Sunday, 28 August 2011

Spinning plates...

Heres a wee passage from one of my favorite books: Living the Cross Centred Life: Keeping the gospel the main thing, by C.J. Mahaney. I love this passage, and find it very helpful as an illustration of understanding legalism in the Christian life.
To understand this passage it is important to understand the meaning of two words:
THE GOSPEL: God made rules for living- these are called the ten commandments. God said that if you could keep all of his laws you are a good person and deserve to spend all eternity in heaven, but if you broke even ONE of his laws, even a little bit- you are not a good person, and the punishment is eternity in hell. Noone is able to live their whole life without breaking any of Gods laws, like lying, disrespecting your parents, stealing, or not putting God first. THE GOSPEL is the good news that although we all deserve to go to hell because we have not kept Gods laws, God chose to give this punishment to his own son instead of us. Jesus was Gods son- and Jesus took the punishment that we deserve when he died by being nailed to a cross. Jesus did not break any of Gods laws, and deserved to go to heaven, but he took our place and received our punishment so that we could take his place in heaven. This is the gospel (good news)... for more information... click here.
LEGALISM: The idea that the good things that we do on earth will make God see us more favorably- that our relationship with God is based on our own performance.

And C.J. Mahaney said...

They probably dont have this on TV anymore, but when I was a kid I remember watching variety shows that sometimes included a popular act known as the Plate Spinner- a guy who balanced several plates atop long flexible rods and kept them all spinning. One by one he would carefully position each plate on a rod and give it a furious spin, until the stage was transformed into a small forest of plates, wiggling and swaying on their sticks.
By the time eight or ten plates were in motion, the first plate was slowing down and wobbling dangerously. The spinner would rush over and, with remarkably skilled hands, instantly return the plate to top speed rotation. Then on to rescue another wobbling plate, the another and another. Running back and forth in a flurry of activity, somehow he always got there in time.
Thats a helpful picture of how legalism can hijack a Christian. The life of a legalist can become just as frenetic as the plate spinners performance.
The plates we spin are various spiritual activities- such as Bible reading, prayer, or sharing the gospel- that are good and vital in themselves when pursued for the right reasons.
But often without realising it, we allow a dangerous shift to take place in our mind and heart. We change what God intends as a means of experiencing grace (God's unmerited favour towards us) into a means of earning grace. Instead of being a further expression of our confidence in God's saving work in our life, these spiritual activities become simply more spinning plates to maintain.
When Sunday morning comes, we'll sing and praise God in church with evident sincerity and zeal when we've had a really good week- with not a single plate wobbling.
But on another Sunday, following a week in which several plates crashed, we're hesitant to approach God and find it difficult to worship freely. We can't escape the feeling that God disapproves of us. Our confidence is no longer in the gospel; its based instead on our own performance, and when that performance slides, so does our peace and joy.
Do you see signs of legalism in your own life? Do you often find that you're more aware of your sin than of what Jesus accomplished at the cross? Do you think of God as disappointed with you rather than delighting over you? Do you lack holy joy? Do you look to your spinning plates for the confidence- indeed, even the right- to approach God? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, you've probably begun to live under the tyranny of legalism.
But don't let this discourage you. God wants to rescue you from the joyless futility of plate spinning through a right understanding of the gospel.

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