The Casualties of Conformity
Use your imagination with me and picture this scenario:
It is a cold night, snow is on the ground and more is on it’s way. A homeless man, has been wandering around the city for hours trying to find a suitable place to sit that would be out of the blistery wind. Suddenly, he stumbles upon a shelter. This shelter is lit up as a lighthouse in a storm. The homeless man’s heart skips a beat as he makes his way to the door. Finally some warmth and maybe some food for his rumbling stomach! He walks up the steps to the door and just as he reaches for the handle, the owner of the shelter opens the door. The homeless man asks him for refuge and the owner tells him he would love to give him the necessities for the evening. But just as the homeless man could feel the warmth of the shelter’s more than adequate heat, the owner tells him in order to enter, he has to prove himself worthy. In order to take advantage of the shelter’s amenities, he must do several tasks. The homeless man, eager to get in, agrees to do whatever the owner tells him to do. The owner than lays out the stipulations, “in order for you to get the reward of the heat and food, you must run around this building thirty times. Then, I must witness you do 200 sit ups. After that, I must hear you read a 500 page novel, and when you are finished, I want you to learn a new foreign language. When you have done all these things and are fluent in a new language, then I will be more than happy to let you in and feed you and let you feel the warmth of my heater!” Discouraged, knowing he didn’t have the physical or mental stamina to accomplish the owner’s demands, the homeless man turns and walks back down the stairs and out into the cold never to be heard from again.
This story would sound a little far fetched and ridiculous to most people. The majority of us would be angry at the owner of the shelter. He has more than enough to share with the homeless man, yet he made this man jump through hoops just to get to enjoy the basic necessities. But isn’t this how churches treat people looking in on them sometimes? They have the promise of life everlasting, the beautiful gift of God’s undeserving, unmerited favor, yet some still tend to make people prove themselves worthy in order to obtain it.
It’s like they hold God’s grace as a carrot on a stick, and only by following their rules are you able to achieve it.
How many people have been turned away from God because of this?
I was at a gathering this weekend that included many UPC members and ministers and many, many ex-UPC members. As I looked around it made me sad. There were so many good people who want to do right, and I’m sure if you asked them, they want to make it to heaven, but they have been taught that the only way to get there is to live a lifestyle that seems so out of reach for them, How many people have been turned away from Christ altogether, because they are taught that the only way to please God is to jump through so many unnecessary hoops?
How many times have you witnessed someone leave a legalistic religion just to end up wandering by themselves in the cold? They don’t even try to seek God because they only way they know how is to prove to God they are worthy of his grace by living a life following a list of rules, and they know they can’t live up to that kind of perfection.
If we were honest with ourselves, nobody can.
But imagine the story above ending with the owner of the shelter putting his arm around the homeless man, giving him a warm meal, a soft bed, and resources to help him in the future. It would have made for a much better story. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Jesus made grace and mercy free for us by dying on the cross! He gave us a new commandment for this dispensation, love.
If we take Jesus upon ourselves and accept his gift of grace and mercy, we in turn will strive to be more like him. Not because we want to show him we are worthy of the beautiful life he has promised us, but because we love him and others so much we want to share our gift! Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” By stacking on unnecessary stipulations, we are making his yoke heavy and unobtainable to us as humans.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. Not one person in a legalistic church can actual live up to those standards one hundred percent of the time. If we could, there was no reason for Christ to die.
Acts 15:10-11 states this:
Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
Peter was saying to the Jewish Christian converts, don’t make living for God harder than what God intended it to be. We are saved through grace. The end. No additional ands, buts, or ors about it. And I think those who make people believe that in order to obtain eternal life you have to follow additional rules will be held accountable for that one day. They are limiting the power of God’s grace, and turning away many people from the shelter of God.
Death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. What more could we do?
Grace is underserved, unmerited favor. We didn’t deserve it, but we get to partake in it anyway. By placing stipulations on God’s grace we are grieving him greatly and telling him, he isn’t enough for us, we want more.
How many people have we lost along the way due to a legalistic mindset?
The definition of legalistic is this: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit.
Chew on that for a moment.
How many souls have been cast aside as casualties of conformity?
I’m sure it grieves God.