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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Joy–Really? Legalism as a Worldview?: a Reflection on Romans 7:15-25a

Each of us has a worldview that set of beliefs and values, which acts as a filter on how we see things. Some of us are more legalistic and others more permissive in those beliefs and values.

I struggle with “control.” At times, I behave as if everyone would see things and do things the way I do, the world would be a better place. When I live in the “My Way” mode, Janet points out and so do others that life’s too short and no, the world really won’t be a better place. “My Way” is a series of legalistic or permissive prescriptions. Transformation of my life, others, and situations is difficult at best.

James Patterson and Peter Kim conducted a study twenty-six years ago. Patterson, the CEO of his own advertising firm, along with Kim, Director of Research for the firm, documented the way 2000 Americans think on a variety of issues. The interviewing process guaranteed the privacy and anonymity of the respondents. Patterson and Kim’s assumption was that people want to tell someone what they really believe and authentic catharsis could take place. One of the findings was that only 13 percent of those studied believed all ten of the Ten Commandments. There was no moral consensus.

When we combine the intended meaning of law and the intended meaning of grace, moral consensus happens. Reconciliation occurs. Jesus lives his life in and through us for our sake and the sake of others. Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, writes, “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.”[1]  When we flourish, individually and collectively, we experience joy. Joy, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, is an outcome of gratitude.

Romans 7 teaches us one thing. Sin results from unrestrained legalism and permissiveness. Simply put, both unrestrained legalism and permissiveness make us think that if we just work harder and smarter we can accomplish righteousness on our own. Wrong! An individualism disconnected from union with Jesus causes the gifts that God has given us to serve their own ends. Like Paul, when it comes to live Christianly, we do not do the things we want, but the very things we hate. We must reconcile ourselves to our need for God. And to get to that place we must combine the conviction of law with the permissiveness of grace. Brenda Salter relates the following about the need for a worldview with such a combination.

We learned from Mavis that after World War II, the British government had encouraged mass immigration from the countries of the British Empire…to fill the shortages in England’s labor market. Many Jamaicans and West Indians came with the hope of making a better life for themselves and a brighter future for their children. However, instead of being embraced and received as equal members of society, as was promised by the 1948 British Nationality Act, …immigrants found that they were relegated to a low status in the economic and racial class system of England, with no hope of ever being fully accepted as “British.”[2]

In Britain’s case, an unrestrained immigration law coupled with unrestrained permission to the powerful, an entire people group were relegated to a low status in the economic and racial class system of England.

Transformation occurs when we expect Jesus and his ways to show up. There is new life in Jesus. You see, God delivers us from unrealistic standards and a guilty conscience. Allow God to use law and grace to reach into your own brokenness and the brokenness of others. Through obedience, grace kicks in. Then, Romans 7:25 becomes ours, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Saying this demonstrates joy. Seek reconciliation with God, self, and others. Believe anew in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, yes, even now. Live a worldview free from unrestrained legalism and permissiveness.

[1]Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 22.

[2]Ibid., 12-13.

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