August 28, 2010 by Stacy McDonald

“One Way”

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“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

The following question is from my friend, Sarah Mae, who commented on the article, Legalism: Yours, Mine, and Ours, posted the other day. I thought I’d share our exchange here:

So, how do you explain your convictions to others while exhorting them to live biblically without seeming legalistic? If we say, “These are my convictions,” then people say, “That’s right, they’re your convictions, not mine.” But, if we say, “These are my convictions – look at God’s Word,” people say, “You are putting your convictions on me.”

Ahhhh…how do you walk this line? I have friends, who are faithful Christians, who think my husband and I are on the legalistic side b/c of our views on daughters staying home and not going off to college, home educating, etc. I want to urge people in these best things that we have been convicted of without saying, “You are sinning if you don’t do these things.” I mean, if we say, “this is right,” then we are automatically saying someone else is sinning, right? Help!

Sarah Mae

Good question, Sarah. This is something I’ve contemplated a lot over the last few years. Depending on what we’re talking about, we can’t all be right. It’s that whole relativism thing. Scripture is our only standard. Truth is not relative. However, clearly, many of us study the Bible and still come to different conclusions on certain things.

[Note: I am not talking about the basic tenets of the Christian faith (orthodoxy); instead, here, we are discussing how that orthodoxy is lived out, or practiced (orthopraxy).]

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of remembering that the way we live out the same convictions may look a little different from family to family. I think what matters more is what we do with that – how do we treat others who disagree?

Are we condemning and nasty? Do we flaunt what we call our Christian liberty with an “in-your-face” attitude? Do we shun or whisper about those for whom Christ died (1 John 2:11)? Or, are we forbearing, long suffering, patient, gentle, and charitable? I want to be marked by those last five characteristics, while still graciously defending what I believe to be true! Easier said than done. My flesh gets in the way every single day.

There are those who have accused me of legalism because of various things I’ve written, and I’ve had to seriously consider whether or not there was any truth to what they said. I don’t want to go beyond Scripture and I don’t want to pretend to have all the answers; but, I do like to think and contemplate and debate things to see where it all pans out. And sometimes people don’t like that.

I like to hear my reader’s thoughts, so that I can compare them to Scripture to see if anything I believe or teach is off. God has taught me many things this way over the years, and at times revealed sin and error in my life – using both friends in person, and friends online.

But, here’s the rub. We’re called to study the Word, pray, and honestly and faithfully live out, and share what God has taught us. We can’t hide behind the fear of man. Obviously, there are many teachers teaching very, very different things on various issues, and we can’t all be right. We are weak, fallible creatures living out each day by faith as He enables us. Like one reader commented, this is where forbearance comes in. We need to remember that we’re on a journey together.

I appreciate very much someone who has studied a subject and comes to a different conclusion than I do, but who is willing to discuss it with me in love and humility – and I try to do the same, knowing that I could be wrong. But, if everyone is afraid to share what they believe because they’re afraid of being called a legalist, or because they’re afraid people will think they’re “shoving their beliefs down someone’s throat,” then we all lose.

Likewise, if we “share” what we believe by insulting and misrepresenting one another, or by ignoring the “royal law,” (James 2:8) then we are behaving as Razor Mouthed Christians and we need to repent!

By the grace of God, we should all be able to humbly share what we believe to be true, ever willing to be corrected by the Word of God.

I came to many of my current convictions because I was challenged by bold believers who weren’t afraid to confront me with Scripture. I was sent to the Word to pray and to see if those things were so. I learned to study like a Berean (Acts 17:11).

And know that Satan’s purpose is to tear down, and not to build up, as the Word of God will do. Don’t be afraid of false accusations of legalism; God judges the heart of man. Fear Him alone. Live your life in love, walking in faith, confidence, and humility. But be careful with your words; always aware that some are yet unable to discern between the newness of the Spirit and the letter of the law.

