the Curse of Legalism
subject of giving seems to be one that arises from time to time in
Christian circles and usually manages to evoke a variety of ideas
or opinions, in the midst of which so often appears a legalistic element.
the outset may I suggest the following:
Giving is an important subject worthy of our consideration because
the Bible speaks about it a lot.
Many people confuse giving in the Old Testament with giving in the
New Testament, with the result that teaching is based upon law and
legalism instead of Spirit and grace.
Giving when it is done by Christians with grace becomes an adventure
in faith under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Giving that focuses on percentages of income often becomes legalistic
Giving that simply seeks to bless people, becomes an adventure in
doing good under the direction of God.
we address the legalistic approach which is so often a blight on the
Church. This is simply a backup or resource sheet to the main article,
so if you want to simply see how you can become a giver without fear
or guilt, please make sure you have read the main article.
because it is so common, before we move on to the adventure, we need
to clear away some of the debris that has been dumped on many of us
by the absence of grace teaching. I refer to it as a curse, because
in Scripture a curse was a bad thing often bringing death. Giving
motivated by legalism kills off faith.
suggest that legalism (even as it is seen spoken against by the apostle
Paul in the New Testament) comes from a wrong reliance on the Law
of the Old Testament. It is a reliance on rules. It is easy to see
why we like it because we much prefer to run our Christian lives by
rules and regulations, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time did, rather
than talk about lives of love or lives lived in the Spirit.
Language of Legalism
to the language that is so often used in a discussion on Christian
have a responsibility to give to the church,” or
have a duty to give to the church,” or
“We ought to be giving.”
words, ‘responsibility', ‘duty, and ‘ought' are legalistic words,
words that go with rule keeping. Rule-keeping was a curse that the
New Testament speaks against again and again. Rule-keeping, which
does have a role in the right place (when we are failing to live a
life of love), comes from the Old Testament. We, of course, are now
New Testament Christians.
to what Chambers dictionary says:
“responsibility – state of being responsible”
“responsible – liable to be called to account, answerable
always refers to a [defined] requirement)
look at a definition of ‘duty'
“duty – what one is bound by any moral
obligation to do.”
(again it is an obligation to a [defined] requirement)
you look up ‘ought' you find it is linked to ‘owe' or ‘what is due'
or ‘what is right according to convention' and the convention is a
requirement that had been laid down.
use of this language
think about putting these words into the lives of a young couple who
have just started going out together. Suppose she says, “You ought
to love me.” Most of us would consider that inappropriate for a growing
relationship where love is the expected key ingredient. Love is not
a forced or demanded thing. it is only love when it is freely given.
these are the words of legalism, words that refer to adherence of
the law. A legalist is one who demands adherence to the rules.
me add some emotion to this otherwise intellectual essay by making
some emotive statements:
- I don't believe we ought to
give to the church or to others.
- I don't believe we have a
responsibility to give to the church or to the poor.
if I'd started out like that, I suspect that many of us would have
felt quite unhappy but now in the light of my definitions perhaps
we may see it differently. Note the emphases:
- I don't believe we ought
to give to the church or to others.
- I don't believe we have a
responsibility to give to the church
or to the poor.
change it to grace language:
- I do believe we have a great
opportunity to bless the world through giving to the church or to
- I do believe we have a great
opportunity to be blessed by giving to the church or to the poor.
of Old Testament Giving
we look in the Old Testament (see Resource Sheet 3) we find that tithing
almost certainly a practice in Middle
Eastern nations before Israel
a serious act of love (Abel).
these things may help our understanding, the rules of the Old Testament
don't help us move in faith today, for faith flows out of a living
relationship with the Lord, as I hope you've seen if you have read
the main article. If you haven't yet read it, please do turn to it
the New Testament Teaching is against following the rules
we establish our lives on adhering to rules, we are doomed to failure
and with failure comes guilt. As one person was heard to say in the
context of giving, "I found I could not tithe so I gave up giving
Law" establishes standards to be achieved, but even the great
apostle Paul maintained he could not keep some of the laws (see Romans
7). Law makes demands but we're never fully able to meet them.
Gospel is all about Grace. It is about God giving us salvation. We
cannot earn it, only receive it.
apostle Paul referred to the Law as a school teacher that drove him
to see his need for salvation, which he then received by grace.
the context of giving, when we make demands upon people it merely
goes to show them that they are failures. Law focuses us on rules.
shows opportunities or possibilities with God's enabling. Grace focuses
us on a relationship with the Lord and shows us what can come out
main article, although somewhat unorthodox by traditional standards,
shows a way of working with God so that we can, step by step, move
out in faith and become joyful givers. That is the objective of these
pages. It seeks to take the focus away from what 'ought' to happen,
to what is possible to happen as we relate it all to living in relationship
to the Lord.