Do I think that movies like Avatar are too pagan for Christians to watch?

January 7, 2010

Someone emailed me with that question this week. I’m posting our exchange here in the hope that you’ll find my answer helpful.

Pastor Scott,

I, too, am a recovering fundamentalist. So I really have enjoyed your web sites and the focus of your church. I would like your take on a topic that has me in some hot water with some friends…. The movie Avatar.

How do you address blatantly pagan entertainment such as “Avatar” which, apart from its pantheistic theme, is a fun, exciting, interesting movie? Why should a believer waste his/her time with this? How, in light of Phil 4:8 and Romans 14:23 can a believer ingest a movie like this “in faith”? I do believe some things might be fine for one person and not fine for another (Rom 14). But with movies like this – which I place in the same category as pornography – I find it hard to see how it’s a good thing for anyone to partake of.

What do you think? How do you counsel your people, if asked, about such a film that finds itself in the cross hairs of not just fundies, but also folks like Mark Driscoll.

Resting in peace because of what He has done, (name withheld)

My answer:

Thanks for your email. I’ll try to answer you helpfully.

I’ve been pondering your question, as well as the appropriateness of entertainment such as Avatar for Christians, since it presents a portrayal of openly pagan elements. This really is an oft-raised question about the point at which it is appropriate to deem something “too pagan” for Christian consumption.

It seems to me that the question is one of degrees. Paganism has infected a great deal of today’s entertainment, so much so, that it is difficult to even notice it anymore, because it has become so common, and we’ve become so used to it, that we’ve become immune to it (which is a good thing).

For example, you could conceivably create a scale with TV programs and movies that use magic such as Bewitched or I Dream of Genie or Mary Poppins on one end of the scale, then you could move further up the scale from those lighter-fare shows (to which most people are immune to the paganism, and are thankfully able to be uninfluenced by the superstitions in them), to those programs containing a bit darker magic such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or even movies such as Avatar, which contains open praying to a goddess.

Honestly, different people would place these shows/movies on different points on the scale, depending on their sensitivity to such things, and the perceived blatancy of the movie’s attempt to influence the viewer to embrace ideas or practices clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching.

I know some people that condemn Bewitched and Genie, and even Disney’s Snow White and Aladdin, as being “too pagan” and therefore unfit for Christian viewing, whereas others I know actually came out of the theater after watching Avatar with a list of things in the movie that caused them to have moments of worship to Christ. They said things like:

“If the imagined world of Avatar is that astounding and beautiful and awe-inspiring, then what must the new heavens and new earth be like?”

“If a mere man can imagine that kind of beautiful world, then surely God has put eternity in our hearts, and what God has imagined, and will one day create, will be even more spectacular than anything man can imagine! God is beyond comprehension and full of glory!”

Also, Avatar was really nothing more than a future-looking take on the very well-known religion of the American Indian that most American school children are aware of (or used to be): a people primitive in weaponry, but skilled hunters with a sense of brotherhood with the animals, and communal worship of the “Great Spirit”, in Avatar’s case this was the goddess Eywa – who was strikingly similar to the American Indian concept of an all-emcompassing deity that is one with nature. It was all somewhat panentheistic. Pagan? Yes. More so than something we’d see in a cowboy and Indian movie? Not any more than ones I’ve seen in my day. Do the prayers to Eywa in the movie bother me? Yes, just like Luke using the force or Indians chanting and dancing for rain around a fire. But, I do not feel that my allegiance to Christ is threatened by those things, and can appreciate the imaginative value of the movie as an enriching experience, much like I can with Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

So, in my view, it is a question of degrees: where does it go on the scale of an acceptable vs. unacceptable portrayal of paganism? To what degree is it harmful to the souls of the viewers, or to the consciences of the Christians? (the latter is a question which falls within the scope of Romans 14). For this reason, I am unpersuaded by the comparison of this kind of exposure to pagan religious practices with exposure to pornography.

Being exposed to greater or lesser degrees of pagan religious practices can be withstood by possessing greater faith in the truth of Christ. But there are no degrees of exposure to pornography for which there is no defilement. Pornography does not call for an embrace of faith like false religion does, it lures one to indulgence of man’s carnal nature through lust. This is why a Christian can travel to an Islamic or Buddhist or Hindu nation and observe their worship in the streets and be unmoved by it, but cannot enter a strip club and be unaffected. There is a difference.

