A lack of relationship with God leads to legalism to lend some feeling to our “Christian” lives. In 1 Samuel 14 we follow the story of Saul as he finds himself needing to prepare for battle with the Philistines. Saul finds himself needing to create an experience and issues a decree that the Israelites should fast. There is no mention of God made when he issues the order but it would certainly seem that Saul may have thought that he was going to be able to simply create something that would give the Israelites tangible evidence to act on.
Saul issued an order that none of the Israelites were to eat that day – he declared a fast. Now Scripture talks of fasting and it is encouraged and used at various times in God’s dealing with the Israelites. Jehoshaphat as king ofIsraeldeclared a fast when the nation was in dire need of God’s protection from an invading enemy (2 Chronicles 20). Ezra also declared a fast when the Israelites returned fromBabylonand it was noted that many of the Israelites were living in disobedience to God’s commands (Ezra 8).
Saul’s fast was different, very different. Saul does not mention seeking the Lord rather he talks about his need to be avenged of his enemies. As we read the story in chapter 14 of 1 Samuel we see that Saul’s legalistic fast defeated his people. Man’s rules will always leave man impotent in his relationship with God and seeking a quick fix. Paul dealt with this issue when he wrote to the Galatians:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
I was convicted of my own proclivity towards legalism yesterday when I was trying to convince my youngest child to eat some grapes. Most of my children are true food junkies like me. They don’t care a lot for fruit; I don’t blame them, the texture is weird on most, and it requires a herculean effort to get this child to eat much of anything at times. I remembered that just a few days before that she had called grapes, “papple,” her word for apple. Armed with this knowledge I held the grape out and proudly declared, “Apple.”
She didn’t buy it and I immediately was convicted of my willingness to mislead her in hopes that she would do something “good” which in this case was eating grapes. How does this tie to legalism? Too many times I have been content with legalism in either my life or the lives of others prompting us to do something “good.” Seriously, it can’t be bad if we bully or deceive people into doing something they “should be doing” already. Right? I mean if we can convince people through our own intellect and knowledge then shouldn’t we be pleased?
I’m not and I don’t ever want to be. This is something that I know God is constantly working on with me. I have a tendency towards legalism; telling people they should be in church, should be giving, should be ministering, etc instead of having dependence on the Spirit of God to work in an individual’s life. Anytime we begin to coerce (bully) people through guilt (the number one tool in “christendom”) or any other means we are being legalistic.