This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chronologically.

Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead. Chinese proverb

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest. Mark Twain


Let’s take another tactic and look at the opposite of joy. From what we’ve learned about joy, looking at the opposite, someone who might be joyless would be:

  • Someone who sees the glass as half-empty.
  • Someone who cannot be themselves.
  • Someone who is stingy with their love, laughter and life.
  • Someone who does not have emotional sensitivity.
  • Someone who doesn’t know how to have fun.
  • Someone who has not experienced grace and freedom.
  • And then finally, someone who tries to put all of that stuff above on other people.

For now were going to call the opposite of joy a term you may have heard of—for now, we’ll call it legalism. Simply put: only living by the law can be the opposite of joy. When we think of legalism, we might think of someone who puts a lot of rules on themselves and on others. But what is at the core of all of those rules? Why do people become legalistic? One definition explains that legalism is “strict adherence to the law, especially the stressing of the letter of the law rather than its spirit .” Ray Stedman puts it in another way:

Do you see how subtle [legalism] can be? The actual behavior can be exactly the same in the case of a legalist or of one behaving as an authentic Christian…It is what is going on inside that is the issue in question. It is a matter of inner reliance…Legality on the other hand “is a mechanical and external behavior growing of our reliance on self, because of a desire to gain a reputation, display a skill, or satisfy an urge to personal power. . . . It is religious performance, scrupulous and meticulous in its outward form, but inwardly, as Jesus described it, ‘filled with dead men’s bones.

 I love that final line: legalism is “religious performance, scrupulous and meticulous.” When we talk about legalism, it’s very hard to catch, because of that very word—performance. Let me explain. As one example, there are some actors who are almost too good at what they do. If you speak with some famous character actors who regularly play villains on television, they often say that people will come up to them on the street and say very unkind things to them. This is because these folks can’t differentiate between the actor and the person; that’s how good they are at acting!  This is precisely the legalistic person; they are very good at acting like a Christian.

And here is where problems can arise—it is difficult not only for the innocent bystander, but also for the “legalistic” person to recognize their own legalism.  Because a person’s actions are the basis for what it means to be a Christian, everyone involved can be clueless. Sin is not easily quantified or seen, and it can be easy to miss in any person. When you look on the outside of most people, it may look like they are perfect and without any faults. Let’s get one more quote in here to get a clear picture. I like what Mortimer Adler had to say about the issue:

Sin is not only manifested in certain acts that are forbidden by divine command. Sin also appears in attitudes and dispositions and feelings. Lust and hate are sins as well as adultery and murder. And, in the traditional Christian view, despair and chronic boredom—unaccompanied by any vicious act—are serious sins.

Again, it can be very easy to act like a Christian. Remember earlier when we said you could play a part or role? We are now going back to the checklist principle of determining who is a Christian and who is not. However, Jesus said that that is really hard to do, because you never really know what is going on inside of a person (Matt 23:25-28). Legalism is simply a checklist salvation, and since you have enough good deeds marked off, you are good to go and therefore, you must be right with God. If all the outward signs are visible then everything must be okay, right?

There are many examples of those who were legalistic in the Bible. Let me give you a scene from the Old Testament that exemplifies someone entering into joy and someone who is being held back. This exchange is a perfect example of the joyful and the joyless person, the one who has an authentic relationship with God and the other one who does not. This exchange is between David and Michal which we find in the Old Testament (II Samuel 6).

Let me set the story. David has been recently made king and he is now bringing back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It’s a really good day. It’s time to celebrate. It’s time to boogey-down. God is about to literally make his home in Jerusalem. The Scriptures detail an important scene from the day:

Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal, daughter of Saul, watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. (II Samuel 6:14-16)

In this scene, David is experiencing abandon. He’s experiencing passion, freedom, joy unspeakable. God is now going to hang out with him and he knows things are going to be good, really good. He is deep in celebration and is overcome by what has occurred to him in the past years when God protected him and what is about to happen in his future. On the other hand, Michal is frozen and seeing this display of celebration and affection in her husband, it makes her sick to her stomach. The real God who wants to enter her life—this God she does not want. She wants only the God of her traditions, the one where she can stay at a distance. What she is doing has nothing to do with celebration. As the Scriptures detail “she criticized him for acting in a way unbecoming to a king.” (2 Samuel 6:20) She even goes on to exclaim: “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

Doesn’t this sound like something we might hear today? Again, here’s David abandoning himself to joy and worship; he’s profoundly excited about what is happening and about what is going to happen. It is a sacred moment that Michal can’t see or experience. God is going to turn everything around for Israel; everything is going to be profoundly different, and yet Michal is saying, Come on David can’t you have a bit more decorum! Please be respectable. Straighten up! Fix your tie! Please, be an adult.

And rightly so, David doesn’t want to—he wants to be child-like in his worship toward God—giving it his all and maybe not necessarily following all the rules and guidelines of ‘proper’ worship. He simply wants to celebrate. However, Michal can’t see the value in David’s worship to God. She only is able to value the thing that he represented—his position and his power—not as the man who shows complete devotion and abandon to his God. I love David’s comeback.

David said to Michal, ‘It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’S people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.’ (2 Samuel 6:21-22)

David says some important things here. First, he challenges, “I am not going to simply follow the traditions of your father in how I do things. I am going to be myself, loving God as I always have—in my own skin and in my own strange and peculiar way.” Next, he challenges Michal by telling her, “Honey, I gotta be me and if that means becoming unbecoming or what you believe to be improper in my worship of God, so be it.” Essentially, he’s saying Yes, I may be different in how I show my love to God. But Michal, I can’t hold back like you have been used to doing. By making this statement, he foreshadows Peter’s own words centuries later—that he is a peculiar person and in this unique and extraordinary way, he will be entirely given to joy (I Peter 2:9).

In: Friend to Jesus
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