I know that that’s not a simplistic answer, but I hope that it gives you at least some helpful insight. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think out loud with you. These are good questions to wrestle with. Keep thinking through how to practice your faith in Christ. May God be glorified in us!


Scott Kay


Maybe You Think They Went Too Far, But Maybe They Didn’t.

May 16, 2008

Maybe we haven’t gone far enough.

Ian D. Campbell writes at the Reformation21 blog:

Some of today’s Scottish newspapers are running a story about our local school’s girls’ football team. Against all the odds, they beat off older teams from larger schools all over Scotland, to reach the final of a national tournament sponsored by Coca-Cola – only to discover it was scheduled to be held on a Sunday. To not a little disappointment, the decision was taken to pull out of the opportunity to win the national tournament because of the religious convictions of our community.

I’m not sure how many communities would be featured in the press for this reason. Sunday has, of course, become this generation’s sports day, and sports is the opium of this generation. It is the new religion, with its own heroes, its own songs, its own loyalties, and its own holy days.

I’m not sure what other evangelicals think of the decision of our local girls to pull out of the final: I suspect that on the whole issue of observing the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, many evangelicals have capitulated to the world’s way of doing things, and would see nothing wrong with holding, or attending, sports events on the Lord’s Day.

If this week’s headlines demonstrate anything, they show that there is one God-given opportunity for us to nail our Christian convictions to the social mast – to honour the Lord publicly by honouring his day, and making it altogether different from every other day of the week, whatever the cost.

Are they being legalistic? Or are they being weaker brothers (sisters)? Or are they honoring the Lord?

Frankly, I’m heartened by the decision of the team. It reminds me of the “Flying Scotsman” himself, Eric Liddell (of Chariots of Fire fame), who made the same decision for the same reason.

This past year I preached on the Christian’s observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day (audio here – see the sermons on 11/11/07 & 11/18/07), where I publicly refused to become legalistic about making a list of rules on what is and is not permitted activity on Sundays, yet at the same time I pleaded with our congregation that whatever else they did on Sundays, they should honor the Lord’s Day by making it a priority to faithfully worship and rest on Sundays in accordance with the pattern established at creation – both for their own good and God’s glory.

I realize that this is another one of those “debatable issues” over which godly and sincere Christians disagree. Yet I think that there is something noteworthy about this team taking the costly opportunity to publicly align themselves with a more noble cause than that of a sports competition. And not just any cause greater than that of sports, but a the particular cause of God’s honor.

Honoring the Lord by honoring the Lord’s Day is a simple but too often flippantly-disregarded way to bring God glory. Our over-busy culture is probably baffled by such a “foolish” decision to withdraw from the games, especially for such a “silly” reason. Yet what is even more disappointing to me is that so many Christians feel the same way, and never attempt to honor the Lord in this way themselves – even when it wouldn’t cost them much more than getting an already longed-for break from the break-neck pace of their lives. It’s ironic to me that there is such resistance to, not legalistically, but gladly, ceasing one day a week from the normal pressures of life and spending it resting and worshipping the Lord with God’s people – both to God’s glory.

If that were our higher priority, then Sundays wouldn’t be so negotiable.

How Do You Admonish Someone on A Debatable Issue in the Church?

May 14, 2008

The answer to that question is in an email I got after a great discussion we had in our Sunday evening Bible study this week. I’ve posted it below. But let me put it in context for you.

Our study of Acts has reached the episode of the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15. This is the pivotal chapter where the Apostles and Elders of the church at Jerusalem wrestle with what to make of so many Gentile conversions to Christ – that is, whether or not they were really saved since they were not circumcised like Jews. As expected, they conclude that Gentiles are saved just like Jews are – by grace alone. Gentiles do not have to become Jewish (through circumcision) in order to become Christian.

Yet there is an interesting and unexpected twist in the plot. Not only does the Apostle James tells the Jews to quit troubling the Gentiles over getting circumcised, he tells the Gentiles to not do 4 specific things that are offensive to Jews: don’t eat meat offered to idols, don’t fornicate, don’t eat meat of things strangled, and don’t eat blood.

The Gentiles were not being apostolically bound under the Mosaic Law to not do these things* (the Apostles had just declared that Gentiles were not under the Law), but that they were to defer to the sensibilities of the Jews on these things because they offended the Jew’s consciences. So purely for the sake of love and unity in the church among these two groups, James tells the Gentiles to not exercise their liberty in these areas. (* It’s possible that the reference to fornication here was a specific reference to marriages among those in close blood relation, thus all four of these practices are found in Lev. 17-18.)

