Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of India’s independence movement. He was a pacifist. Before the movement, he trained to become a lawyer. He went to South Africa to get his education. He was there during the time of apartheid and came across a bunch of legalistic, racist, bigoted Christians. Upon returning to India, Gandhi said, “I like their Christ, but I do not like their Christians.”
That is the kind of reaction our world has to us believers many times, based on negative experiences they have with legalistic Christians. Legalism destroys the church’s witness in the world. It also destroys the life of the Christian.
If you question that, take a serious look at the letter to the Galatians. The apostle Paul’s pen flowed with heated ink as he rebuked them for “deserting” Christ (1:6), “nullifying the grace of God” (2:21), becoming “bewitched” by legalism (3:1), and desiring “to be enslaved” by this crippling disease (4:9).
Paul is specifically addressing the issue of circumcision. Judaizers were going around from church to church, explaining that worshiping Jesus was not enough in order to have a relationship with God. They said you also needed to be circumcised.
Paul says “Beware of the ‘Jesus plus’ mentality." In Paul’s day, it was Jesus plus circumcision. But in our day, it is Jesus plus heath and wealth, or Jesus plust being good enough or Jesus plus religious activity. Beware of “Jesus plus”.
If you see Christianity as a religion without conceiving of it as a relationship, then you’re in big trouble. If you’re religious without knowing God and following God, you’re in danger. In fact, being religious is just as dangerous and sometimes more dangerous than being irreligious. Religion - the legalistic, rule-following, prideful kind of religion - will destroy.
Pastor Tim Keller said in his book The Reason for God: “If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your own moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.”
Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” True freedom is not found in following rules; it’s found in following our Redeemer.
To be clear, rules matter in some cases. There are limits to our freedom. Parents know that household rules are good. Grace does not condone license. But compared to knowing Christ, rules are weightless. It’s the Redeemer who matters. True joy can only be found in following Christ.
Since Christ is perfect, we don’t have to be perfect. Because Christ is righteous, our righteousness doesn’t need to measure up to God. The gospel isn’t about our finding a way to God; it’s about God coming to us. Our righteousness is a gift from God. It comes through Christ by faith. With no added “plus”.
This fall, I want to invite you join us on Sunday mornings, as we explore the Galatian letter and what it means to “lose your religion” and find true freedom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the meantime, if a modern day “Judaizer” tries to tell you that you must add something to your faith in order to be a good Christian, stop him. Stop her. Don’t let them “cut in on you” (Gal. 5:7) and keep you from the joy and freedom that is yours!