“We should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)

For instance, if you say aloud that modesty is important, and that we should cover and not accentuate the provocative areas of our bodies, there will be someone who will want you to describe exactly what you think is too short, exactly how tight is too tight, and exactly how much skin they can show before “you” call it a sin.

In some cases, it’s a trap; they don’t really care what you think. Their questions are meant to corner you. If they can push you up against a wall by coercing you to be overly specific with your version of how to live out a random truth – then they can cry, “Aha, legalism!” (Psalm 35:19-21) Don’t fall for it.

Other times, people who genuinely want to honor God, but may be weak or young in their faith, ask for a list of rules. They are honestly trying to obey Scripture, but forget that sin is a heart issue that is ultimately displayed outwardly in the flesh.

They may also recognize that they have been raised in and indoctrinated by a sexually charged culture and they don’t trust their own judgment. Immodesty, like so many other sins, reveals itself in various ways. It cannot be cured with a specific list of dressing “dos and don’ts.” In fact, modesty goes way beyond clothing choices. I believe the best way to approach modesty is to focus on the way we’re to love and honor our neighbor, seeking to bring glory to the Lord, rather than to please ourselves.

I highly recommend reading The Idol of Modesty.

This is true on a number of other subjects: dietary laws, graven images, Christmas celebrations, alcohol, and the list goes on. We must be careful not to unnecessarily offend, hurt, or stumble a brother (1 Corinthians 10:32-33, Romans 14:15).

Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 1 Corinthians 8:9

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13

Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15

It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Romans 14:21

Feel free to teach in love the things you know to be true – ideas you can defend with Scripture. And know that there may be various ways to obey and live out a certain command, even while there is only one truth. But please remember that the royal law must reign supreme in the midst of teaching, debating, or disputing anything (James 2:8). And keep in mind that patience and forbearance is the key. If some are still learning, we must remember that so are we!

As passionate as we are about our ideas, we must remember that we very well could be wrong! That should humble us. There are so many factors that may play into our ideas and convictions – factors that have nothing to do with Scripture. We need to remember that sin can easily blind us and influence our actions and ideas. We must constantly pray for God to reveal to us our sin, our motives, and our flesh; and we must pray that He would help us to see His Truth (not our own).

“The person who understands the evil in his own heart is the only person who is useful, fruitful, and solid in his beliefs and obedience. Others only delude themselves and thus upset families, churches, and all other relationships.” – John Owen

Let’s all seek to glorify God as brothers and sisters, loving one another, and continuing on in all we’ve been called to do.

But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

So, Sarah, be a living testimony to your friends. Share what God has taught you. Explain what the Scriptures say, but don’t go beyond that. Share with them that this is your family’s humble attempt to obey God in the way He has revealed His truth to you. Let them know that your life is not “the way;” but, His is. For Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

And in the midst of your sincere walk of faith, if your motives are judged as legalistic, consider Matthew Henry’s words:

“We should be very careful how we censure others, when we have to do with a Judge from whom we cannot conceal ourselves. Others do not lie open to our notice, but we lie all open to his…

“Though none of God’s servants can deserve any thing from him, though there be much that is blamable even in their best services, yet shall their fidelity be commended and crowned by him; and should they be condemned, reproached, or vilified, by their fellow-servants, he will roll away all such unjust censures and reproaches, and show them in their own amiable light.

“Christians may well be patient under unjust censures, when they know such a day as this is coming, especially when they have their consciences testifying to their integrity. But how fearful should they be of loading any with reproaches now whom their common Judge shall hereafter commend.” – Matthew Henry

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)


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18 Responses to ““One Way””

  1. Deanna says:

    Stacy,

    I will be rereading this one! Thank for this posting. I have been wrestling with these issues for a while now.

    I appreciate the reminder to always be looking to what it says in the Word – to be Bereans.

    Thanks again.