Since love and unity among Christians is the central issue here, that makes this otherwise odd text quite relevant to the church today. Whereas at least three out of four of the things James tells the Gentiles not to do would probably never show up on a list of practices that Christians should refrain from in our own day, there are plenty of ways we can defer to the sensibilities of other Christians on what are often called “debatable issues” (I’m sure you can think of a few), by simply not doing those things around them that we know will offend them.

Yet aren’t there times when you should go to the “weaker brother” (like the Jews in the Acts 15 story), and seek to educate them and help them overcome their weakness so that they can grow beyond their “hang ups” (for lack of a better word)? I think there are clearly times for that, and have taken the time and effort to do so on occasion, as an exercise in exhorting others to greater maturity. But how should you go about doing it?

To help answer that I want to share an email that was prompted by our Sunday night study that I received this week from one of our members. I’ve posted this with their permission, with only slight edits to conceal identities.

Dear Pastor Scott-

When shouldn’t we forebear but instead admonish one another on debatable matters in the church, especially in the case of what we see as a weaker brother?

When we believe God is leading us to not forebear but instead approach a brother maybe the primary goal should be that no matter how the person chooses to respond to the correction, they should undeniably know that the person approaching them truly loves them. They should sense that the admonishment comes from the best motives, to build up, rather than from frustration, irritation, pride, anger, or any number of fleshly motives.

This evening when [my spouse] and I got home from church we were reviewing our experience on this topic. As members of various [name of denomination withheld] churches in the past 9 years, we became aware of this nuance of love as we were the “weaker brothers” in our church communities due to our baptismal convictions. We witnessed many good examples of brothers earnestly concerned about our faith journeys, seeking to help us along in our understanding of theology, but we also had some painful experiences which opened our eyes to some sinful habits in our own hearts. Praise God for this!!! If you don’t mind I will share one or two of these experiences with you.

When a group of people are together who appear to be like minded on a matter, they tend to let their guard down. We have been in Sunday school meetings and even personal conversations where [our position on an issue] was openly mocked to the point of making it hard for us to maintain true, deep fellowship with some other believers. We think in most of these cases, the people mocking were not aware of our convictions, so they were not intending to be malicious. But we felt we couldn’t be ourselves without being shunned or looked down upon. And when the topic of wine in communion came up once, we whispered to each other, “I’m so glad so-and-so didn’t come to church with us this Sunday. They would have been REALLY offended by the joking and sarcasm…”

After these slightly painful experiences, [my spouse] and I became aware of times when WE were doing the same thing! We began to see that even our private conversations at home were sarcastic and jocular about the “weaker brothers” at church who thought our perspective was weaker. Ouch!

This has begun a slow heart change for us – we still slip up! To love brothers from the heart we have to practice doing so when we are not even around them. Then in the off chance that we are around someone of differing opinion and we don’t realize it, we will be less prone to hinder unity by a slip of the tongue, for our hearts will be prepared to humbly love them in a respectful and earnest manner. After all, out of the mouth comes the well-spring of the heart! So there are times when we need to approach a weaker brother as God leads us, but we need to be prepared to do so with a truly humble and loving heart, seeking to build up rather than destroy. We pray that Grace Church ([our family] included!) will continue to grow in understanding of God’s command to love one another deeply from the heart.

That’s my frequent prayer too, and it’s the reason why I took the the discussion in that direction. May humble love abound in both our forbearing one another and in our admonishing one another.

Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 7: Authoritarian Attitude vs. Student Attitude

August 18, 2007

One attitude of legalists that stands out among all the others is the attitude of being an authority on most spiritual matters. Once legalists start down the road of collecting all the right rules, and tightly defining what a Christian ought to be in nearly every detail, it isn’t too long before they start to exude an authoritarian attitude.

This is because when they first set out, they are on an honest quest to learn how to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. They really do have a passion for holiness. But as they misguidedly accumulate more and more rules and regulations, this quest often eventually produces a know-it-all attitude. And why shouldn’t it? They’ve set out to find the answers, and now, through accumulating of rules for nearly every detail of Christian living (practical things), and absorbed their leader’s opinions and perspectives on nearly every Biblical topic (theological things), they’ve GOT the answers. And this can happen in a relatively short period of time.

