Legalism twists our view of Jesus. Whether current news stories like Jaycee Dugard, or the horrible headlines from decades ago when Jim Jones’ followers died together, we seriously misrepresent Jesus when we beat people over the head with laws. We often laugh at the arbitrary laws the Pharisees foisted upon first century Jews: A devout Jew could ride a donkey on the Sabbath but could not use a switch to move the animal faster because that would lay a burden on the donkey. One could only walk a certain number of steps on the Sabbath without transforming getting to worship into work, something forbidden for Jews following the law. Even today, some hotels in Israel have “Shabbat” elevators. On the Sabbath these elevators stop at every floor so orthodox Jews do not have to do the work of pushing the button for their desired floor.
Yet are we not as guilty of legalism? With shame, I remember students accosted for wearing no socks or guys forbidden to have any facial hair. The administrators surely could have looked into those individual faces and seen a need for a simple, “Good morning. How are things going?” I too have fallen into a posture that’s placed law before grace, and I repent of it.
When I welcomed students into a Christian high school, I used to tell them that we were not an angel factory. Christian students and teachers would disappoint them many times over, whether out of ignorance, fear, control or anger. Jesus’ followers don’t always represent Him well. Please look to Jesus and model Him. I also warned students that although classes might often start with prayer or singing, and chapel occurred weekly, each student needed a personal encounter with the living Christ. Living on “borrowed light” will translate into personal darkness, a profound disappointment over a relationship that never really existed. I’d tell the incoming freshmen to make sure that in their years at the school they did not miss Jesus.
Whenever our love for God morphs into ways of impressing others or controlling them, we have lost grace, and we cause others to miss Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. God is sovereign and will call His own. Scripture tells us that the Gospel will be an offense to some, but as my pastor has said, “Woe to us if we are that offense.” If some misguided Christian has spoken venom to you, seemed terribly offensive and ungracious, please lift your eyes to the author and perfecter of our faith. Follow Him and don’t miss Jesus.