  2. C Phillips says:

    Hello Stacy,

    Thank you for your insight. My youngest daughter pointed me to your post because she knew I needed it and it is indeed healing. Our family is currently going through a struggle with a family member who had separated from us over such a minor spiritual issue. In our conversation I was straight forward in pointing out his argument had become “in the flesh” when he began getting angry with me and shouting because I would not (calmly may I say) take his point of view. To this he hung up on me and sent me an email saying he wouldn’t be talking to me, and (Aha!) called me legalistic. Oh how I wish now I had never allowed myself to get cornered in such a way and had read this post first. Much wisdom here. As you say, it started with a question about my thoughts on a matter.

  3. Ginger says:

    I think we have to be very discerning about when to speak and when speaking would be “throwing pearls before swine” or “answering a fool according to his folly”. I have to be sure my words are God-glorifying, but from there, if it is scripture and not my own opinions I’m quoting, it’s up to God if and when the Word will do it’s work. His Word never comes back void.

  4. Marilyn says:

    What an awesome post. It strikes at the very heart of strife within the church. This is a journey. A journey of sanctification which is a lifetime of growth.

    God has a truth that he is revealing to us all. The scriptures cannot be broken and in due time, as we submit, He will reveal those things to those that are truly seeking and not just hearers, but also doers.

    Thank you so much for making your post so relevant. I missed several weeks of your posts, not realizing that you were posting on your new site. (I am new to the blogging world). I will switch over on my blog roll to your new address along with your button.

  5. Kristen says:

    If I may say something here, from a different point of view:

    This quote troubled me: “I want to urge people in these best things that we have been convicted of without saying, “You are sinning if you don’t do these things.”

    I agree that truth is truth. But I think the above statement is based on a fundamental falsehood: that what one person sees as the “best” way to live out their Christian walk, is therefore the “best” way for everyone else. I believe it’s a falsehood to say to someone, “You are not sinning if you don’t live the way I do, but you are also not living in God’s best.” This is the heart and soul of legalism– not “I have decided how I’m going to live out my faith in a way that you disagree with,” but “what I have decided to do is also best for YOU.” This goes against the truth of freedom of conscience before Christ, as set forth in Romans 14.

    The truth is not that there’s a “best” way that we can find while also letting others disagree and trusting God to work on their hearts until they all find the same “best” way. The truth is that there IS no one best way. Paul said in 1 Cor. 7 that some are called to be single, some to be married. One is not better than the other, and the same goes for other such choices, such as having children or not. Each person is an individual with individual circumstances and needs, and our relationship is supposed to be to the living God, not the dead letter.

  6. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Kristen,

    The following quote is from a reader who said, “I want to urge people in these best things that we have been convicted of without saying, ‘You are sinning if you don’t do these things.’”

    And then you said in response to her words, “I believe it’s a falsehood to say to someone, ‘You are not sinning if you don’t live the way I do, but you are also not living in God’s best.'”

    To be fair, Sarah did not say “God’s” best, she said, “these best things.” We could wrangle over what she meant by that, but, I can’t speak for her. Still, I can say that I didn’t get from her comment that she was trying to burden anyone with extra-biblical “bests.” In fact, it seemed to me that she was trying to ensure that she did not do that very thing.

    Everything we do, we probably do because we believe it is “best.” We take the principles we see in Scripture and we live those out in the “best” way we can. I homeschool because of the principles I see in Scripture for training up my children for God’s glory, with a strong Christian worldview, in a protected and wholesome environment. I see this as the “best way.”

    In addition, I have friends who feel strongly about Christian/Classical school. They believe that is the “best way,” and disagree with me about homeschooling – and that is ok. I think my way is best, they think their way is best. But we still manage to love and fellowship together, and our kids still share the same Legos. ;-)

    Sometimes I think we bloggers need to relax a little. In-person relationships make communicating so much easier. ;-)

  7. Kristen says:

    Stacy,

    The difference between us, then, is that I think homeschooling may be the best for you, and Christian school may be the best for your friends– and public school is best for my own family. I don’t disagree with you about whether homeschooling is best for your kids, but I would disagree that it’s best for mine.

