Legalistic and Rigid :: by Ron and Nathele Graham

Ron Graham was called home on March 14, 2013. He began writing this commentary before his death and had asked me, Nathele Graham, to continue his service to our Lord by finishing what he began.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Greek word “theopneustos” is translated “given by inspiration of God” and it literally means, “God breathed.” This is important to understand. Even though many men over many centuries wrote down the words of Scripture, it was God who breathed to them what they were to write. The above Scripture could also be written: “All scripture is God breathed and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

If doctrine other than what is found in Scripture is taught from the pulpit, it is in serious error. But it isn’t only the pulpits where false doctrine is found. Christians who don’t take God’s word seriously allow false doctrine to water down God’s word and soon sin is winked at in individual lives. God’s word needs to be studied and understood on His terms, not in a way that makes our sin acceptable. Chuck Missler says, “Doctrine is what’s right, reproof is what’s not right, correction is how to get it right, instruction is how to stay right.” That sums it up nicely.

A major problem is developing among Christians today. There is a lack of respect for God’s inerrant Word. Rather than holding fast to God’s Word, many Christians want to live life their own way with no regard as to God’s view of right and wrong. Should we relax God’s standards because we now believe we live in a society that has “evolved” into a higher consciousness? Should we just proclaim to our brothers and sisters in Christ, “live and let live” and by all means don’t rock the boat?

Reproof based on God’s doctrine seems to be ignored by many Christians today, just as it was in Corinth. The city of Corinth was very pagan in its culture and the Ekklesia there allowed the pagan practices around them to affect their attitude. They were allowing the doctrines of men rather than God’s doctrine to influence them. Word had come to Paul of what they were accepting within their fellowship, including sexual immorality.

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1).

This was just one of the sins going on within this fellowship and I single it out here because there is so much sexual immorality happening in our fellowships today. Corinth was a Greek city with many pagan practices; because this fellowship had not taken God’s doctrine seriously pagan ways were accepted within the Ekklesia there. They not only didn’t confront this sin, they were “puffed up” (prideful) about it rather than mournful. Paul was rigid and legalistic. He confronted them head on:

“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Yep, he was rigid and legalistic. He stood solidly upon God’s doctrine.

Jesus told us how to confront problems among the brethren. First the offended party is to confront the offender. If the problem is resolved that is great. “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:16-17). We aren’t to be quick to turn people away from the fellowship, but sin must be confronted. If a little sin is allowed in it will grow and soon the entire congregation is affected.

The idea of reproof did not originate in the New Testament. The Proverbs, which King Solomon wrote carry insight on many subjects and should be studied with diligence. Here’s what Solomon had to say on the subject:

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise,” (Proverbs 12:15).

Wise counsel is based upon God’s Word, and a person is wise to heed that counsel. When making choices we need to go to God fearing men and women who will give Godly advice.

Isaiah writes: “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:21)

Everyone doing what is right in his own eyes is exactly where we are today. Relaxed attitudes of morals are what Jesus, Paul, and John, among others, are speaking about as they describe the Ekklesia of the end times. This is what is known biblically as the great apostasy. It’s a falling away from the faith and God’s inerrant word. It’s been ever so subtle coming upon the Ekklesia and few have noticed anything amiss. Some of us have not been deceived by the changes but have indeed become the voice of one crying in the wilderness, exposing the errors in the Ekklesia through God’s word.

Paul told Timothy to: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Preach means to proclaim. We are to proclaim the Word of God. How many pastors are proclaiming the word from the pulpit? How many are proclaiming false doctrines of feel good, no fault sermons?
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Sadly, this is true of many fellowships today. We are living in the time of the Laodiceans.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

The doors of many church buildings are shut to Jesus. Sound doctrine is not there and reproof is rejected. There is no instruction in sound doctrine. They want to tickle ears rather than being rigid and legalistic by standing firm upon God’s Word. Jesus is kept on the outside, but He is knocking. It is up to each individual to open the door to Him.

We who are senior citizens have seen a huge shift in our society towards living a lifestyle of complete abandon. Pagan practices are everywhere, from the way we dress to accepting homosexuality, and everything in between. Should we as Christians try to adapt to this new and ever changing way of life so we can get along with and communicate to the lost? No.

We need to be living examples of God’s love, but we need to separate ourselves from close ties with the non-Christian. But what happens when that same pagan lifestyle is within the Ekklesia? Paul rebuked the brethren at Corinth for following pagan ways. It is Christians who need follow God’s doctrine. Paul didn’t address his letter to the entire city, but to the Christians there.

Paul stood upon God’s Word and was uncompromising in God’s doctrine. But he also stressed God’s love.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

The Greek word “agapē” is translated into English as “charity.” It is the way God loves. We need to show godly love when we use Scripture “… for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

Now, before I get accused of being holier than thou, I am well aware of my own sins. The closer I grow to God through prayer and Bible study, the more I see my own failures.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

None of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven. Our righteousness is only through Jesus Christ. But we have God’s word for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. We need to read it, study it, pray over it. Then we need to look into our own lives and see our own sins and repent. The Greek word “metanoeō” is translated “repent” and means “to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” We need to be rigid and legalistic with ourselves and stand upon God’s word.

So, how does God view sin? Sin is what separates us from Him. We cannot stand before God while we are covered in sin. When Adam chose to partake of the forbidden fruit, he and Eve were cast out from the Presence of God and a huge gap was formed. The only way for this gap to be bridged was for God to fix it.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Make no doubt about it: Jesus is God. He is God the Son. Because sin is such a tragic state for mankind to be in, and man cannot do anything in his own strength to be worthy to stand before God Almighty, God did the only thing He could to give us the only way of salvation. He entered His creation as a man. We cannot possibly imagine what this cost Him. He left heaven. He left a place of perfect love and peace to enter our world where He would be spit upon, rejected, beaten, and crucified. He became sin in our place. Can you see the love He has for you?

As He hung on that cross, full of our sin and paying our debt, God the Father could not look upon Him. “And the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Then, as if that wasn’t enough He forgave: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots” (Luke 23:34). Do you understand? God loves us enough to take our sin upon Himself. He gave everything, so shouldn’t we take His Word seriously? Shouldn’t we be rigid and legalistic out of reverence for His sacrifice for us? After we are justified by accepting His finished work on the cross we then begin the sanctification process…a lifetime of choosing to be like Him rather than like the pagans around us. We need to take up our cross and live our lives for Him today.

God bless you all,

Ron Graham