Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Spiritual Warfare and Holiness

Jesus is called the "Holy One' in Psalm 16:10. God tells us, "Because He is holy, we are also to be holy" (see I Peter 1:15-16). God has called us to be holy (pure and blameless) and like Jesus in every way. Nonetheless, this offers another place for the great deceiver to spin his atrocious lies. How does he do it? By equating holiness with keeping rules. He drives us to do religious things, and he is quick to tell us that if we do just a little more God will accept us. This is the essence of "legalism," a false doctrine that says keeping a list of does and don'ts is the way to become acceptable to God. For many Christians, this system becomes a monstrous burden that they cannot carry. Some give up. Others become judgmental and hypocritical, condemning everyone who isn't practicing the same laws they are, whether it be wearing their hair a certain way, saying prayers at certain times during the day, or attending certain church services "without fail." Satan is the father of this legalistic, performance-oriented, burnout-for-God belief that permeates many churches. We need to understand that true holiness comes by obeying God out of love. Indeed, He calls us to obey Him out of restful love relying on grace to empower us. Jesus despised the legalists during His days on earth. He confronted the greatest legalists of all time, the Pharisees, who had helped devise and enforce hundreds of laws for holy living that even they didn't keep, but pretended to. They had become classic hypocrites, saying one thing in public and practicing another in private. They commanded all Jews to embrace their system of legal holiness. One of Jesus' greatest invitations was to come out of this burdensome system of false religion. In Matthew 11:28-30, He said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." In this classic statement, Jesus proved for all time that He was not a legalist. He offered us rest and freedom, not a long list of dos and don'ts. Yet, many Christians come to me out of such a system, pleading for relief. I am only too happy to point them to the true friend of friends, the One who can make us holy only through the power of God. As a professional woman who dressed well and radiated confidence, Lynn looked supremely elegant and in control. In my office, however as she related how as a child her mother was never home, she wept uncontrollably. The reason: Mom was always working for the church. Her mother often said she was "frantically seeking acceptance by the Lord" and that was what drove her to do so much around her church. Unfortunately, this led Lynn to feel deep rejection by both her mother and God-she had not done as much for the church as her other had-as well as feeling unloved and unlovable. As we studied Scripture together n my office, these "lies" were dispelled, and not only did this lady find acceptance in Christ, but she also was able to forgive her mother. Another lady told me how awful life was after she "lost her salvation." Her sin: She remarried after her abusive husband divorced her. Because of some hard and legalistic teaching she'd heard in her church, she believed that her second marriage constituted perpetual adultery. Her pastor told her, "Adulterers all end up in the lake of fire when they die." This is not an uncommon teaching in the church today, and it disables many Christians emotionally and spiritually. I was able to offer this lady some straight forward scriptural teaching on God's grace and mercy, as well as what constituted adultery and divorce and how God's forgiveness for even the worst cases was always available. As she read the truth of Christ's forgiveness and compassion in her own Bible, her assurance of salvation came back, and through that the Lord confirmed that He loved and accepted her. She told me later it was the most life-changing experience she'd ever had. In my estimation, legalism is the greatest battleground for deceiving Christians today. We have to remember that it is not merely hard to live a holy Christian life; it is impossible! Without the filling and power of the Holy Spirit, no one can possibly please God. No list of rules and trying to keep them (and failing) can generate real holiness. But through the Spirit, the power to live out God's real rules, beomces resident inside us. We can please God as we walk in the Spirit. We will follow the rules because they're written on our hearts, not on our Bible flyleaves. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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