As I said last week: The pendulum often swings when following truth (biblical principles). At one extreme is legalism. Legalists have self-righteous attitudes that rate spirituality by how well a person follows rules. This we want to avoid at all costs lest we become modern-day Pharisees.
The compromiser, on the other hand, is at the other extreme, and compromises God’s word. They forget that God’s absolutes are guardrails through the canyons of life. They don’t prevent us from enjoying life; they protect us from falling.
Legalism and compromise both drain spiritual life from our lives, and from the church. Consider the following (the first two points were covered last week)…
- Legalism can quench the Spirit of God as much as compromise. In their effort to highlight obedience to scripture, legalists often lose balance. They contend that they are passionate and have strong convictions, but that statement is often an excuse. It’s good to be passionate and concerned, but motives should not stem from self-glorification or self-righteousness. The compromiser, on the other hand, frowns upon holiness, and finds immorality and sexual perversion entertaining. They spend very little time with God in prayer and reflection, and there’s very little humility and brokenness—the cure for both legalism and compromise.
- Pride is at the root of both. The legalist takes pride in being “right”; the compromiser in his “liberty”; both lack true humility. As a result, the legalist thinks more highly of himself than he should; the compromiser lacks genuine awe and respect for the things of God. Avoid the pendulum swinging in either direction.
- One lacks love; the other, conviction. The Legalist walks in the wrong spirit and lacks genuine love (God’s sustaining attribute); the compromiser lacks conviction and holiness. The scriptures must be under-girded with both love and holiness. Many churches have fallen prey to legalism by not balancing biblical principles with humility: “Conviction that is not under-girded by love makes the possessor of that conviction obnoxious and the dogma possessed becomes repulsive” (Ravi Zacharias). In other words, we appear obnoxious and our message repulsive when love is not present. But when truth and spirit-led ministry exit, compromise enters. The church, in an attempt to relate to the world, has so popularized the ministry that it’s hard to distinguish the church from the world. Again, we have become a church that frowns on holiness and finds immorality, witchcraft, sorcery, and sexual perversion entertaining. As a result, the church is a mile wide, but her foundation is only an inch deep.
- Both have an unbalanced view of the church. The Legalist often feels that their church is the only right church. The compromiser prefers the church that doesn’t offend. The former is driven by pride and self-righteousness; the later, by lukewarmness and compromise. This begs the question to the legalist: Was Jesus referring to your church only when he said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)? Of course not. Heaven is filled with all types of believers. This begs the question to the compromiser: Does the world love the way you “do church”? Do they appreciate that your church, or you, never challenge, or call things into question? Do they like the fact that your church, or you, never make them feel uncomfortable or offended? Are they grateful that you never discuss controversial issues? If so, you may want to reconsider Jesus’ words: “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:17).
Obviously, I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t be welcoming, accepting, friendly, warm, hospitable places of worship; they should, but please don’t misunderstand, they should also challenge, contend, exhort, reprove, and admonish; this, the world will hate. For those who doubt this, read the writings of Paul, Peter, and James—these men incited tremendous controversy, upset the entire religious system, and offended the world, so much so that it cost them their lives. The key, again, is to balance truth with love, mercy with repentance, grace with holiness, humility with purity.
Although dealing with sin is critical because of its destructive nature, we also need to encourage, love, and support. When we forget about grace, we become legalistic and arrogant. Conversely, when we compromise the gospel, we quench and grieve the Spirit of God. Our culture is looking for authenticity; even it understands that a compromised life sends a compromised message. A.W. Tozer rightly noted, “Where does Christianity destroy itself in a given generation? It destroys itself by not living in the light, by professing a truth it does not obey.”
Like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, who spoke on God’s behalf, the same plea goes out today: How long will you waiver between two opinions? If God is God, follow Him!
Shane Idleman is the pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship. KTLW (88.9FM in Lancaster) features his radio program at 7am on Saturdays, and Sundays at 6:30pm beginning in February. Westside Christian Fellowship meets Saturdays at 5:30pm at 6015 W Ave. J-8. For more info., visit WCFAV.org, or call (661) 524-6610. Shane’s books, articles, & radio program can be found at ShaneIdleman.com.