Tag Archives: Legalism

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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