    Whereas what I’m hearing you say is that you think homeschooling is best. Period. Others are free to disagree, but you think it would be better if they homeschooled too– though you would keep your opinion to yourself if it weren’t welcome. Whereas I would say, gather information about the different practices, and prayerfully decide what’s best for you, and then do it. And if it’s different from the choice I made, more power to both of us.

  8. Stacy McDonald says:


    Whereas what I’m hearing you say is that you think homeschooling is best. Period. Others are free to disagree, but you think it would be better if they homeschooled too– though you would keep your opinion to yourself if it weren’t welcome. Whereas I would say, gather information about the different practices, and prayerfully decide what’s best for you, and then do it. And if it’s different from the choice I made, more power to both of us.

    Hi Kristen,

    I think we’re close to agreeing. :-) But it depends on what we’re talking about. There are certain things that don’t really matter. I may think living in the country is wonderful, and wonder why in the world anyone would want to live in the city; but, at the same time I understand that it’s truly not best for everyone. Some things vary from person to person – from family to family – from situation to situation. I realize everyone can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) live in the country.

    But, when it comes to certain things, like homeschooling, I do feel passionately. From my research; my interaction with Christian families in public, private, and homeschool settings; and my study of Scripture, I can’t help but think homeschooling is the “best choice” for Christian families. I definitely see and appreciate the points my Classical Christian school friends make, and I can even agree that there may be times in an older child’s life when this may be “a better choice.” However, when possible, I still think homeschooling is the best choice for Christian families. My opinion.

    As Believers, we are commanded to train our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are given to us to love, protect, nurture, and equip with a thoroughly Christian worldview. While I don’t think it is absolutely impossible to do this while they attend a public school (God is sovereign!), I think it is highly unlikely (unless God mercifully intervenes). So, it makes sense that I would spend a great deal of time explaining my reasons for homeschooling and why I think it’s a better choice. My goal is not to offend or insult, but to inspire and motivate.

    I believe that God is using homeschooling and Christian education to strengthen and equip the church to make it more effective in the spread of the Gospel. And I believe that public schools have done much harm to the church, in stripping our children of a biblical worldview and contributing to their moral degradation.

  9. Kristen says:

    Whereas what I feel passionately about is that wherever the Scriptures are not explicit, each Christian should feel free to examine all the options and prayerfully choose, with an eye to not causing others to stumble, but also in full awareness of our liberty in Christ.

    I am convinced that my husband and I have chosen what is best for our children, given the kind and quality of schooling options in the area where we live, and given our life circumstances, and who our children are as individuals– and that those who automatically assume our choice was wrong are, yes, being legalistic.

    So we disagree at an even more fundamental level than on homeschooling itself. There are other ways of looking at these matters, and we can agree to disagree even on this. But I wanted to make it clear that some Christians do look at these kinds of issue in other ways.

  10. Kristen says:

    PS. I don’t think the public schools are as godless as you think they are. And just perhaps, the church has done harm to the nation’s youth, in abandoning our public schools. . .

  11. Stacy McDonald says:

    Whereas what I feel passionately about is that wherever the Scriptures are not explicit, each Christian should feel free to examine all the options and prayerfully choose, with an eye to not causing others to stumble, but also in full awareness of our liberty in Christ.

    I agree with this 100%!!!

    I am convinced that my husband and I have chosen what is best for our children, given the kind and quality of schooling options in the area where we live, and given our life circumstances, and who our children are as individuals– and that those who automatically assume our choice was wrong are, yes, being legalistic.

    Here’s where we disagree. Do you think it is legalistic for a person to have the opinion that it is foolish for people to drive their motorcycles on the Interstate? Keep in mind, they’re not trying to ban motorcycles from the Interstate, and they’re not saying that motorcycles are sinful. Can they not have that opinion?

    Kristen, I was not trying to offend you. In fact, I was trying very hard not to. I was just trying to show you how one can think something is “best” without meaning that it is “God’s best.”

