Thursday, January 19, 2012

Identifying and Uprooting the Legal Spirit

I'm indebted to Dr. Stephen Crosby for drawing my attention to what he describes as a "legal spirit". This would be defined as a judicial and forensic approach to our relationship with God and with others. The result is we fail to walk in loving relationship with our Father, and we also make other people's lives miserable, assuming a role as self appointed prosecutors to "enforce God's law". This mindset is especially dangerous for a person in leadership.

Here are brief examples of the legal spirit in action in the Scriptures:

Jesus and Disciples: Gathering Grain and Healing on the Sabbath
John 12:1-14

The Legal View: The Disciples should not have plucked grain, Jesus should not have healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath.

Kingdom View: Our Father desires mercy, not sacrifice. He does not like to see the guiltless condemned. Jesus is Lord of every day.
Humans are more valuable than animals.

The Woman Caught in Adultery
John 8:1-11

The Legal View: The woman was guilty and should be stoned

Kingdom View: He who is without sin should cast the first stone. No condemnation of the woman. An exhortation to go and sin no more.

Legal: Right and Wrong
Kingdom: Life and Death

Legal: Inability to see and love people, just their sins
Kingdom: Sensitivity to and redemptive love for people

Legal: Condemnation
Kingdom: Grace and Mercy

Legal: Tenacious preoccupation with of sin/spotlighting
Kingdom: Loving and hopeful engagement

Legal: Focus on a determined outcome for people's behavior
Kingdom: Grace and mercy to let people walk in freedom and even make mistakes


God: Judge
Scripture: A Rule Book
Church: a group of good people doing the right things
The World: bad people doing the wrong things


God: Father
Scripture: Words of Life when animated by the Spirit
Church: The Family of God
World: People Outside of God's family

So what is the cure for the legal spirit? Love.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

(John 15:1-17 ESV)

Notice the themes: It is all summed up in relationship: abiding in Jesus, the frequent references to "Father" and "love. We abide in Him. He loves through us. It is that simple.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(James 2:8-13 ESV)

If the Father's love flows freely in us, mercy will triumph over judgment.

1 comment:

Vic said...

In my youth, my response to the Legal Spirit, was to discount all the Church. While in the Navy, God sought me out and changed my heart. Later I discovered the booklet HOW TO BE A CHRISTIAN WITHOUT BEING RELIGIOUS. Actually it is the book of Romans in Living Letters paraphrased combined with illustrated contemporary comments edited by Fritz Ridenour.

I love the illustrations. One shows a person stating "Don't confuse me with the facts...My faith is made up! It is captioned with The Gospel is not anti-intellectual. Another depicts a squashed person under a huge load with the caption The Gospel is not laws and burdens.

This book defines "Being Religious" as trying to reach God, find God, please God through your own futile efforts. These activities are universal. I'm glad that it is by Grace alone that God has saved me.