But once they get there, they are sure that they now know what God is like – they’ve got Him well-defined, and they are sure they know what God demands – they know exactly what God expects of Christian behavior. With all of that knowledge, they are confident that they have authoritative positions on most spiritual matters, and should be listened to and heeded when they speak to an issue.

And when legalists do speak to an issue it is rarely with anything other than strong confidence and self-assurance. They often speak with great passion too – the kind that commands authority. To come across as weak, or like you don’t know the answer, is avoided with great effort.

This is the kind of attitude that assumes that they are the ones who have come to the full knowledge of the truth, and that rarely experiences self-doubt. It is the attitude of authority. They are the ones who are right on the issues. They have studied it out and know all the issues involved. They have thought it through like few ever have. They are the ones who have been blessed with God-given insights that few others ever have. They are the ones standing for righteousness and truth like few others in our day.

In fact, those that disagree with them must just be plain wrong. If others do not share their convictions or their insights, then they are accused of being either liberal, weak, compromisers, ignorant, or all of the above. Those that disagree haven’t studied it thoroughly enough, or are deliberately rebelling against some other “Biblical” principle or verse. They must just be hard-hearted and sinful.

It rarely crosses a legalist’s mind that he may be the one who’s wrong. They become immune to self-doubt and fortified against humility. Many legalists, when confronted with the accusation that they are being know-it-alls and authoritarian, will deny it, but everything about them proves otherwise: their harsh reaction against those who disagree, their tone and choice of words, their criticism, ridicule and sarcasm about those who differ, their condescending attitude, the digging in of their heels when challenged instead of honestly holding their own thinking up to examination, their walled-up hearts.

In the words of Carl Trueman, this kind of attitude creates an atmosphere “where others are only ever critiqued, not learned from, while [the legalist] remains blissfully above correction. That’s cultic.”

That is an authoritarian attitude, not a student attitude, because none of us is above correction. Legalists tend to close their ears to other voices, but it is surprising how often God will use people and things from sources outside our own camp to teach, refine, and even correct us.

Too often, though, legalists fail to have the student attitude that is so necessary for genuine spiritual growth and maturity. Sadly, they often stop growing in love and grace, and theirs hearts become tougher not more tender, more offensive toward others and not less. In fact, in some cases this authoritarian attitude even becomes spiritually abusive.

This spiritual abuse occurs in the form of condemning anyone who disagrees with them, and suffocating any hint of difference among their group. This kind of power is so strong, that victims of such churches and ministries often flee under heavy guilt and fear that God might condemn them, simply because they didn’t share the same standards of behavior, or dared to think differently on even a non-fundamental issue.

These kind of authoritarian legalists are threatened by those who dare to think for themselves. They can only feel secure when they are surrounded by simple-minded “yes” people.

Brokenness and teachability are not hallmarks of this kind of legalist. It is those who finally admit that they know very little, and decide to open their hearts and their ears and become a learner, and no longer a know-it-all, they are the ones who have the greatest potential for spiritual growth and of being well-pleasing to God.

Jesus had absolutely no tolerance for the authoritarian, self-righteous, know-it-all Pharisees. They were closed to learning and correction. They already had God and the Law and life figured out to the last detail. Even when Jesus attempted to expose them to their extreme and unbiblical beliefs, their authoritarian attitude prevented the truth from penetrating their hearts, and Jesus harshly condemned them for it.

But it was those imperfect, stumbling, and eventually broken disciples that were the learners. It was they who became the ones God blessed as the primary influencers and leaders in His holy kingdom. And it is from Christ and His apostles that we must take our cues.

Yes, there are fundamental doctrines on which we are to stand firmly and with out compromise. They are the ones that affect the Gospel. Christ and His Word are our authority, and under Him we must possess deep humility and a teachable spirit. As Josh Harris has so helpfully expressed it, even our orthodoxy should be characterized by humility.

For the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 6: Under-defining Legalism and Over-defining Sin

August 15, 2007

The word “legalism” is a loaded term. Nearly every group that uses it has something slightly different in mind. From my experience, the type of legalists I have been writing about in this series make the mistake of defining legalism too narrowly. They only define it as the attempt to add works to salvation. But most practicing legalists stop there.

For them, that is the only kind of legalism. They are quick to confess that they are not saved by any lawkeeping whatsoever. But that attitude toward the law ends there. As soon as they begin to live the Christian life, they become consumed with lawkeeping. But for them, they do not believe that they are guilty of being legalists, because they don’t believe in salvation by works.

