It’s Truth When I Like It, It’s Legalism When I Don’t

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts. – Psalm 51:6

When a verse from the Bible isn’t too much of a challenge for me, I’m inclined to defend it with righteous zeal. “This is plainly true! This is what Scripture says; you gotta obey it; case closed.”

But if you confront me with a verse which challenges some area of my own weakness, I’m inclined to say, “Oh, don’t get so legalistic, you Pharisee!”

To be sure, doctrine and apologetics are attractive to me, though I’m a layman in both. Expository teaching is something I thrive on, and like millions of believers in 2018, I mourn, not over the death of the truth (because it can’t die) but over the disobedience to it and/or the disregard of it in my country and, often, in the modern church.

Then again,  anyone can yack away about their high view of Scripture. The real issue isn’t whether or not we believe God’s Word academically, but whether our obedience to it trumps our convenience. Because awesome as it is, much of the Bible accuses and corrects me, exposing areas I’d rather leave under wraps. So the “High View of Scripture” label I wear means only so much. My willingness to let Scripture do its job within me is the acid test as to how seriously I take the Bible.

It all began with a lie.

Which brings up the ancient and so-human problem of deciding whether to take God at His word, or amend it until it says what we hope it means, rather then what it really does.

Eve fell for that one. The Serpent assured her that when God said “You’ll die” He must have meant something else. (Genesis 3:4) He also in the same breath duped her into thinking God’s prohibitions were unfair, denying her something she was entitled to, and that what He forbade would actually be life-giving. Lie upon lie, accepted and then acted on. Every human misery experienced to this day has its origins in those lies.

Now when my theologically liberal friends revise scripture to justify modern sins by interpreting Thou Shalt Not as really meaning Be True to Thy Self, I can get pretty smug about their carelessness with the Word. But when that same Word describes my pride as an abomination while using the exact term it also uses to condemn homosexuality (Proverbs 6:16-19) or my criticism of others as hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3-5) you’d be surprised how smoothly I wiggle out of it, telling myself not to get too literal, too legalistic, too hard on myself.

My, what a doctrinal Conservative I can be, until doctrine calls me out. Only then does my hyper-tolerant “God may have meant something else so let’s bathe it all in grace” approach kick in. Yet when I try amending God’s clear instructions, I join the serpent in asking Hath God said?

Funny how the lies we believe influence the decisions we make, decisions we often wind up lying about as we try to cover them up, minimize their impact, or avoid dealing with them. In fact, Adam’s response, after going along with Eve’s deception, was to lie and evade until his heartbroken Creator nailed him. (Genesis 3:8-12)

It Seems We’ve Stood and Talked Like This Before —

Satan, for all his cleverness, hasn’t changed all that much, nor have his tactics. Today he’s likely to approach you with the same line he fed Eve:

“Hath God said?” (Translation: “Maybe He didn’t really mean what He said.”)

“You shall not die” (Translation: “Consequences won’t come, because somehow you will be the exception to the rule of sowing and reaping.”)

“Your eyes will be opened.” (Translation: “Go ahead, it will relax you, soothe you, benefit you somehow.”)

Whether the thing in question is a simple fantasy you’re tempted to entertain, or an adulterous relationship you’re being drawn into, you’ll hear this spiel and make a choice. Somehow I think you’ll recognize the lie when you hear it, and will know full well its’ falseness.

Still, you can even lie to yourself about that, telling yourself that even if the thing is wrong, maybe it’s not that terribly wrong. You’re human, you have needs, you can always confess it in prayer after you indulge and be forgiven, so what harm will really be done?

I know experience has shown how gracious God is, and how quickly forgiveness is extended without punishment being exacted. I guess we can all safely say we haven’t gotten what we deserved.

But I also know there’s no such thing as really “getting away with it.” A wounded conscience, robbed peace of mind, shame, diminished confidence, and spiritual dryness are all their own punishments, dealt out not so much by God but by the logical outcome of stepping over your own integrity.

So let’s do ourselves a favor today by walking in peace, not lies. The day requires plenty from us, and by the end of it, we’ll get the sort of rest and sleep we’ve earned. We already know about the wages of sin, but tonight, I hope we’ll enjoy, deeply and steadily, the wages earned by resisting it.

There’s a rest to be had from a day of walking in truth, and these days when darkness and lies are all the rage, it’s awfully nice to have that sort of rest to look forward to.


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