Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are You a Bear Riding a Bicycle?

Satan is a clever dude and an expert in tricking people. He loves to counterfeit God’s ways to deceive Christians into thinking they are on the right path, but leading them in the wrong way. Legalism in the church is a counterfeit spirit that masquerades as “dedication to God” but it actually prevents people from walking in the Spirit and God’s grace. It is a system of rules to follow, which is enforced by a person or persons who act like spiritual policemen.

A legalist tries to control other people’s behavior through browbeating and threats. He or she is like the circus person who trains a bear to ride a bicycle. The bear feels awkward doing it, and is only doing it because of the trainer’s threats. Garrison Keillor once said, “A bear riding a bicycle can be trained to do it, but he would rather be in the woods, doing what bears do.”

God calls us to freedom (Gal. 5:13) but legalism calls people to bondage. The Holy Spirit inspires joyful service (John 15:11) but legalism produces dreaded duties. The Pharisees were the legalists of Jesus’ day. In Matthew 23:4-33, Jesus rebukes them for adding heavy burdens on people.

#1 Legalists are typically perfectionists who have unrealistic expectations of others.
Imagine being a pole-vaulter and the highest you’ve been able to clear is 13 feet. Your coach sets the bar at 17 feet. When you keep going 4 feet under the bar, he goes berserk and screams at you for not meeting the goal he set for you. A perfectionist is like that coach who sees everyone as a pole-vaulter who fails to make it over the bar. No one will ever be able to meet his expectations because he sets the bar way too high.

#2 Legalists are highly critical of others. A legalist has no room in his or her heart for God’s grace and compassion. They will often blast others in public and belittle them behind their backs. Those who are highly critical have very little love in their hearts, which causes them to only see others’ faults.

#3 Legalists force people to obey through threats, intimidation, and guilt trips. They will make condemning statements to make others feel guilty so they will conform to their wishes. The people being controlled are more concerned with pleasing the authoritarian figure than they are with pleasing God. They will attend church to make sure the legalist sees them in attendance rather than going to worship the Lord. People were afraid of the Pharisees and followed their rules “for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43).

Lest we be misunderstood, God wants you to submit to those in authority in your church and be joyful in serving Him. Hopefully your church is filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, and led by those who love the Lord. Remember, though, that you get to choose your place of worship. If your church makes you feel like a bear riding a bicycle, it might be time to find a new circus trainer.
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