Where is the balance between Christian maturity and legalism?
This is a question I’ve asked myself many times over the years as I’ve recognized the benefit and beauty of Christian maturity as well as the danger of legalism.
We live in a time in Church history when the worldly philosophies of “Do what makes you happy”, “Life your best life now”, and “Do those things that bring you fulfillment” have become the soundtracks of our lives.
Over the past year I’ve written some posts that have hit these issues head on, and have caused some push back from my readers:
The reason for the push back is because we have allowed worldly hedonism to worm its way into our lives so much so that the boundary lines that existed in previous generations no longer exist.
In rejecting legalism (which leads to pride and pharisaism), many believers have gone to another extreme of removing ancient boundary lines set in Scripture that have nothing to do with legalism and everything to do with Christian maturity.
This is why people have commented to me that addressing the non-biblical practices of hygge, positive affirmations, and yoga have left them depressed and without joy.
This is why many Christians believe that we can’t expect that our children will not have sexual relationships before marriage, because the pressure is too great.
Back in the late 1970’s Debby Boone scandalized the church with her song “You Light Up My Life”, in which she sang the lyric “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right”.
The church at that time still understood the truth that the enemy is such a liar and deceiver, that even when something feels right, it can still be wrong.
But the church today is no longer convinced.
The church today embraces the philosophy of this song, of worldly hedonism, and has created a god in the image of a being whose ultimate desire is that we enjoy ourselves.
And it is this philosophy, this idolatrous belief, that has kept us trapped in state of Christian immaturity.
5 Behaviors of a Mature Christian
Until we become truly convinced that God’s ultimate desire is not that we enjoy ourselves, but rather that He be glorified through our lives….
Until we are fully convinced that our identity is in Him, not in the belief of speaking positive affirmations to ourselves….
Until we know without a doubt that we can and should expect that our kids will live lives of moral integrity and purity, and save themselves for marriage….
We will encounter roadblocks in our Christianity maturity.
But the church today isn’t the only church in Christian history infiltrated by pagan philosophies.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he confronts their lack of Christian maturity, and goes on to describe exactly how mature Christians should behave.
The difference between a legalistic Christian and a mature Christian is the motivation to live for the glory of God.
In our Good Morning Girls’ study, we have come to chapters 6-10, in which we discover 5 behaviors Paul presents as mature Christian living.
1. A mature Christian surrenders his rights so that God will be glorified
“If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:12
In chapter 6 he confronts the church for suing each other in worldly courts over matters that were bringing a bad name on the church.
In these verses he poses the question: “If we can’t resolve our differences here on earth, how will we ever judge the world or judge angels”. Good question!
Furthermore, he says in verse 7 “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?”
I am certain that this verse will make many bristle under the seeming injustice of it.
But injustice in this world is nothing in comparison with the wrath and anger God feels at His church taking His name and dragging it through the mud of legal disputes – soiling the name of Christ.
When weighing the importance of a temporal matter on earth with the eternal value of our character and the name of Christ, temporal matters should lose every time.
It is better to forgive a wrong, let ourselves be cheated, and move on, than the sue another Christian – letting an unbeliever judge a matter between two believers who should live as Christ lived: a sacrificial life of considering our brothers and sisters better than ourselves.
He circles back to this same topic in chapter 9 when he addresses self-denial; using his own life as an example.
Just because he was an apostle, didn’t mean he didn’t have rights and even advantages to certain things:
- To eat and drink whatever he wanted
- To be married, just like other apostles were married
- To have a salary
There were even laws that gave him that freedom, but for sake of gospel and God’s glory, he chose surrender his rights and limit his own freedom.
And this is true freedom – the ability to limit our freedoms and surrender our rights.
He knew that any enjoyment he chose to walk away from in this life for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God would be rewarded in eternity; which is a reward that cannot begin to compare with any sacrifice made on earth!
2. A mature Christian lives a life of purity so that God will be glorified
“Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18
“Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell…” 1 Corinthians 10:8
I wont lie to you.
It puzzles and disturbs me that so many Christians today believe that the expectation of sexual abstinence until marriage is too high of an expectation.
It saddens me that the message of purity is viewed today as extremism.
It grieves me that Christians who choose to refrain from too much physical contact before marriage, who choose to save their first kiss for their wedding day, and who do not live together and sleep together before marriage are looked at as freaks and relics of the past.
I get it that this is how the world sees us. Of course they do! That is as it should be.
I don’t get it that this is how Christians see other Christians, because by the very definition of Christian we should model our life after Christ.
