Tag Archives: Legalism

Remember the Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have been reading some of the more popular writing on narcissism these days, just to see what’s out there. One of the things I notice is that most of the writing is done to expose the overt narcissist. They like to talk about the overbearing boss, the critical mother, the abusive husband; but they usually share characteristics almost anyone would reject. What people often miss are the characteristics of the covert narcissist.

Covert narcissists would rarely be called abusers, but they can push people to suicide. Covert narcissists are not loud and arrogant, but tend to be much more manipulative and subtly cruel. They don’t call people stupid or lazy, at least not to their faces; but covert narcissists will make you feel stupid or lazy and leave you wondering why. Covert narcissists are the real crazy-makers.

Four years ago, shortly after I started Narcissist Fridays, I wrote this about covert narcissists:

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.” Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects. The only problem is that they end up taking over. They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done. But you feel stupid in the process. When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned, and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to. But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better. Your way just wasn’t good enough.
This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies. You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful. In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take. It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you, and you will be expected to praise them and honor them. Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee. Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

These are the narcissists who don’t seem to fit the mold. They are “nice” people, people who seem to be cooperative and helpful. Their criticisms are just helpful advice. Their manipulations are just trying to encourage you. Their generosity is just trying to make things better for everyone.

You probably won’t find many covert narcissists in jail. Nor will your friends understand the problem you have with them until they experience it for themselves. They will hold leadership positions in any organization—not the top, you understand—and they will mold the organization to their own liking. Very few will notice or be hurt or offended.

The covert narcissists make the overt narcissists look like bumbling clods. Very little can be traced back to them. Whereas the overt will lie and cheat blatantly, the covert will get others to lie and cheat for her. Whereas the overt will call someone names, the covert will just make you feel like the names he is calling you in his heart. The covert will apologize to you, praise you, speak words of encouragement to you, and put herself down—all to get you to do what she wants. Covert narcissists have learned to be subtle and patient.

I suspect covert narcissism and legalism are two sides of the same coin in the church. Some legalists are confrontational and argumentative. Some accuse others to their faces and speak loud words of condemnation. Others, who are far more dangerous, just sigh sadly and say they will continue to pray. They ask questions like: “Do you think that’s wise?” They remember sad stories of people who did the same things you are doing, and they hope you don’t end up the same way. This is not covert legalism as much as it is covert narcissism, manipulation at its best.

Coverts are the experts at gaslighting and projection. They twist your words, remember things differently, and accuse—all while smiling and pretending to be your biggest supporters. And those words of apology you wish you could hear from the overt narcissist? The covert says them with a sad and believable face. You probably won’t even realize that you have been duped.

Now, someone is thinking that this describes the “other side” of the narcissist they know. This is what others see as you see the overt narcissist. You experience the cruelty, while they see someone who is kind and helpful and thoughtful. Or you have seen the change, the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. The person who was kind and helpful and thoughtful suddenly becomes the abuser; and then might just as quickly change back with apologies and penance. Of course, this may be an indication of another problem (bi-polar or borderline or something else), but it can also be the eruption of the covert narcissist.

It seems to me that the covert is far more powerful and capable than the overt. The covert must work much harder to get the results, but can often do so undetected for years. But that work still comes with a price. Just ask the kids of the randomly exploding mom. They have seen the truth that no one else has seen.

The world is learning about narcissism. The incredible lack of empathy and the willingness to use or abuse others to fulfill personal goals is being noticed. But the covert narcissists are staying out of the spotlight. They are not seen as cruel or abusive or negative in any way. They are seen as helpful.

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Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

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Filed under grace, Legalism, Narcissism

What must I do? – pt 3

 

I have often made the point that good works proceed out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than produce our relationship with Him. We are not saved by good works, according to the Scriptures, nor do we stay saved by good works. Instead, we are saved “unto good works,” as Ephesians says. When we are saved, we become capable of good works, restored to be the people we should be.

 

Scripture expects the people of God to do good. Because He does good and He is the active life in us as we yield to Him, the Lord’s goodness is seen in us. He uses us to reach out to others in love. Sometimes our actions, as we listen to His leading, are the answer to someone else’s prayers. What a blessing that is to us!

 

I believe that the normal Christian life will produce good. It is in the nature of the believer to do good. Our Lord is always doing good and He is active in us.

 

But there are some who twist even this truth. They say that certain things must come out of a believer’s life. If those things don’t happen or can’t be seen, then the person must not be a believer, they say. Not only are the rules evidence of salvation, they are necessary evidence.

