my benefit. They probably didn’t enjoy some of those decisions any more than I did. (It can be hard to say no to people you love, especially if it makes them sad.) Some of those safeguards were probably unnecessary, but my parents didn’t put them there because they were monsters. They put them there because they cared.

If you understand all this, yet you still fundamentally disagree with your parents’ Hunger Games policiesthen here’s another bit of truth that might help:

You probably aren’t missing out on much.

If you really miss out on something good, you can catch up on it later. I don’t think it takes that long to read The Hunger GamesIn fact, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you take your parents’ advice and wait.

Now if your parents are starving you, then by all means argue, disobey, and do whatever it takes to eat and survive. That’s not overprotection; that’s abuse. (Metabolism is one of the four biological criteria for life.) If they aren’t letting you encounter opposing worldviews and you’re in your teens, maybe have a talk about that one- or else college is gonna be tough for you. But if your parents tell you not to do something you want but don’t need… then don’t do it. Face it, you don’t need Harry Potter in your life. Queen Victoria never read Harry Potter, and she ruled the British Empire for over sixty years. Tell yourself you’re being like Victoria. It will do wonders for your attitude.

And if you think that you should be able to make your own decisions because you know best, think again. Many times, when my parents told me not to do something, I later realized they were right. For example, a few years ago when I was probably fifteen, maybe younger, I wanted to watch Sherlock. Dad said no because it had a lot of swearing, it could be scary, and it would probably do me no good. I disagreed with him on that last bit quite strongly; but I decided to do the right thing and obey.

Now, as an adult (and Sherlockian), I can see at least two reasons why it was a good idea to skip the show at that age. One, Sherlock is in fact scary, and being my usual empathetic, prone-to-depression self, I would not have handled Moriarty’s psychopathic tendencies very well at all. It would have done me more emotional harm than good. Two, Sherlock has some particular themes in a particular episode (if you don’t know, don’t look it up) which my dad didn’t know about because he never finished the show. If I had stumbled upon that episode a few years ago, I would have been too disgusted to finish the show, and thus I would never have watched “The Sign of Three.”

There was no way for me to know all that at age fifteen. Good thing my parents were overprotective about a show they never finished.

And lastly, if you still disagree, I just have one more thing to tell you:

You should obey anyway.

Even if nothing else in this post has inspired you to obey, this should be enough to convince you. As a Christian, you have a responsibility to obey your parents in everything. Look at Colossians 3:20. In context, “children” means “people under the legal age of adulthood.” That means that if you’re a Christian under age eighteen, you have to obey your parents whether you like it or not. (Even adult Christians are still required to show honor to their parents.) Unless they command you to do something sinful, disobedience to parents is disobedience to God. Obey them, if for no other reason than your desire to obey God.

Ultimately, it helps to know that your parents do actually care about you.

They aren’t always right. Parents can be wrong sometimes; I know my parents make mistakes because I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my few years of life, and they’ve been around a lot longer than I have. But now that Mom and Dad have messed up a few times, they can help us avoid doing those things. They can protect us from things that just might be dangerous. When they say no to something, try asking why- I’m sure they’d love to explain it to you if you just ask them nicely. You can disagree and present your reasons for why they should change their mind; in fact, you may actually get them to agree with you. But in the end, it’s the job of Christian parents to make a wise decision, and it’s the job of a Christian son or daughter to accept it.

And it’s worth mentioning that the sooner you decide to trust your parents, the likelier they are to start trusting you with more of those things you want to do.