Of course, this type of salvation-by-works legalism is patently unbiblical. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Not even the smallest contribution on our part adds anything to our justification before God. Our redemption is based solely on Christ’s merit, not our own. All Fundamentalists and Evangelicals agree on this point, even the legalist ones.

But that’s not the only kind of legalism that there is. To think that that is the only kind of legalism is to under-define it. There is also a legalism that tries to pass itself off as entirely biblical, and as such escapes the label of being “legalistic.” It is the requiring of particular rules, and especially extra-Biblical rules, that have to be kept in order to be considered holy. This is a really common form of legalism.

This kind of legalism is characterized by a passion for holiness and a concern for the renunciation of all forms of sin and worldliness. Commendably, in their zeal to be holy, they want to stay as far away from sin as possible. But the danger in this zeal is that it often goes too far – so far as to have the tendency to go beyond Scripture in defining what sin is and is not.

Now, I want to say up front that I’m thankful for fundamentalism’s high view of sin. I wish the rest of Christianity felt half as much of the sinfulness of sin that my fundamentalist brethren do. I believe that the seriousness I feel about my own sins is a great benefit (of many I could list) that I have taken away from my years in that movement. But fundamentalists think that just about everything is a sin.

In the interest of avoiding “every appearance of evil,” and of attaining as much (external) godliness as possible, these legalists are eager to put up fences around the commands of Scripture so as to ensure that there is no danger of violating them. “Fencing the Law,” as it is called, is a common and highly-justified practice.

This legalism not only says “THOU SHALT NOT…,” it also says, “NEITHER SHALT THOU….”

This approach fails to understand that God’s law was both comprehensive and sufficient. God’s Word clearly contrasts between that which God allows and that which He forbids. But men love to add to God’s law. They think they are protecting people from sinning, as if God’s own laws were not sufficient enough on their own. So, issues that were never forbidden by God now get taught to be wrong.

But they fail to see this as the legalism that it is. They fail to see it as adding to God’s Word. In fact, they think it is a commendable practice.

Yet, legalism, by nature, has its focus inordinately on external measures of behavior. It can’t regulate the heart. So, this form of legalism reverses the relation of inward and outward. They make rules for forms of entertainment, apparel, hairstyles, observance of days, diet, etc. It attaches altogether too much importance on the exterior, which, unbiblically, becomes the primary measurement of a person’s godliness.

So, their own form of legalism gets exempted, in their own minds, from the charge of being unbiblical through their under-defining of legalism. Plus, they over-define sin by adding requirements and restrictions that Scripture never prescribed. They often do this by finding a verse or two in the Bible and attempt to use it as a proof text for their new “standard.”

For example, not only is it a sin to get drunk, it is also a sin (not just inadvisable, but a sin) to consume ANY alcohol in any form except medicinal (e.g. cough-syrup – 1 Tim. 5:23). Not only is it a sin for a woman to dress immodestly, but for women to wear pants (Deut. 22:5). Not only is it wrong to watch pornography, but to watch a movie at a neighborhood movie theater (the catch-all verse: “avoid every appearance of evil.” – 1 Thess. 5:22 – This is the Swiss Army knife of the legalist (minus the corkscrew, of course). This verse offers an infinite number of uses for an infinite number of issues. There’s no limit to the legalist’s capabilities with this verse in his hands. See Dan Wallace’s helpful exegesis of this verse here).

This is no different from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who required hand-washing prior to a meal, else one had sinned, or to refrain from traveling certain distances from one’s home on the Sabbath day, etc. And today’s legalists are just as blind to their error as they were.

There’s nothing new about this kind of legalism. It’s just as unbiblical, over-reaching, hypocritical, grace-denying, law-misusing, pride-producing and condemned by Christ as ever.

For the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

(PS: Promises Kept has a blog on 3 types of legalism here.)

Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

August 10, 2007

Peer pressure in legalistic circles is HUGE! It’s sly, it’s subtle, and it’s powerful!

But legalists misunderstand peer pressure. They think it is the way God keeps them on track. In fact, it’s hard for a legalist to discern that it’s peer pressure because it’s confused with the Holy Spirit’s inner working on our consciences.

Just as worldly peer pressure can be motivating to go in the wrong direction, Christian peer pressure isn’t seen for what it is: manipulative and binding. Here’s how: If peers are fearful of changing directions because of the risk of being condemned or ostracized by the others, the whole group is locked into an unchecked path.

