One of the main problems in our fight against legalism is knowing how to identify it. I do not believe that anyone who has made it this far in this book is a total legalist. I also do not believe that anyone in history has been totally free of legalism — except, of course, for Jesus Christ. The rest of us seem to have a mixture of legalism and learning to live by grace in various areas of our lives. The big advantage we have is that we are aware of our legalistic tendencies and we fight to eliminate them.
One huge characteristic of life in this 21st century is that of striving to achieve success.
The disciples of John the Baptist were worried.1 Up until then it seemed like John had exclusive rights to the revival. He had achieved a lot of success in ministry. The Bible informs us that all of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.2 Then a new guy — his cousin — had set up a competing campaign. This new evangelistic campaign was stealing John’s sheep!
John was not a slave of success. He had tasted it and had enjoyed it for a time, but he was not its slave. That is why he could say those very famous words, “ He must increase, but I must decrease.”3
It doesn’t seem that numbers were very important to Jesus either. I am reminded of two times that Jesus had great multitudes listening to him and all of a sudden He did things that guaranteed his numerical implosion. In the first occasion he left a growing revival to cross the lake and attend to one demon-possessed man who lived in a cemetary.4 In the other occasion he gave a word that confused people (and even grossed them out) when he said they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood.5 Kind of sounds like cannibalism! Everybody left Him.
When Marisa and I started a church in a small town near Madrid, things were going slowly. We had service every day except Monday. We invited a lot of people to the meetings but nobody showed up. We handed out a lot of tracts with the church’s address but for the first seven weeks no one came. Marisa would lead me in worship and I would preach to her. Nobody came this whole time. We found ourselves fighting disappointment and discouragement.
One day I received a word from the Lord for my life. He told me that if the lack of people depressed me then when large numbers of people began to come it would go right to my head. I needed to follow Him only.
There was a teen who went into a coffee shop to make a phone call on the pay phone. As the owner of the coffee shop listened in, the young man said, “Mr. Jones? Good. I would like to ask you if you need help in your shop. .. Oh, you already have someone? OK, can I ask you if you are happy with him?… You are. Good, OK, well thanks, Mr. Jones. Have a good afternoon. Bye.” The owner of the coffee shop said to the boy, “Are you looking for work? I need someone around here.” “No, thank you, sir” the teen said, “I already work for Mr. Jones.” “What? Then what was that whole conversation about with Mr. Jones?” “Well,” the young man said, “I just wanted to know if he was happy with my work.”
Let’s be sensitive to pleasing Jesus at least as much as we are to Him pleasing us.
1- John 3:26 2- Mark 1:5 3- John 3:30 4- Matthew 18:8 5- John 6:56-66