Why I Kissed Legalism Goodbye!

A few months ago, I began to question myself.  Specifically, do I teach grace too much?  Let me say that I believe everything I have taught on grace has been correct and necessary, but I did begin to wonder, “Have I beat that point into the ground and do I need to begin to change the focus of what I communicate?”

Then last week happened.  As many of you know, Pastor Josh Harris announced his divorce from his wife Shannon, and then renounced his faith.  If you aren’t familiar with Josh Harris, he is a respected pastor and the author of multiple books on dating and marriage including “Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  His books had a profound impact on Christian Evangelicals in the late 90’s and early 2000’s because of their emphasis on changing the focus of relationships from casual dating to serious courtship.  They emphasized remaining pure and not carelessly giving your heart away to just anyone.

When I heard the news, I was totally shocked!  I had read two of Harris’s books in my early 20’s and he seemed like a solid Christian and totally sold out to Jesus!  What could cause him to leave his wife and then totally renounce his faith.  As I begin to read articles about his life over the last several years, a constant theme emerged; a wrong view of God. 

In the opening chapter of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” Harris recounts the dream of a girl named Anna.  She is about to get married and as she walks to the alter to meet her groom she notices 6 girls there with him.  They are six ex-girlfriends who he had given a part of his heart to through careless dating and sexual impurity. While the Bible is very clear sex outside of the covenant of marriage is wrong, the Bible is also very clear that when we confess our sins to the Lord, he removes them as far as the east is from the west.  He forgets them!  And constantly throughout the scripture Jesus tells us to do the same.  Quit focusing on what we’ve done wrong and focus on what He did right!

The rest of the book and many of Harris’s other books continue with this theme.  Focusing on everything we must do right to experience the life God wants for us and constantly bringing up stories of pain and negative consequences when we fall short.  The root of the book is fear. Harris even said so in a recent article.  Fear that if we don’t do everything perfect, that either God’s arm isn’t long enough to save, or He just doesn’t have the prerogative to.

This is what Josh Harris’s books get wrong.  While many of the actual actions he tells people to take are right:  purity, holiness, courtship with a focus on the long-term goal of marriage, and not carelessly giving our heart away to just anyone, the motive behind these actions isn’t good.  The motive is the fear that God really isn’t good and that He either can’t or won’t redeem our mistakes.   

As I continued to read about Josh Harris and his wife Shannon, they talked about how they both knew on the inside something wasn’t right in what they believed.  They knew it in their heart, but the doctrine they had been taught said otherwise.  Ultimately when they couldn’t reconcile what they felt in their heart with what they believed with their head, they chose to re-examine what they believed.  The interesting thing is neither have said they don’t believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus which is the centerpiece of Christianity.  What they don’t believe is God is an angry, controlling tyrant more focused on rules than relationship and process over people.  Josh Harris said he couldn’t reconcile that he was a Christian anymore since his view of God changed.

The interesting thing is Josh Harris is right.  God isn’t an angry controlling tyrant and He cares more about relationship with people than rules.  The Bible is clear that God is a really good God who is passionately in love with us and actually sings over us!  Why did Harris say he isn’t a Christian anymore then?  Because of a legalist view of God that was apparently engrained in him that God really isn’t good and we must keep his rules or else…..

What we believe about God is important.  Many people who reject Jesus don’t do it because of the historical facts.  Secular historians record that Jesus was a real person who was a great spiritual leader that was crucified publicly, and three days later His tomb was empty.  The historical facts are clear to anyone who does a little bit of research.  The reason many don’t want to research or believe the research they find is because LEGALISM PERVERTS GOD’S NATURE.  And a legalistic view of God will cause people to reject Jesus.  Look at 1 Timothy 4:

1Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

This passage of scripture tells us that deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons cause people to depart from the faith.  The interesting part is verse three where it describes what the deceiving spirits teach.  Interestingly, it’s not witchcraft, atheism, Islam, Buddhism, or any other false religion.  The deceiving spirits tell people to not get married and to abstain from foods.  God never said to not marry or not eat food. He wants us to get married and eat.  He’s the one that created the institution of marriage and food to eat in the first place. 

A wrong view of God thinks He doesn’t want us to have good things like food and marriage.  Things that He put in our heart to desire.  When legalism tells us these things God put in our heart and that we desire are wrong, we feel condemned.  We can’t reconcile our heart (spirit) and our mind.  This causes many to flat-out reject God and not because they don’t believe He exists, but because they don’t want to serve a God with such a terrible nature.  Others who don’t reject Jesus altogether struggle to find passion in their relationship with God because of this wrong view.  If we are all honest, it’s hard to get passionate about someone who only wants to ruin your life.  This is why I KISSED LEGALISM GOOD-BYE several years ago!

The story about Josh Harris this last week reaffirmed my commitment to emphasize the message of grace that reveals the true nature of God.  My prayer is that the Lord sends people across Josh Harris’s path to share the true gospel with him.  My heart and prayers go out to him and his wife.  I also pray the Lord is able to take the words in this article and open your heart up to how good He really is.  God really is better than any of us can imagine!

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