If John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, we can then conclude that Jesus is the Word.
And the Word of God says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”
In the previous chapter he says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators…nor adulterers…will inherit the kingdom of God.”
It is clear, then, that the Bible doesn’t just teach that moral purity is a good thing; rather, God expects that we will live our lives with moral purity.
- Single men and women are not to engage in sexual relationships before marriage.
- Married people are not to deprive one another of sexual relationships, but are to submit to one other.
- Divorce in a Christian marriage is not optional; but an unbelieving spouse is free to leave.
Why is this such a strong issue?
Because marriage and the marriage relationship is a picture of Christ and the church; so when we engage in behaviors that distort that image, we are not only distorting an earthly institution, but a divine one as well.
3. A mature Christian knows that God can be glorified in all you do
“Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.” 1 Corinthians 7:20
I found this passage in 1 Corinthians 7 fascinating, because I’ve seen this lived out in the modern church many, many times.
Paul says in verses 17-24 that just because you’ve been saved, doesn’t mean you should abandon your present calling.
Rather, let God use you right where you are!
Just because you’re saved doesn’t mean you should abandon your construction job to become a pastor. Just because you’re saved doesn’t mean you should leave your office job to become a missionary.
We have a tendency in our culture to labeling, but just because you’re not in full-time ministry doesn’t mean you’re not called!
Let God minister through you right where you are.
You are a missionary on the job, and He has sent you there to carry His gospel with you each and every day to people who may not hear the gospel through anyone else.
Resist the temptation to compartmentalize Christianity, and glorify God in all you do!
4. A mature Christian shows respect to their brothers and sister in Christ and thereby glorify God
“But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” 1 Corinthians 8:9
I have seen this passage misused on a number of occasions when a supposedly “stronger Christian” made a great show of abstaining from certain activities because of a “weaker brother”.
An act Paul meant to be a sign of respect that was turned into an of pride and display of one’s superiority over a “weaker brother”.
1 Corinthians 8 has nothing to do with Christian superiority or hierarchy and has everything to do with mutual respect and honor of one another.
It has everything to do with the freedom in Christ that we have to abstain from certain activities because it neither benefits the body nor glorifies God.
What if, in the church, the debate about issues such as alcohol didn’t end on making a weaker brother or sister stumble but on what glorifies God?
Is it glorifying to God to flaunt a supposed freedom in the face of a brother or sister who has a previous addiction to alcohol?
Is it glorifying to God to think we are stronger and they are weaker, giving us an advantage and air of superiority?
Is it glorifying to God when we get into long, drawn-out debates on line about random and obscure passages and isolated verses we use to support our position rather than taking Scripture as a whole – allowing Scripture to be confirmed by Scripture?
I don’t believe it is!
What is glorifying to God is when we honor and brother and sister in Christ, considering them greater than ourselves, and choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to do a work of humility in our hearts so that the issue is no longer about an activity we choose not to engage in but an attitude of glorifying God.
5. A mature Christian lives a life of discipline that glorifies God
“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27
Scripture talks a lot about running.
I’ll be honest, I hate running. In fact, I’m not terribly fond of most exercise outside of walking. But Scripture using running as an example a lot.
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.” Psalm 119:32
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
For years my dad and brother ran 10-Ks together.
It took a lot of discipline to do these races, because not only did they have to train their bodies but they had to eat well and get plenty of sleep.
At some point during the race, they’d hit a wall of pain and desperation when everything within them was telling them to quit now!
At that point, they had a choice. Listen to the wall or run through it.
If they chose to listen to the wall, they’d never finish. But, if they chose to run through it, they’d find that on the other side is a second wind, enabling them to seemingly run forever.
The same is true for us in this Christian life.
At some point along our journey, we will face trials; the enemy will whisper in our ear pain and desperation, and we’ll be tempted to “rest” for a while.
But if we choose to find our rest in Christ (Matthew 11:28), we will dispel the lies of the enemy and on the other side find that the rest of Christ gives us power to live the Christian life with both discipline and victory!
Dear sister, never before in my Christian walk have I sensed an urgency for the church to embrace the totality of God’s Word and live with maturity and discipline. But we are in the very time Paul talked about in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 – a strong delusion has gone out and many of those strong believers we once looked to as teachers of the word are waffling, flailing, and falling. We must be strong – this study in 1 Corinthians has come at just the right time. We must embrace it!
Here is where you can find our online Bible study group: Good Morning Girls in the Word
Here are more posts from 1 Corinthians