The pure, undiluted message of the Gospel is intoxicating. @@Grace is the unmerited favor of God for corrupted, broken sinners.@@ The death and resurrection of Jesus meets sinners where they are and offers life, forgiveness, and salvation. Consider how Paul Zahl describes this thing called grace, " “Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…”
Christians for thousands of years have oriented their lives around this message of Jesus. This is why Christians have been so often referred to as “evangelicals.” Because at one point, the first thing people thought of when they heard “evangelical” was “good news.”
But throughout history, there have been people who have tried to hijack the message of the Gospel. They have found ways to water down the message, to change the message or to even flat out reject the message.
I love this description of the re-discovery of the undiluted message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified":
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace—bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started… Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case. (Robert Capon from Between Noon & Three)
For the sake of the pure, undiluted, scandalous message of grace, I think it may be helpful to understand exactly what is diluting our message. For the sake of the message that should be drunk straight, I think we may need to learn the cocktails that appeal to our taste and senses but distort the power and the effect of the message.
Note: As we explore the cocktail, understand that the cocktail is sexy. People want the cocktail, they wanted the diluted, watered-down message. It is more palatable. It makes them feel better about themselves. But “grace has to be drunk straight.”
A Cocktail Guide to Legalism
2 oz Self-Righteousness
1 oz Piety
1 oz Low View of God’s Law
Garnish: Lots of Christian Music, Definitely No Alcohol, and No Rated R movies that aren’t about Jesus
Glass: One that’s clean on the outside
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” - Matthew 23:25
How to make Legalism
Making legalism is pretty easy and if you hang out around Christians long enough, we inevitably will end up doing this to some extent. First, you need to have an attitude that is more like the Pharisees than Jesus. By this I mean, you really want to make sure that people see how good you are and in the event that you start to feel bad about yourself, just compare yourself to somebody who is a “worse sinner” than you are.
Next, when you come across a scripture that crushes you, whatever you do don’t run to the cross. If you feel convicted and you want to be a legalist, it’s time to start trying harder. Maybe even come up with a list of seven steps to get better at what you are having trouble doing. Maybe find an accountability partner. And in some cases… you might need to just change the level of the demands of the law. For example, if the Bible were to say something crazy like, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” it couldn’t actually mean that. In that case, lower the bar of the law so that the exhortation is something you could actually in your own power achieve.
Grace Drunk Straight
Legalism dilutes the pure message of the Gospel. It takes Jesus plus nothing and appends a list of stipulations to grace. Legalism dilutes the message of the grace by replacing the work of Christ on our behalf with our own obedience. Legalism dilutes the message of the cross by believing we can actually achieve what the law demands in our own power. @@Legalism dilutes the message of Jesus by replacing “it is finished” with “it is finished…and.”@@