I taught Mark 7:1-23 recently. This is the text where the Pharisees and Scribes challenged Jesus because His disciples did not “hold to the traditions of the elders.” They were eating with “unwashed hands” which, in the tradition of the elders, is considered defilement. This subject is close to my heart for two reasons. (1) My own journey of faith has taught me that we all fall prey to the danger of legalism to some degree. (2) As a leader of a disciple making missionary movement in our local church, I must consciously root out the traces of legalism that lingers in our experience of unmerited grace.

Let me give you 4 warning signs about the danger of legalism:

1. You elevate tradition over truth: Luke 7:1-5
The Mishnah, a compilation of Jewish oral laws made at the end of the second century a.d. says, “Tradition is a fence around the law.” By the time of Jesus, the elders had developed hundreds of laws that simply became absurd. For example, a person could not wear their false teeth on Shabbat in case they fell out, and they would be tempted to pick them up, which would be considered “labour.” The truth is that “tradition” per se is not the problem. It’s when a tradition becomes more important that the truth of God’s Word. When church canons including the rulings of counsels, committees and clergy override the plain teaching of the Bible, we’ve moved into legalism that chokes grace to death. As an evangelical I can sadly attest to knowing lots of professing Christians who are more fired up about their church “constitutions” than they are the teachings of Jesus.

2. You value appearance over reality: v.6-7

Jesus exposed another sign of legalism. He called it “vain worship.” Vain worship, according to Jesus, is worshipping with our lips while our hearts are far from God. A cataclysmic rupture between the words of our mouths and the state of our hearts is a sure sign that legalism has injected its deadly poison into our soul. Worship in many local churches has become vain and hypocritical because it’s not much more than a religious show. God’s truth can change your heart but not as long as you value how you look over the truth.


3. You prefer legalism over love: v.8-13

Legalism is a manipulation of truth, which is what makes it so deadly. Truth is altered just enough to exalt man’s interpretation of the Law over the Law itself while still appearing to honor the Law. Legalism enables you to appear spiritual while not actually loving the people God commands you to honor. Legalism enables people to claim obedience without facing the truth of God’s Law. Legalism finds a way around God’s truth while appearing to uphold it.


4. You choose law over grace: v.15-23

Legalism is a cover up for the true guilt that we carry in our hearts. Jesus taught the depravity of the human heart in verses 20-23. The list is gruesome. “Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

But Jesus’ reason for highlighting the evil in our hearts was to elevate His reason for coming to the earth: a radical change is needed, and legalism/moralism can’t bring it. There is no power in the world which can make a bad heart good. But Jesus can give us the “new birth” and make us a “new creation” (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus came to do what the Law could not do by offering relationship over ritual. God’s plan all along has been restored relationship with you. Reject legalism and embrace grace, which is to say turn to Jesus, come to Jesus and receive Jesus by faith. Let Him set you free from legalism and baptize you in His grace.

Stay strong in grace church family,

Pastor Deric

Abracadabra & Miracle-Gro

Many real-world Christians have embraced the fantasy that all they have to do to change is wave their arms and pronounce the word “abracadabra.”  Or perhaps they think that if they just sprinkle a little “Miracle-Gro” on their faith, great things will accelerate in their life.  We’d all like to think that is how life works. But it’s a sweet lie.  Spiritual formation in the likeness of Jesus offers no Abracadabra or Miracle-Gro formulations.

With the exception of the miracle of regeneration (the “new birth” as Jesus called it) the rest of your life is a series of strenuously working by faith to grow into “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4, The Message) There are no easy fixes for your character flaws. There are no instant healings for the mind. There are no “Red Sea” miracles of deliverance from the sins of the flesh.  The Christian life is an arduous path of personal crucifixion with Jesus. Recall Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ.”

Drug addictions don’t suddenly disappear.  Character flaws don’t just vanish.  Pet sins don’t get up and walk out of your life. Depression and anxiety seldom just erode with time.  Struggles don’t quietly fade into the background.  “Stinking thinking” doesn’t just clean itself up.  Nor do paralyzing memories relent to incantations, magical or “Biblical” ones.  I spent a lot of years asking God to give me a “mighty deliverance” in my soul.  I lived as a Christian and worked as a pastor, but the lingering nightmare of traumatic abuse in childhood would not yield to all my efforts.  I wanted the shameful memories gone (poof!).  I wanted the staggering guilt to simply fall away.  I believed that the torture of my mind would just stop, if I offered just the right “abracadabra.”   I lived in hope that I would wake up one day and discover that I had magically morphed into the emotionally healthy and spiritually mature man I wished to be. 

What I found instead is that there is a beautiful path of slow, uphill, often painful but genuine change.  Our growth as human beings is gradual and “organic” not instantaneous.  Day by day, as His Word renews my mind and He heals my heart, I learn to live as an overcomer.  Just as an aside, I’ve never thought of myself as a victim because that mindset incapacitates me.  I’ve chosen to see myself empowered by faith to live as He promises.

My understanding of spiritual formation has radically changed.  And I’m much better for it.   There are struggles and victories.  There are breakthroughs and discoveries.  There are seasons when I’m aware that I’ve turned a corner in the pursuit of real holiness, but most of the time spiritual growth is as routine as watching a child grow.  One of my favourite New Testament texts is found in Galatians 4 where Paul writes, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”  Paul parallels the agony of childbirth with the spiritual formation process because we grow emotionally and spiritually at the speed of everyday life. 


One last word, if there was such a magical experience as ABRACADABRA, I’d declare this crazy pandemic OVER.  But since there is no such thing, I’m going to keep asking the Lord to use it for His glory and our good.  This present hard ship is an excellent opportunity to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 3:18)   So, thank God there is no “abracadabra” or “Miracle-Gro” in your life.  Accept that there are no easy answers because you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”   Now GROW by faith into the compelling likeness of Jesus Christ, your Saviour.

Growing with you, church family,
Pastor Deric