If anyone breaks rank and begins to question the legitimacy of the group’s beliefs or direction, they are quickly classified as a compromiser or a liberal and immediately ceases to hold any influence on the rest of the group. Not only are they not given a sympathetic or attentive ear, but the group will refuse to associate with him, lest they also loose their acceptance in the group.

As a former legalist, I was also once influenced more by this undetected peer pressure than Spirit pressure. I was more committed to upholding legalistic standards and thereby my respect among my friends and family. I continued to preach man-made traditions that were extreme and legalistic, with a self-righteous and know-it-all attitude.

That kind of legalistic peer pressure is just as harmful and destructive as worldly peer pressure, since it locks you into a lifestyle governed by what others think of you rather than what is really Biblical.

See, as a legalist you desperately want others to think you are a godly Christian. Out loud, you will say you don’t care what anybody thinks of you. But what you mean is that you don’t care if lost people or liberal Christians think you are strange, weird, or whatever. But deep down you DO care what your legalist friends think of you.

The legalist responds by saying, “I want to have a godly testimony.” The truth is that if any legalist asks his lost neighbor whether it’s right for a Christian ought to watch movies, or listen to secular music, or if a woman should wear pants or makeup or have short hair or not, his neighbor won’t really care one way or another about those things. Only the legalists do.

But legalists tell themselves that these are the distinctives that set them apart from the world sufficiently to give them a “godly testimony.” Only, neither Scripture nor lost people recognize those things as being what makes our witness credible to the lost. It only makes us credible to other rule keepers. So, “having a godly testimony” is code language for “making sure my friends think I’m really godly” and “retaining my acceptance in the group.”

As a legalist you are not only a victim of this peer pressure, you exert it on others, often without thinking. You feel divinely obligated to speak your mind, to proclaim and uphold godly standards, no matter who it offends. That’s viewed as a praiseworthy act of boldness, instead of the obnoxious act that it is.

You desperately want to be respected by your fellow legalists, but you really fail to respect anyone else very much at all. They are not allowed to disagree or have different personal standards from you or your group. Instead, you just pour on the pressure for others to measure up, to “get right,” or to get out. So you are both the victim and the inflicter of this peer pressure. All because you think you’re right and it’s your job to keep everybody else right too (as you’ve defined it).

Once again Paul’s words apply: (2 Cor. 10:12) – For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

For the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Inside the Legalist Mindset, Part 4: Gluttons for Punishment

August 9, 2007

After my exodus from legalistic fundamentalism several years ago, someone, appalled at our “compromise,” asked my wife, “So what’s he going to preach about now, love?” They were sure that if I wasn’t going to preach about women in pants, going to the movies, listening to “ungodly music,” how terrible Southern Baptists were, and the rest of fundamentalism’s hot buttons, then I must be abandoning the faith and would just preach a bunch of “sloppy agape.”

Preaching about love, well, that was what “liberal compromisers” do. That’s all they’re worried about, because, I mean, they don’t have anything else to say, right? If you don’t preach against sin, what else is there to preach about?

That’s one of the main reasons legalists attend church (I mean, “the preaching hour”) – to hear the preacher preach against their sin. The hope is to have some sin pointed out to their life that they can go to work on. Weep at the altar, add a new rule, or find some other form of penance. Everything else is peripheral, secondary. If you can’t find a reason to feel convicted from the sermon, then the preacher didn’t do his job.

This is also why legalists are always on the lookout for new rules. The Christian life is meant to be harder and harder, stricter and stricter. Because sin always finds new ways to overcome us, it needs to be met with newer, better, tougher rules.

And yet again, this serves to perpetuate the vicious cycle of legalism. It takes a major intervention of grace to break free – and then only over time. It takes time to decompress from this mentality. You’ve lived under so much pressure for so long, that it feels strange to come out from under it.

This is why so many stay locked in. It’s too insecure of a feeling to walk away from all those rules you’ve been convinced so long were so right, and by which you measured your spirituality before God. It feels like you’re sinning when you stop keeping a few of those man-made rules, so you immediately run back to the place where you feel comfortable, back where you felt “godly,” back to the pressure that “kept you in line” for so long.

It’s like a slave not knowing how to feel or act when he’s set free. That’s why so many slaves to legalism stay in it. It feels safer. So they pile up the standards like a fortress of emotional safety. Too afraid to break free. That’s why I would encourage you to pray for your brothers in bondage (Heb. 13:2).

For the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3