I don’t know about you but I don’t like to see legalism in the church.

Last Sunday night, my wife and I got in on a little late night TV. We watched a black and white movie made in 1927 called, “Captain Salvation”.    It was all about the “holier than thou attitude.   The flyer of that day announced the movie like this:  She was a SCARLET WOMAN seeking salvation and the smug NEW ENGLANDERS cast stones at her…a sea thriller you will never forget!

It was great entertainment. The seminary student who stepped in to rescue an injured prostitute put his up and coming marriage  and the church he was to pastor on the line.   He did it all to help a woman that everyone else thought should be run out of town.   All the usual “holier than thou” elements were there:  the gossips, the high looks, the face making, the obvious glaring fail of missing the whole point of the gospel, the separatism, the judging, and even the smacking down of “Captain Salvation”. Legalism in the church today is nothing new.

I won’t spoil the plot for you, but I highly recommend “Captain Salvation”.  As I watched that movie, I thought, what does God think of that attitude?  My question was answered the very next day in my devotion as I studied Isaiah 65:5.  How God feels about legalism in the church today comes right at the end of a list of abominable sins and activities that Isaiah was addressing.

Who say, ‘Keep to yourself,
Do not come near me,
For I am holier than you!’
These are smoke in My nostrils,
A fire that burns all the day.

Wow! Even in ancient Israel there were those with this attitude. Think of how sick that sounds to God! I am the holiest one in all Israel! Don’t come near me! I don’t want to contaminate myself for I am so incredibly holy!  God said they are smoke in My nostrils!  God says, I smell them and they stink!

I love Jesus, don’t you?  He was the holiest one in the room. He never sinned in thought, word or deed. Yet he was criticized for being a friend of publicans and sinners and prostitutes.  Guess what? Jesus always showed compassion and mercy EXCEPT when dealing with the “holier than thou” Pharisees.  He let them have it! Both barrels!

Surely this attitude doesn’t exist today does it? Yes, it does.  How do you spot them?  35 years of pastoral ministry and I can quickly make a list of there attributes.

A list of holier than thou attitudes:

  • They are obsessed with the sins and shortcomings of others
  • They quickly lose patience if people are not “living right”
  • They think their job is to go around correcting people
  • They stalk people on FB and other social media
  • They call pretending to be friends but really just want to gain information
  • They cause division instead of unity
  • They only hang out with people who see the scripture exactly like they do
  • They often are caught arguing in church parking lots
  • They are more concerned with being right than loving
  • They criticize the pastor and other leaders

Yes, the “holier than thou” attitude is out there.  As long as there are humans, it will remain. But I still contend that it is our job as a church to love people.  The Holy Spirit and the Word of God will “sanctify” them.

We need to not have legalism in the church today or anytime in the future!

And if anyone has a “log in the eye” (Matthew 7:3-5) let those who are spiritual gently do eye surgery on themselves first before they do any restoring (Galatians 6:1) If all Christians would simply follow what Jesus said to do, legalism in the church today would cease and grace would abound more and more.