 

So you might hear something like this: “I just don’t know about someone who says he is a believer but never gives to the church.” Or, “How can someone be a Christian and not tell others about Jesus?” These people will quickly say that tithing doesn’t produce salvation. They know that sharing the gospel with the lost is not a pre-requisite for being saved. But they seem to say that these things are necessary “post-requisites.”

 

It is customary for “post-salvation legalists” to cite passages about bearing fruit. They pull out Jesus’ words (which are really about the false prophets) in Matthew 7:20:

 

Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

 

But the Scripture is very clear about where the fruits of righteousness come from in our lives. The simple truth is that Jesus does His own work.

 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10  that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11  being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (NKJV)

Any fruit that comes out of us is from His life in us. So do we have the right to tell Jesus what fruit He should produce? Can we give Him a list of expectations with the insinuation that we will judge His presence in a person by whether or not those expectations are kept? Who are we to judge the people of God who are led by the heart and mind of God?

 

Churches, teachers, and individuals often place their own expectations on other believers. Usually portions of Old Testament law are woven into the list. Tithing, not eating certain kinds of meat, obeying parents—these and others. And often they are reflections of cultural morality: avoiding certain movies or drinks or styles of dress. Sometimes they are blatant church-serving expectations: giving to the building fund, serving in the Sunday School, or church attendance. They can’t say anyone is saved by doing these things or that anyone who didn’t do them could lose their salvation, so they say that these will arise naturally and necessarily out of anyone who is saved.

 

But it is the same old story, isn’t it? Salvation is still judged by the work of the individual, rather than by the work of Jesus. If all we can do is receive what Jesus has done for us, then who can judge our salvation on the basis of our works? The only righteous Judge is Jesus—and He is the One who saves us on the simple basis of His love.

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Willful Sin

Legalism depends on loopholes. Without loopholes, no one could stand the fear and oppression of the law. The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ time were masters of loopholes and Jesus challenged them on it. Because they compromised the law with their additions and loopholes, Jesus said that they didn’t keep the law at all. This in spite of the fact that they claimed to uphold the law in all things.

I have recently been in a somewhat challenging conversation where the person claims that he/she never sins “willingly.” That’s an interesting statement. In my mind, there is no other way to sin.

Oh, I know that it is possible to transgress the law accidentally. The Old Testament has some teaching about this and provisions for it. But for a Christian to claim that he never sins willingly seems very strange.

Frankly, this smells dishonest. You and I sin and we sin willingly. That means that we choose to sin. No one makes us do it. There is no evil force within us controlling our actions. Sin continues to have its appeal to our flesh and we continue to choose it. As we learn to walk according to the Spirit, we don’t need to sin and we will sin less. Yet, when we do sin, we do it because we choose to do it.

Those who have to live with people who think they never sin willingly must struggle. He is angry and lashes out in his anger, but he is not responsible because he really didn’t want to do it. She mistreats others, but you shouldn’t get upset because she doesn’t choose to do those things. Maybe it was the devil or maybe a sin nature or maybe some schizophrenic facet of themselves, but they can’t be held accountable because they did these terrible things under duress.

As long as I am being catty, I also notice that they rarely give others the same loophole. Their sin is only involuntary but they rail against others whose sin is always a choice. Mr. Churchleader accidently lusts after a young lady at church who purposely wears provocative clothes. She is culpable, but he is not. Nice.

But not honest. Why not just admit that sin is a choice? If it were not a choice, would God hold us accountable?

Here’s the rub: those who admit to sinning on purpose have to deal with Hebrews 10:26,

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins

Ouch! Whatever that means, it can’t be good. So, if I admit that I choose sin, then I no longer have access to the price Jesus paid for my sins. Some of these poor folks believe that. They can lose their salvation simply by a bad choice. (And I get challenged when I suggest that legalists live in fear!)

Obviously, this is a difficult verse. But every difficult verse of Scripture has a context. I have said many times that we must always proceed from what we know into what we don’t know. We know that God loves us. We know that we are broken creatures without Him, incapable of living right. We know that we need a Savior. We know that the Savior has done all that we need for life and godliness.

This verse has a context. Just a few verses before, we read this:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14
Notice the past tense. He “has perfected” us by the one offering on the cross. Notice the passive voice. We “are being sanctified.” This is something He has done for us and is doing in us. The Lord does all of this in us and for us.

I just read where someone said that the law was given for sanctification. The writer agrees that we are justified by grace, but believes that we are sanctified by the law. So we are given salvation as a gift, but we have to work to be sanctified. The only problem with that is that there is no salvation without sanctification. To be sanctified means to be set apart by and for the Lord. Who could be saved without belonging to the Lord?