  12. Stacy McDonald says:

    I just realized how my last comment may have sounded. Please know that I was not saying the decision you and your husband have made is foolish. I may not agree with you, and I may even be prayerful that you would change your mind. But, I did not mean to imply that you were foolish; or that you had not prayed, contemplated, and taken serious your decision.

    My example of the motorcycle was only to show you that what you’re describing as legalism is not legalism.

  13. Kristen says:

    Stacy,

    True enough, it’s not legalism if you don’t mix God and God’s will in general, up with personal ideals. But this issue was being expressed in terms of “convictions.” “Convictions” mean, in my understanding, matters on which a person has been convicted by the Holy Spirit as being God’s will or God’s way. If all along you have been speaking of something else, then that is another matter.

  14. Stacy McDonald says:

    — n
    1. the state or appearance of being convinced
    2. a fixed or firmly held belief, opinion, etc
    3. the act of convincing
    4. the act or an instance of convicting or the state of being convicted
    5. carry conviction to be convincing

    “Mental state of being convinced” is from 1690s; that of “firm belief, a belief held as proven” is from 1841.”

    I can say “these are my convictions” without meaning that I have been convicted by God that anyone who doesn’t see things the way I do is in sin. At the same time, I will say that I believe that God brought me to my convictions – just as He has orchestrated every other area of my life.

  15. Kristen says:

    Somehow, the idea that you’re praying that I would change my mind, does not seem to me like an acceptance that I might actually, really and truly, be doing what is God’s best for me and my family.

    My children are following the Lord just fine, and they’re doing it as public school students, and no one in public school is trying to take their faith away from them. There’s a fine line between being “in the world but not of it” and withdrawing from the world. We each have to find where God wants that line in our own lives, and let Him lead others in other ways if He wants to.

    I disagree fundamentally with you on many matters– and I have good reasons, hard-won reasons, for where I stand now. We can agree to disagree. But if you’re going to pray for me, simply pray that God’s will– whatever that may be– will be done in my life. Thank you.

  16. Stacy McDonald says:

    No problem, Kristen. And I pray God richly blesses you and your family.

    Peace.

  17. Genieve says:

    I needed to read this :) Thanks!

  18. Laura says:

    Hi Stacy,

    I appreciate how you have sought to address this issue prayerfully, Biblically, in humility and with the love of Christ.

    I would like to share how this whole discussion can be simplified:

    The kind of legalism that you are discussing here can be simply defined as “making into law the commandments of men” which the Pharisees were guilty of. R.C. Sproul, of Ligioner Ministries, writes, “a… prevalent and dangerous form of legalism occurs when we elevate our opinions to the status of divine revelation and impose them on others. Jesus often castigated the Pharisees for adding rules to the Bible and then acting as if those rules were from God (Mark 7:1-13). May we never be guilty of this great sin.”

    People are free to have personal convictions regarding Grey areas (areas where the Bible is not specific), however they are not free to tell others that their particular tradition is THE Biblical way. I believe God made it very clear what was sin and what was His righteous standards according to the moral Law (the Black and Whites of Scripture). He was also silent concerning many things that His Spirit will be faithful to lead us in individually as we seek Him. And those things will often be quite different from one another because our callings, circumstances and cultures are so varied. God, of course!, was wise in His silences. As my pastor said recently, “All Scripture is God-breathed; even the stuff left out.”

    I wrote a blog to warn young mothers of the dangers of legalism. http://soapboxsister.blogspot.com/

    Again, I want to clarify that what I mean by legalism is NOT having personal standards, but rather holding them up for others. And yes, we absolutely are to give grace to the weak, but we are also to, as R.C. Sproul says, “Beware of the Tyranny of the Weaker Brother”. When someones takes their personal convictions into the public square, and begins holding them up as standards for all, that is when it is appropriate to speak out for the sake of the Body and the Gospel.

    Blessings to you, sister, and to your ministry.
    in His love,
    Laura

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