Category Archives: grace

Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

You sit in your chair staring at the television. It’s off. The room is dark because you don’t want to be in the light right now. No one is around and you are grateful. Your mind and heart are numb, yet racing with thought. Numb thought. That’s about right.

What you did was wrong. It was a foolish decision. Yet, you did it knowingly and willingly. You didn’t stop at the warnings, you just did it. And it felt good. Or did it? There was something in it that felt good, but that numbness was there as well. The laughter and happiness were tempered by the knowledge that regret was coming. You knew you would pay a price.

And maybe this wasn’t the first time. It’s like something builds in you and needs to be released. The release brings pleasure, but also pain. The problem seems to be that the pain is future while the pleasure is present. As long as the pleasure comes first, you long for it. The pain, which seems so real as you sit in your chair staring at the TV, is far enough away to be ignored.

Pastor Jones preaches in favor of marriage and family, but visits the adult bookstore when he goes to the big city. He lives in fear that someone will see him and hates himself later, but rarely misses the stop. Mrs. Smith has a bottle hidden away and seeks comfort in its contents. The last bottle, like the ones before it, was poured down the drain in shame and guilt. But there’s always another. Another few dollars from the register at work, another few “extra” hours on the time card, just one more night together, just a little lie: these seem to take the pressure away—for a while.

Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Why do we keep making these bad decisions? What in the world is going on?

Well, the problem may be old, but the answer isn’t easy. It has to do with how we believe we are accepted or loved. The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need affirmation and, to get it, we will do just about anything.

Almost all of us grew up with affirmation that came on the basis of some kind of points. We earned points by doing the right things. We lost points when we did the wrong things. Our culture, whether from the church or family or community, sought to mold us by a system of rewards and punishments. And, for the most part, it appeared to work. We are affirmed when we do well and shamed when we do not.

But inside, where our thoughts and desires live, affirmation comes from feeling important or valued. We want to feel good about ourselves. Yes, that might mean that we want to feel righteous, but it also means we want to feel strong or desirable or rich. We aren’t usually content with feeling acceptable to the community, we want to feel like we are “somebody.” The community affirms us when we conform, when we are not independent and creative. Our hearts affirm us when we express our uniqueness and value.

Most of the vices in life minister to our need to feel special. Alcohol, overspending, porn, drugs, lying, theft—all are there because they promise to meet that need. They may do it through fantasy, but even fantasy feels good for a while. They all have consequences, but the feeling is sometimes worth the price. The vices calls to the needs of our hearts.

Keeping the rules and cultural standards may satisfy the community, but that doesn’t satisfy the heart. The points we gain from “doing right” are not enough. We seem to need more. Points come from the other side as well. The fantasies give us points that feel good. It even makes us feel strong and independent to break the rules. Those points count. They don’t satisfy either, but they seem to give us something.

Once the cycle begins, and it begins early, we go from breaking the rules and scoring the points that make us feel good to keeping the rules and trying to overcome the negatives with points from the good side. So Pastor Jones preaches about faithfulness in marriage, then visits the porn shop, then preaches a stronger message about marriage the next week. He isn’t being simply insincere. He is struggling with these feelings of acceptance. He thinks he can overcome the negative points with more positive ones.

But the more we try to overcome the negatives with positives, the more we feel phony and the less any of the points help us feel good about ourselves. Our goal is to feel good, but those feelings diminish the longer the process goes. The cycle becomes more and more frantic until something happens to break it. It will begin all over again unless we find a way to get away from points altogether. As with any addiction, we have to find a way to break free.

There is a way, but it is contrary to most of what you have been taught and most of what you feel. That way is to accept the love and affirmation of the One who made you. He does love you. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He welcomes you. He values you. He wants you to know that no system of points, either in your culture or your heart, will ever be enough to satisfy your need. His love will be enough.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus is a message of love and acceptance. I know that preachers have made it sound otherwise, but they are as bound up in their system as you have been in yours. The message of the cross is one of sacrificial love for those who neither deserved nor understood it. It allows all of us to get off the point system and accept our acceptance.

Think about what you will give up when you leave the point system behind. No more spiritual comparisons. If there is no need for gaining spiritual points, then no one can be better than another. No more sleepless nights worrying about regrets. You are accepted by the Lord regardless of your past and your mistakes. No more fear of judgment. The One who judges you loves you and has given all to have you with Him. No more fear of failure. Results and accomplishments are in the hands of the Lord who loves you. On and on. The things you give up by leaving the points behind are the things that have hurt you so much.

I understand that this post is long and may seem convoluted. Let me summarize by saying that we tend to gravitate to that which promises to make us feel good—and those feelings come from both sides of the moral system. There is a better way. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself that the Lord loves you. Let yourself feel accepted and valued by Him. Throughout the day, seek His presence and remember His love. At the end of the day, thank Him for loving you. Then accept the rest He gives. Is it that simple? Yes, I believe it is.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, heart, Narcissism, Relationship

Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Many of us knew very well which were Mom’s “good scissors.” There were other scissors you could play with, use to cut paper or tape or cardboard, but not Mom’s good scissors. Those were for cutting cloth only.

I was trying to come up with a distinction between guilt and shame when I thought of Mom’s good scissors. Guilt was what came on you if you used those scissors, especially for something you shouldn’t. Shame was what came on you when you tried to cut your own hair with them. Guilt would get you a scolding or a spanking. Shame lasted much longer. Shame became an identity.

One of the common factors I discovered in both legalism and narcissism was the use of shame to manipulate others. In a world where acceptance is given on the basis of performance, shame punishes the person who is inadequate. Notice that the person is shamed, rather than the action or lack of action. Shame attaches directly to the person. Shame is the lopsided haircut that shows everyone you used Mom’s good scissors.

We know how to handle guilt. We confess, apologize, make restitution, and/or endure punishment. The church teaches that guilt, the judgment that comes against a certain action, has been washed away from us by the cross of Jesus. God, in His love for us, provided the sacrifice for our sins to wipe away our guilt. There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, the Scripture tells us. No more guilt.

But shame is different. Shame says that the person is bad. Shame is a label, an identity, we assume for ourselves. We wear it for others to see. We may even tell someone about it so they don’t miss it. “I am a bad person,” we say. It isn’t enough to simply admit to the sinful or hurtful act, to deal with our guilt, we want to go beyond the action to our identity.

And, of course, those who would manipulate us want us to live under the burden of shame. So the narcissist is not content with calling attention to failure and accepting an apology. No, he/she must be certain that we attach the identity of failure to ourselves. The victim must feel like a failure—and listen—no apology can take that away. The legalist preacher or church member cannot be satisfied with saying that a certain action is sin, he/she must add that the person who does such a thing is identified by that sin. Thus, an act of adultery, which could be handled in a relationship or church community, becomes a label of adulterer—and the person becomes the label.

The narcissist uses words like “always” and “never” to drive home the fact of identity. “You always fail.” “You never do it right.” Those statements are meant to give the person shame. Abusers use shame to manipulate their victims. Shame weakens and moves a victim to submit. If the person will not automatically (usually because of years of training) attach the shame to themselves, the abuser will push them to do it. “You should be ashamed!” “Shame on you!” “Look at you in your shame.” The narcissistic mother may punish the daughter who used her good scissors to cut her own hair by leaving the hair that way, at least as long as the image of shame is useful.

The legalist does the same thing. By labeling a person with his or her sin, the legalist weakens even a believer who accepts forgiveness for his or her action. “Yes, God forgives you for your adultery, but now you are and always will be an adulteress.” The dissonance between the freedom of the forgiveness of God and the feeling of permanency that comes with the label is confusing and irreconcilable. And, again, there is nothing to do about the label. If the sin is forgiven, then the label no longer fits—and here’s the rub—but it feels like it fits. That’s the shame. The narcissist and the legalist both take advantage of the shame to manipulate and abuse.

Now, this is a deep subject, much more than can be presented in a simple blog post. At the same time, the link between legalism (performance-based spirituality) and narcissism (performance-based relationship) becomes clear. As long as acceptance is based on performance, shame will be part of the deal.

Let me close with the message God has for those of us who so easily remember our sin. First, there is no shame for those who belong to Jesus. When your sin was washed away, the shame was taken as well.

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11

“But,” you say, “I still did those things. Someone who has lied is a liar. Someone who commits adultery is an adulterer. How can that change?” Read this carefully.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

You were those things, but no longer. You did those things, but you have been made new. The sin no longer clings to you as an identity. You no longer need to feel shame.

Is this possible? It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? All I know is that this is the promise of our Lord. If He says that your sins are washed away, then they are. If He says you and I are no longer what we were, then that is the truth.

Don’t let anyone shame you! Don’t accept the shame the abusers want you to live. If you have done something wrong, deal with it in the right way. Then trust that your forgiveness from the Lord is real and honest. That sin is no longer connected with you. It has been washed away. There is no shame in it for you.

Overcome the lie that binds you with the truth of God’s love.

 

 

(If you are interested in learning more about the message of grace, type Grace 101 in the search box on the side of this post.  You will find several posts that are meant to teach the basics of God’s grace in Jesus.)

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About Jesus

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Every so often, I have to go back to why I started this blog.  It actually did not start to be about narcissism.  It started because of the people I saw trapped in what I called “performance spirituality.”  That simply meant that they measured their spiritual health on the basis of their performance.  They were usually sad or angry and stuck on a treadmill that took them nowhere.  Some of them left the Christian faith, never having experienced the joy of a relationship with Jesus and never knowing that they were fully accepted in His love.  Some of them are still stuck in churches that demand performance in order to receive acceptance.

As I wrote about this idea of performance spirituality, which I called (and still call) “legalism,” I thought about the teachers and others who seemed to work hard to keep people under this burden.  I had learned about narcissism from counseling marriages, particularly among those who had lived and breathed this type of spirituality.  As I understood more about narcissism, and as I continued to try to understand this legalism, I saw a connection that made sense.  There are so many parallels between narcissists and legalists, and between the narcissistic relationship and the legalistic organization.

Quite surprising to me, my articles on narcissism hit a niche that needed to be served.  Many Christians have suffered from narcissistic connections in marriage, church, family, and friendships.  And many of those same people have found themselves part of the performance spirituality mindset.  They believed they had to perform in order to be accepted, to be loved.  But their best performance was never enough.  They paid for their failures with condemnation and shame and abuse.

This has always been a blog centered on the love of God in Jesus.  I believe the true gospel has been usurped by the idea of performance and the message of shame.  Most of those who have rejected the Christian faith, in my experience, have never even heard the truth about God’s love.  They have been told a lie, and that grieves me.

In much the same way, and not coincidentally, the victim of the narcissist has often not understood her/his own value as a person.  The insufficiency of their performance, and the shame and self-doubt that results from it, opens their hearts to the manipulation of those who claim to love them.  Growing up under the system that grants love on the basis of performance sets people up for narcissistic abuse, just like growing up under the teaching of performance sets a person up for legalistic abuse.

Now, I understand that the posts on narcissism are helpful for people outside the Christian faith, and I welcome you here and to our discussions.  It just seems important for me to state once again where the foundations of my heart and intent belong.  I believe that the unconditional love of Jesus is the answer for anyone.  Those who have never felt love without strings attached, who have never been accepted without performance, can come to Him and find both.

It isn’t about church or giving or commandments or measuring up—it’s about Jesus.  It isn’t even about your love for Him.  It’s about His love for you.

We are all broken and hurting people living lives of weakness and limitation.  We make stupid decisions and suffer the consequences.  Sometimes other people suffer the consequences of those stupid decisions.  Not only are we not perfect, we don’t really know what it means to be good.  All of us.

So we look to Jesus.  Our hope and promise are in Him, because we know very well that we can’t save ourselves.  I believe He loves me—One on one—a real relationship.  There is so much I do not understand, but I trust in His love.  And that makes all the difference.

I invite you to look to Jesus with me.  If I can help, send me a note.  I am already praying for you.

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Fight with a narcissist? Yeah, right!

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

 

In my recent post on living with a narcissist, I suggested that you must be prepared to fight.  What I meant was that the conflict doesn’t seem to end.  It isn’t “knock-down, drag-out” fighting as much as it is a constant barrage of intimidation.

In fact, very few narcissists are up to a real fight.  They will tell you that they don’t fight.  You just don’t understand.  And, when you think about the last fight, you were probably cowering in some defensive position wishing they would just stop.  But they weren’t fighting.  He or she was just trying to tell you something.

Those who are in relationships with narcissistic people already know what I mean here.  You have faced this conflict, perhaps for years.  You measure your success by the extent of your loss.  If you only lost a little of the argument or the agreement, you feel like you won.  But you still lost.  You always lose.