This passage from Hebrews that is so often quoted to keep believers under the law does not refer to individual sins we do as we walk through a difficult life. It refers to those who have been part of the fellowship and have rejected Christ. Hebrews mentions this several times. There were those who were part of the church, part of the fellowship and informed about the truth, who were still not in Christ. They walked away, for whatever reasons, and left behind their only hope. Because there is no other offering for sin, those who walk away from Jesus lose what they thought they had.

But that isn’t about you and me. We hate sin and its consequences. We wish our transformation was faster. Yet, there are times when we choose to do that which used to feel good and still offers the false hope of satisfaction or pleasure.

Those who belong to Jesus are under grace—even when we sin. And we do sin willingly. The choice before us, every moment, is to walk according to the flesh or walk according to the Spirit. One way is full of trouble, the other is full of joy. But the Christian who walks according to the flesh can and will see the limitations of the flesh, the futility of doing things the way he/she did before coming to Jesus, and will be drawn to the Spirit. There is growth and progress, but there is not rejection.

The bottom line: I choose the sin I commit and I am deeply grateful for a Savior whose love is greater than my wandering heart. I am not proud of my choice, nor do I flaunt it. I simply admit the truth. And the whole truth is that I completely depend on Jesus. Apart from Him, there is no hope.

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship, Theology and mystery

Our Legalism

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

Let’s be honest. We do it too.  While challenging others we have a tendency to
overlook legalism in ourselves. I was complaining one day about a family
who seemed to have many excuses for not attending church. My wife
challenged me by asking if church attendance was one of the “standards” I
wanted to keep and use in my ministry. Ouch! The truth was that I was
teaching people to seek the leading of Jesus and then follow Him. Could
Jesus allow this family to miss church occasionally? Of course! But I
didn’t like it and I judged them for it. I was still applying law the way I
wanted to apply it – just like any other legalist teacher.

So let God deal with your own judgmentalism and legalism. In fact, ask Him
to challenge you. You can’t expect the people around you to enjoy the
acceptance of Jesus if you are a source of condemnation. I don’t say this
lightly and I know it isn’t easy.

 

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Are you open to Manipulation?

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

From time to time I read Seth Godin’s blog.  He has some great insights about marketing and people.  The most recent blog entry is an interesting item on what makes some people more open to being manipulated.  Read the blog for yourself, but here are some of the things I found interesting in his list.  His blog is not intended to be Christian in any way, but these things are more than worth our consideration.   I will insert my comments, particularly in relation to the religious/performance manipulation I have seen.

  •  Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.   (Or an unreasoning acceptance of the authority of the guy up front.)
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it’s true.   (Again, an unquestioning attitude toward perceived authority.  So many of these teachers have no evidence for the assertions they make, but their followers accept every word as truth.)
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.  (“Seven easy steps to being more spiritual than others.”  “Five ways to make God love you.”  “How to raise your kids the right way.”)
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.  (The key word here is “unexamined.”  There is an obsession among many homeschoolers or conservatives for the “old ways.”  Some of the old ways are gone for a reason!)
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.  (If the teacher can fill the bleachers, he must be true, right?”)
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.  (This is the big one.  The desire to control the fears and uncertainties of life opens many people to the manipulation of leaders.)
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).  (What, judge someone by what he wears?  You’re kidding!)
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what’s true.  (If you hear it often enough—say, that Cabbage Patch dolls have demons—it must be true, right?)

There are other characteristics that open people to manipulation at Seth’s Blog.  What do you think?

 

Thanks to:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

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Performance Spirituality

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

“Performance Spirituality” is the idea that spirituality is obtained and maintained by the performance of good works and the avoidance of sin. From time to time you will hear people refer to the kind of activity a “real Christian” will avoid. No real Christian, for example, could get a divorce. No real Christian could look at porn. No real Christian could steal, or skip church to go to a football game, or smoke. A real Christian will love going to church. A real Christian will tithe and be kind and memorize Bible verses.

You get the idea. There’s a book out there with the title, Lists to Live By. I don’t know that the book is about this, and I don’t mean to bad-mouth the book, but the title certainly serves the idea of performance spirituality. All you have to do to be spiritual is to do the right things and avoid the wrong things. Live by the lists.  Just like the Pharisees.

But we teach that spirituality is found only in a relationship with Jesus, not in a certain kind or amount of performance. Believers are made spiritual, reborn to new and spiritual life, when Jesus enters into them and gives them His life. We are spiritual because He is spiritual – and for no other reason. Those who were dead in their sins are made alive as Jesus is alive in them.

