What is idolatry? Can we say that if we do not worship some physical image, we are free of it? Idolatry is putting anything else in the central place that God should have in our lives (Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:24; Philippians 3:19). Now one of the implications of there being one God is that He is the only Savior (Isaiah 43:10-13; 1 Timothy 2:5; Colossians 2:8-15). Therefore, legalism is at its root a form of idolatry (Galatians 4:8,9; 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10; Isaiah 44:9-17). Ultimately, there are two ways to make ourselves our own gods. We can live for our own selfish desires, following our impulses wherever they lead us (Romans 1:18-32; Jude 4; John 14:21). But it is just as evil to think we can earn God’s favor by our own deeds.
We need to realize that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and unable to save ourselves (Romans 8:8; 7:14; John 15:5). Therefore, believing we can be saved by our own good deeds is not to face reality. But we might ask, what if Adam had not sinned (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3)? Would we then be able to stand before God based on our own merits? And would it be idolatry to do so? In this, we need to recognize that Adam’s and Eve’s original innocence was a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 7:28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). Had they not departed from it, uprightness would have been the natural, normal way for them to behave. And they would have attributed this to God, who gave it to them. The problem is that we, being sinners, having lost that natural tendency to do what is right, tend to believe that we are able to somehow work our way out of our predicament. Ultimately, only Jesus Christ can deal with the penalty we deserve for our sin (Galatians 3:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result, He can offer salvation to all who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), apart from anything they can do to earn it (Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 11:6). Now this salvation does result in a changed life, but that is a result of God working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29). And it is based on love for God for what He has already done for us (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). Once more, it is God, not ourselves, who gets the credit.
Underlying all of this is the sin of pride (Proverbs 16:18; Philippians 2:3,4; Romans 12:16). This is the pathway through which sin entered the universe (Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-19). It is this idolatry of self that leads to idolatry and legalism. Because it always attributes to ourselves the glory that only belongs to God. Therefore, humility is not putting ourselves down, but attributing to God the things that truly belong to Him. And putting ourselves in perspective.
What does it mean to be carnal or
worldly? Could it be that it does not always look the way we normally think? It
is common to think of it in terms of indulgences: sex, drugs, alcohol, things
of that nature. These would certainly fall into that category, but is that what
carnality and worldliness must be? One of the things Scripture associates with
carnality and worldliness is strife and division (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; James
3:13-18; Galatians 5:20). But this kind of carnality can not only co-exist, but
even be fueled by a kind of faux spirituality. The idea being that if I (along
with whoever I associate with) can convince myself I am more spiritual then
you, I can justify my dividing into my own faction over some minor issue. And
by doing so, I may prove myself more carnal then those I am dividing from. In
fact, I may be embracing meaningless rules rather than real spirituality
(Colossians 2:20-23; Matthew 15:1-20; Romans 14:4-10).
I find it interesting that the
people Jesus most strongly rebuked were not the derelicts of society (Luke
7:36-50; 19:1-10; John 4:7-26), but He rebuked the self-righteous people who
thought themselves better than others (Matthew 23:1-13; 6:1-18; Luke 18:9-14).
This is important to remember: true Biblical righteousness requires more than
mere respectability. It also requires us to put aside trust in our own wisdom
and to trust in God (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Proverbs 3:5,6). And it
requires us to put other people and their concerns before our own (Philippians
2:1-11; Romans 12:3-16; Matthew 7:12). This results in our making every effort
to live in peace with each other (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; Ephesians 4:1-3).
But we can try to convince ourselves that we or our group are more spiritual
than all others. But this attitude, far from showing the deep spirituality of
the possessor, is not a sign of spirituality but of carnality. And by focusing
on indulgence as a characteristic of carnality we can ignore its more subtle
aspects. We can think that as long as we avoid the blatant forms of carnality,
we are all right, while indulging in strife and division. And we can do this
while trying to convince ourselves that we are being spiritual. We can claim to
be exalting God when in fact we are building up our own egos. But if we remember
we are sinners saved by the grace of God, it puts these things in perspective
(Romans 5:6-8; Colossians 2:13,14; Ephesians 2:8,9). We will be less willing to
divide over minor things, when we realize the major thing was taken care of for
us by God.
Their anti-clericalism has become an atmosphere, an atmosphere of negation and hostility from which they cannot escape. Compared with that, it would be better to see the whole thing as something belonging to another continent, or to another planet. It would be more philosophical to stare indifferently at bonzes than to be perpetually and pointlessly grumbling at bishops. It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go inside and help or to go outside and forget.
G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, The Everlasting Man, Introduction, (Dover Publications, 2007, p. 8)
Is there truth to this? Would it help if critics could see Christianity completely from the outside?
There was a rustic who lived on the outskirts of the kingdom and who
had gone to the big city to learn how to better serve the King. He found in the King's manual that he should become a learner. So he set out to find someone who would help him with this.
The first group he found was eager to help. They said, "You need to join a learners' group. Then you go through the lessons, and eventually you become a learner leader and start your own group."
The rustic picked up the lessons and looked through them. They were a fairly limited selection of what was in the King's manual. "What about all the rest of the stuff in the manual?" he asked.
"What we have in the lessons is the important stuff. The rest, people can learn on their own."
"But doesn't the manual say we should obey all things the King demanded? And how can you decide which stuff in the manual is important?" The rustic left them busily discussing things between themselves.
When he asked the next group, they told him, "If you join our group and come to our meetings, you will be a learner of the King."
"Then will you teach me what I need to know to be a learner of the King?" replied the rustic.
"Well, if you come to our meetings you will learn about the King."
"But do you have a plan to teach me the things I need to know to be the King's learner?"
"Not really, but if you come to our meetings and activities, you should learn them eventually."
The rustic walked away.
The third group told him, "What you need is spiritual gifts." Now some said that if you prayed to the King in faith, He would give you any of the gifts. The other side said that each person only had certain gifts and could tell what it was by taking their gifts' test.
"Is this gift test in the King's manual?" the rustic asked the latter.
"The gifts are, but the actual test is based on our experience," they replied.
The rustic asked all of them, "If I get the gifts down, will you teach me how to be the King's learner?"
"If we can get the gifts working," they replied, "then we will all know how to be the King's learners."
The gifts sounded like valuable things, and they were in the manual. But the rustic had to wonder if it was quite that simple.
The rustic walked away, thinking. The King had said to teach His learners to obey all that He had commanded them. (He had also said to be baptized, but the rustic felt that was included in "all things." Strange nobody had mentioned it.) The one group that had a plan had an abridged version of "all things." The others did not seem to have a plan. There must be someone who was doing better than that. The rustic decided to keep looking.
Does a Christian have rights? And
should we defend them if we do? There are passages in Scripture that might be
understood as being against standing up for our rights in any way (Matthew
5:38-42). But is this the last word on the subject? And are Christians meant to
be just helpless victims who never stand up for what is right? One passage that
gives some perspective on this is 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. It forbids lawsuits
between believers and regards them as an embarrassment to the body of Christ.
It even says it would be better to be wronged or defrauded than to allow things
to reach that point. Yet it does not totally set aside any possibility of
settling disputes, but puts forth the idea of having a seasoned believer settle
them. It takes a middle way.
One of our basic problems is that we
want things to go our way and are often willing to go to any extreme to get it.
This tendency can be increased if we have been honestly wronged (or can
convince ourselves we have been). But Scripture says to put others before
ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4; Romans 12:14-21; Matthew 7:12). We are also
commanded to forgive those who have wronged us (Matthew 18:21-35; Colossians
3:12,13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). However, it is also required of Christians that
they stand up for what is true and right (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Acts 4:19,20;
6:1-6). There is a hard balance here. There is a time to suffer wrongs in a
forgiving manner (Acts 7:60) and a time to assert your Roman citizenship (Acts
25:11). The ultimate example is the Lord Jesus Christ, who left His throne in
glory for a criminal’s cross (Philippians 2:5-11), but still boldly confronted
wrong and injustice (Matthew 21:12-17; 23:1-39). While Matthew 5:38-42 forbids
merely responding in kind to evil and returning blow for blow, there is also a
place for pointing out what is right and just (John 18:22,23). What we really
need is a stronger desire for what is right and for the good of other people
than for getting our way and possessing what we want. This can be hard, and we
need to pray to God for wisdom to know how to respond in particular situations
(James 1:5-8). Real life is messy, and we do not always run into nice,
cut-and-dried situations. But we need to trust God to bring us through the
difficult places (Proverbs 3:5,6). And it is better to be defrauded than to put
the truth or the people of God up for derision before the world.