You see, narcissists invest much more in winning than most people do.  They must win.  To lose, in almost any way, suggests that they are somehow less than they want to be.  If you grew up in normal relationships and with a normal understanding of who you are, you understand that you win some and you lose some.  The narcissist didn’t learn this.  When they lose, it’s because someone cheated or those who determined the winner were flawed.  Some outside circumstance intervened.  Here’s a common exchange:

You: I think Ankara is the capital of Turkey.

Narcissist: No, it’s Istanbul.

You:  Istanbul is larger, but I don’t think it is the capital.

Narcissist:  Yes it is.

You:  Well, I’ll look it up.

Narcissist:  Waste of time.

You:  Look, the encyclopedia says Ankara is the capital.

Narcissist:  Let me see that.  This thing is wrong.  We should have gotten rid of these years ago.

(At this point you wish you hadn’t said anything.)

Narcissist:  Well, I was right.  It says here that Ankara used to be called Angora.

You:  But you said it was Istanbul.

Narcissist:  No, I said Angora.  You just used the modern name and that threw me off. 

Now, notice what happened.  When you first opened your mouth you were assumed wrong.  The source, because it supported you, must also be wrong.  But when the narcissist realized that you were right, the argument changed.  Suddenly he didn’t say what you thought he said.  He is willing to lie or able to deceive himself into thinking that he meant the right thing after all.  If you challenge him, you are now starting another argument.  What seemed to be his error in the beginning was your fault and it will be your fault if you persist in the new argument.

The husband or wife of a narcissist goes through conversations like this several times a day.  But most of them center on more personal things.  Your opinions, your personal habits, your appearance, your role in the family, your discipline of the children—anything about you is fair game.  You are on the defensive—always.  If you dare to say something about him or her, then the real conflict begins.  Not only will it be necessary to prove you wrong, you must admit your error and repent.

If you think this is too strong, you are blessed.  You have never been there.  But as you read the accounts of those who have suffered under narcissists, whether in the literature or on websites and blogs, you will see a great amount of anger.  This is the anger of those who have been pushed down for a long time and finally have the opportunity to express their pain.  If you work with a victim of a narcissist, perhaps as a counselor, you will probably observe someone who acts confused, downtrodden, discouraged, and very tired.  This is someone who has been in a long and losing battle.

Setting new boundaries, finding new support, limiting the effect of the narcissist—these things will serve the victim very well, but will threaten the narcissist.  Be prepared for the conflict to increase.

Interestingly, the legalist system brings out the same anger.  Those who are constantly criticized, never able to measure up to some invisible standard, become afraid and confused.  If they are able to break away, they express strong anger toward those who manipulated and abused them.  Legalism is a narcissistic system.  Its leaders are often narcissists who have found a way to look good by pushing others down.

Comments?

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Filed under grace, heart, Narcissism

What makes a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

The answer to this is worth far more than the proverbial $64,000.  There is a general consensus, however, that the narcissist was made very young, through some trauma or series of traumas.  Abandonment or threatened abandonment by parents is a common theme.

I recently heard two stories of 4-year-olds who were sent out by parents to steal.  If they didn’t get what they were sent out for, they were not allowed back in the house.  Imagine what that would do…

One young lady I worked with was rejected by her mother from the earliest age.  In fact, she was told repeatedly, “I should have aborted you!”  She was never allowed to relax as a child, but was either coddled and pampered or abused and rejected.  Her mother would dress her up in expensive clothes and give her expensive hair treatments and parade her around like a doll.  Everyone would make much of her looks.  But the rest of the time she was considered a burden.  In other words, her mother was narcissistic.

What kind of confusion would it cause a child to be rejected for being a child, for wanting to play and laugh and wiggle; but to be praised for acting like an adult, when she was only four?

Through all of this, she learned one lesson from her mother:  she would be loved when she was not herself and hated when she was herself.  If she acted like her heart wanted to act, she would be rejected and abused.  If she acted like her mom wanted her to act, no matter how unnatural it was, she would be loved.

This appears to be a message learned by many who grow up to be narcissists.  They know in their hearts that they will be rejected if they relax or if they fail, or if they just are who they are.  In order to be accepted, they must create an image that is acceptable, even superior.  Control is the ultimate goal—control of what others think of them.  You are welcomed or pushed away based on what they think you will think of them.  When the narcissist looks in the mirror, it isn’t because she loves herself; it is to reassure herself that you ought to think highly of her.

So, yes, the narcissist is in pain and lives in fear.  That doesn’t excuse his cruelty, even if it explains it.  And not everyone who suffers such rejection ends up narcissistic.  For some, however, narcissism is the means they use to avoid and deny the pain.

But this is why it is so difficult to help a narcissist.  To go back to that time of fundamental rejection, to admit the vulnerability, is unthinkable.  Is it possible?  I do believe that the Lord can take us back into those most difficult times and lead us through them to wholeness.  There is such love and acceptance in the real gospel.  I do believe that there is hope in Jesus even for narcissists.  Someday I hope to see such a thing.

Thoughts?

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Filed under grace, heart, Narcissism

Better?

 

Children learn the use of comparatives and superlatives quite young, even though they may not know them as parts of speech. Something might be big, but another might be bigger. A comparison will have to be done to discern which is biggest. Big, bigger, biggest. Adjective, comparative, superlative.

For years we participated in a group that had a slogan boldly proclaimed at conferences and in literature.

“Giving the world a ‘new’ approach to life!”

The word “new” was always in quotes, as I remember. That’s because it didn’t really mean new. It meant “better.” At least that’s what we all were to think. People even quoted the slogan incorrectly, saying “Giving the world a better approach to life.” To be fair, I think the official idea was that the approach was not new, but ancient, since it came from the Bible. But the folks in the program—and the world outside—got the message that the way of this group was better.

And it wasn’t just a slogan. It was the theme of the whole ministry. Comparisons to the way of the world or even the rest of the church were constant. Everyone else was doing life wrong. Only the ones in the group were right. Story after story was told about how the ways of others failed and caused heartache. Story after story was told about how the way of the group was successful and wonderful. Money, marital happiness, family harmony, business success, and even national superiority could be attributed to the “better” way.

Now, if you are bold enough to suggest that your way is better, you should prepare for the challenge to be accepted. In other words, if you tell someone you have a better product or way of living, the burden is on you to prove it. The word “better” begs for comparison. That means analysis, observation, scrutiny, and testing. And you should remember that you started the comparisons.

In order to sell a better mousetrap, you have to establish that the old mousetraps have failings. Then you have to show that your mousetrap does not have those failings. And the makers of the others have the right to put your product to the test to see if you really do have something better. Any failing they find will probably be loudly hailed as proof that your mousetrap isn’t really all that much better.

So that brings me back to the Duggars. While I have a great deal of sympathy for the whole situation, particularly for the girls who were victims, I really am neither surprised nor troubled by the media attention given to their recent exposure. Yes, I think it is more than I want to read about or hear about. Yes, I think some people are taking advantage of their vulnerability. Yes, I think Jesus still loves each one of them. But none of us should be surprised at this widespread discussion.

When you challenge the whole world, don’t be surprised when the whole world responds!

The Duggars, faithful to the same group with the same slogan I once participated in, were willing to hold themselves as models for a “better” way of life, and they should be willing to pay the price of inquiry and analysis by those with whom they compared themselves. Bill Gothard, the teacher himself, experienced the same phenomenon. He proclaimed a “better” way, but failed to prove the comparison under examination—even in his own life.

The church is undergoing scrutiny by the eyes of a world no longer intimidated. The flaws of “superior” spirituality are becoming more evident. We have covered our sins and have failed to remove the log from our own eye. We have excused leaders and teachers and supported systems that deny the truth of our own inadequacies.

When spirituality is centered on behavior or performance, we provide for the world and our own people nothing more than a different list of rules than they have. Our list is better, we say. Follow our guidelines and you will avoid the errors and sins that have plagued you. The only problem is that our product does not compare all that well. Our list is just another list.

The Christian faith was never about a list. It was and is about a Person. According to the mystery, the Lord God loved us so much that He took on Himself humanity in the person of Jesus. Jesus, the love of God personified, offered life to those who would come to Him. Those who will admit their need, their inadequacy and failure, can find forgiveness, life, and joy in Him.

Christians are not better people than the rest of the world. Jesus is better. Our hope is not in our good, but in His good. Our forgiveness is not based on our love, but on His love. Our success is not based on our performance, but on His performance. Christians are forgiven, righteous, and hopeful—because of Jesus alone.