In that way, we understand that no person is more spiritual than another. All are spiritual only because of Jesus. The ramifications of this are important. If you are going through life comparing yourself with others and finding them to be more or less spiritual than you, perhaps you are operating under a wrong assumption. Instead, look to Jesus alone. He leads the others and He leads you. Trust Him.

 

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Relationship, Uncategorized

Guilt and Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

One of the more subtle and unexplored connections between narcissism and legalism is the use of guilt and shame as motivation and control tools. So prevalent are these tools in the message of both legalism and narcissism that the connection can hardly be ignored. From the pulpit and the bedroom, from the family home to the service organization, guilt and shame are readily available and liberally applied.

Guilt and shame are usually found together, especially among Christians. The church has done a poor job of helping believers to release guilt, in spite of a message that proclaims the forgiveness of sins. Instead, the church has used guilt in a mixed message that never quite allows believers to feel forgiven.

The feeling associated with guilt, especially in the church, is shame. Shame moves church members to conformity and obedience; or, at least, compliance. Those who are intimidated by shame find it much more difficult to stand up against injustice, particularly to themselves.

Over the years I have suggested that guilt is a very inefficient motivator. It drains the accused of energy, energy that could benefit the one doing the accusing. In other words, using guilt and shame to motivate your kids to clean their rooms may work, but it costs them in both enthusiasm and creativity. Workers shamed into cooperation are still unwilling and without passion for the work. Employers and leaders who use guilt and shame will receive a lower quality of performance.

However, if you see the people in your care as somehow less than equal and less than valuable, you may be content with mediocre work and reluctant cooperation. If your members or workers are not real people in your mind and their greatest contributions are unworthy in your estimation, you may not care whether they perform with enthusiasm.

Enter the narcissist.

The narcissist has serious difficulty in valuing others or even in seeing others as real. Therefore the contributions of others have no real value to him. Slaves, servants, peons, sycophants, and moochers surround him. He expects them to serve him, but he also expects them to serve him poorly. So he uses whatever motivation will work.

I suspect that one reason a narcissist will attach to a believer is because the believer is often easier to manipulate with guilt and shame. Believers are usually pre-conditioned to accept this type of motivation. We have learned throughout our lives that most things are our fault. We have been told for years that we are inadequate and unworthy. So we accept the narcissist’s judgment as both true and normal.

But there’s more.

Guilt and shame may be very familiar to the narcissist. If we accept the typical version of a narcissist’s childhood, where parents are absent or conflicted and love is withheld except when it serves the parent, then guilt and shame are the primary motivations for the narcissist to hide and project an image. Rejection was his/her fault. He/she was to blame for the difficult childhood. If he/she had been a more worthy son/daughter the parent might have loved more.

The narcissist knows the power of guilt and shame. So it shouldn’t surprise us when narcissists seek victims who are already conditioned to that motivation. Nor should it surprise us when the compromised legalist uses it from the pulpit to control his parishioners or move them to conformity. When the narcissist tells his wife that their marriage problems are her fault, he is probably projecting the guilt and shame he has felt all his life and using it as a primary tool to control. When the legalist preacher condemns his people for the clothes they wear or the television they watch, he may well be projecting the guilt and shame he feels for the compromises of his own life.

So the answer to this control is to know the truth of God’s love and acceptance. Shame makes us feel less as persons. We relinquish our rights and our value when we live in shame. We accept the abuse of others and add to it ourselves, because we own the guilt. But that is not the message God has for us.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, according to the Scriptures. No more guilt or shame, because Jesus came to take that away from us. Yes, our actions may cause pain and our attitudes may be wrong, but that does not lessen our value to Him. We should be quick to confess injury to others and seek reconciliation, but from a position that is both secure and strong. We are loved by the greatest Judge of all and that will never change.

In other words, believers are healthy when they accept the acceptance God has toward them. We are strong when we acknowledge that nothing can remove us from His protection. We are confident when we understand that guilt and shame have been completely overcome in us by the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

Neither the narcissist nor the legalist preacher has the right to pronounce guilt on us. They have no power over us to place us under shame. We are free to simply shrug off their condemnation and manipulation. Understanding that is health and peace . . . and victory.

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Was it all wrong?

Okay, now we have left the legalist church/organization/teacher.  Now what?  Where do we stand?  Do we throw out everything we learned?  How do we sort out all of this?  Does it all just need to go?