What Christians offer to the world is not a better list, but a Savior. The heart of our message depends on our willingness to confess our need. The flesh in us is still pulled to everything the world struggles against. But our hope is not in us or our ways. Our hope is in Jesus.

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The Duggar Thing

 

I have been very hesitant to step into the latest Duggar mess. For those who don’t know, the Duggar family is the very large family featured on television’s “19 kids and counting.” The family is Christian, homeschooled, and followers of Bill Gothard.

Recently the news brought out some facts about the oldest son of the family, things that happened when he was fourteen and fifteen years old. It was obviously handled poorly, and now the whole world seems to be either attacking or defending the family. I won’t go into detail about the crime or about how it was handled. I will only say that I have known some families who have been through this, and that it is very difficult to “handle it well.”

However, when I first learned of this I happened to read the statement made by the boy’s parents. (This young man is now married with his own children. The events occurred 12 years ago.) The parents made the statement, to People magazine, that they were shocked when it happened.

“When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.”

In that brief statement is a revelation. In just nine words, the Duggars summarize why legalism does not work to curb sin.

“We had tried to teach him right from wrong.”

When spirituality can be reduced to a list of things that are right placed against a list of things that are wrong, there will be no victory over sin. The desire to make spirituality a lazy process of list-keeping is what has harmed the church’s testimony in the world and the Christian’s ability to live rightly.

There are so many reasons this is true. First, evil has a draw upon the human heart. Putting something on a list and calling it wrong simply does not make it easier to avoid. In fact, there seems to be more of a draw once we identify something as wrong. We want to know why it is wrong. We want to understand the wrongness of it. We want to experience it so that we know what to stay away from. Even those who belong to Jesus are still drawn to evil by the flesh. The old ways are strong habits. If we have learned anything through our lives and by observing others, we should have learned that people find ways to do and to justify evil actions.

Second, no one knows who gets to write the lists. Most churches and teachers will claim that their lists come from the Bible—even when those lists contradict each other. Yes, the Bible does warn us against certain actions and attitudes, but some of the lists presented to us are far more detailed than anything the Bible teaches. The detailed rules of the Pharisees are nothing compared to the judgmental systems of some churches today. In fact, most lists are not published at all. People learn right and wrong by the acceptance or rejection of those around them. Sometimes people don’t learn that something is wrong until after they do it.

Third, the list of wrong things gets a lot more attention than the list of right things. We tell young men what they cannot do, but rarely tell them how they ought to handle the desires and stresses that come their way. We have long lists of sins, particularly in some areas, with almost no indication of what is right. One blogger recently wrote about the Duggar thing and suggested two boxes, one with wrong sexual practices and one with right. The one with the wrong practices was full while the one with right practices had only one, “Marriage.” But there are more than two boxes, because the listmakers will tell us all kinds of things that are wrong in the marriage relationship as well. It wouldn’t seem far out of line to say that almost all of our attention has been given to the things that are considered wrong. So much so that some young people have reported that the only sexuality they knew anything about was what they were supposed to avoid.

Fourth, there are no lists like this in the Bible. What? How can I say that? What about the Ten Commandments? If you read the Ten Commandments and understand the many rules given to the community of the people of God in the Old Testament, you will see what Jesus saw. There are only two rules. Love the Lord and love others. Jesus summarized “all the law and the prophets” under those two rules.

And Jesus said something else we should remember:

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

We have called this the “Golden Rule.” It summarizes our relationship with others in a very simple and straight-forward way. We could call it respect or even love.

The legalist tries to live with a long list of things to avoid and strives to keep his own actions away from that list. But maybe that isn’t necessary at all. Maybe if we learned to respect others and to care for them, to treat them the way we would like to be treated, we would find that the lists are not all that necessary. Maybe if we taught our children, from the earliest ages, that others have value and a right to be respected, that no one should be abusers or abused, and that those who are weak should be protected by those who are strong—maybe the sins we say they should avoid just wouldn’t enter their hearts and minds.

You see, lists will never help us do right. Rules and punishments can only force certain behavior, not change our hearts. Legalism is about rules, learning right from wrong. Grace, or the gospel of Jesus, is about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others. The only thing that makes a difference is relationship. Loving one another is the answer.

Love God and love others. Those are the only rules we need.

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