I have been getting a lot of these questions lately.  Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are gone.  Bill Gothard has resigned and the future of IBLP is in question.  Churches and ministries and teachers that had all the answers suddenly don’t even have answers for themselves.  At the same time, the message of God’s love and grace are being shouted from the housetops and people are hearing that it isn’t about their performance after all.

But we were immersed in the performance doctrines.  We learned them throughout our lives.  We judged others and ourselves by them.  We grieved when we couldn’t measure up and wondered about those who didn’t even seem to try.  We worked so hard to do well and sacrificed to go to the conferences, seminars and the right churches.  If we can’t trust the ones who spoke to us in the name of the Lord, who can we trust?

Besides, it all came out of the Bible, didn’t it?  We understand that it didn’t seem to work for the teachers, but shouldn’t it still work for us?  Or is it all bad?

Was it all wrong?  No.  But it was all touched by the error.  It’s a little like baking cookies and putting in soy sauce instead of vanilla.  The rest of the recipe is just right, but the mistake affects the whole batch.  The strange taste can be found in every bite.  The only way to move forward is to put together a new batch.

Yet, when you begin to bake the new batch of cookies, you find that most of the ingredients and proportions are just the same as before.  The sugar was fine.  The flour was good.  The amount of butter, salt, and baking powder was just right.  So much was right.  If you can remember what the error was, you should be able to avoid it in the future.

Obviously, baking cookies does not compare with building a way of thinking about life and relationships and spirituality.  But the error of legalism is usually confined to a few toxic teachings that affect the applications and effectiveness of the perspective.  In fact, a simple wrong substitute might have caused the whole problem.

Many of us were brought up in an atmosphere of fear and shame.  Sometimes it came from our parents.  Sometimes it came from school or the community.  Sometimes it was just the lie in our own hearts.  We learned that condemnation was normal and deserved, even if we didn’t like it and tried to reject it.  We learned little about real love, because whatever love we experienced was bound up by conditions and expectations.

What little we learn of the fundamental lie and the evil one who promotes it is that it stems from fear and pride, an unwillingness to rest in the provision and love of God.  If I were to risk simplifying the lie, I would suggest: “I can and I should do it myself.”  That lie has been cultivated into our humanity for all of history and is an integral part of our world.  It should not surprise us when we see it everywhere, nor when we learn that we have been affected by it.  Our parents lived in it as did their parents.  The world’s thinking and most of the thinking of the church has been affected by it.  The lie is everywhere.  From Eve to the Antichrist, the lie has permeated our world.

So it also should not surprise us that we would naturally gravitate toward teachers and churches where the lie was just under the surface.  We hate the lie.  We hate feeling insecure and inadequate.  Yet, those feelings are so familiar.  It is difficult for us to accept teaching and influence that doesn’t have something of those feelings for us.  But we don’t want it on the surface, at least not at first.  We want to hear about love and acceptance, but we subconsciously look for performance and shame.

But that was the lie.  Now we have discovered the truth!  The lie was substituted for love.  Shame and performance are not part of the good news.  God loves us and sent His Son to be our hope.  He has provided all that we need “for life and godliness.”  What the Father has done for us in Jesus is enough.  We are not condemned and no longer need to live in fear, shame, and inadequacy.  Jesus is our hope, our righteousness, our life.  The truth has set us free.

And now what?  Now we go back to the building blocks of our faith and learn again.  This time we will be watching more carefully.  This time we know that the soy sauce smells and tastes different from the vanilla.  We know that the lie will damage everything, so we will avoid it by prayer and wisdom.  We will see that the Lord has invited us into a relationship because He loves us and He will give us all that we need for that relationship to be a lasting reality in our lives.  We will remember His love for us and how it defines everything of our faith and lives.

Yes, it will be tempting to stay away from the faith altogether.  My heart grieves for those who have tasted the recipe that included the lie.  Now that they have spit out the vile thing they don’t want to taste anything that looks like it.  We understand and sympathize.  We have some of the same feelings.  We will be much more sensitive to the taste in the future.

Much like we would if we were baking the new batch of cookies, we will remind ourselves of the former error.  We will be telling ourselves to avoid the lie.  We will speak words of affirmation and truth along the way.  We will tell ourselves and others about the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, the freedom of our relationship with Jesus, and the assurance of His faithfulness.

And if we smell the lie again, even in something we have accepted, we will search for it and get rid of it.  We will denounce it over and over until it no longer affects our thinking.  Then we will rest in the knowledge that the Lord has been with us and has guided us into the truth we need to experience His love and the joy of our salvation.

All that needs to go is the lie.

I would love to read your comments!

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship

Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery