Legalism and Smoking.
“Aren’t you being legalistic by saying that smoking is a sin for you? “
This is an interesting question to an article that I posted quite a while ago. You can read that article here. Before I answer this, first we need to define what legalism is. There are 2 ways that a Christian can be guilty of legalism. Legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law. The first way we can be guilty of legalism is where a person tries to keep the Law in order to achieve salvation. A variation on this is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain this salvation, or in addition to salvation. I assume that these first 2 are not what my questioner is getting at. The third kind of legalism, and the kind I think I am being alleged of committing, is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed.
To answer the question; by holding myself to a high moral standard I am not being legalistic. I smoked for years, but somewhere during my walk with Christ, and after bible study and prayer, it became clear to me that smoking is a sin for me. This is a by-product of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my life. But if I were to regard other Christians who smoked as sinners, and judged them for it, then I would be guilty of legalism. Essentially what that would be like, is making up extra-biblical rules and then viewing with contempt those Christians who do not adhere to my level of holiness. This is a problem in the church today, and I am guilty of it to an extent. I recently judged a person for not praying before a meeting. While it is good to ask God’s blessing before a meeting, it is not part of the law. Prayer is, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches, the most important part of the thankfulness that God requires of us, but it is not stated in law that we must pray before a meeting. I bet you are guilty of similar legalistic attitudes as well.. Who has not thought to themselves, “I cannot believe that He watched that movie, or bought gas on Sunday, or skipped church to watch the big game, or went to the pub, or had a drink?” There are those Christians who judge others for eating junk food or fast food as well.
Now, I want to clarify that we should admonish another Christian if we see him blatantly disregarding the law by partaking of such sinful things as fornication, adultery, pornography, gossip, slander, stealing, chronic skipping of church, being given to drunkenness, etc. We do have a right, and an obligation, to judge the spirituality of other Christians in these areas where the Bible clearly speaks. But, in the debatable areas we need to be more careful, and this is where legalism is much more difficult to define. Romans 14 say that we are not to judge our brothers on debatable issues. One person may eat certain kinds of foods where another would not. One person might worship on a particular day where another might not. We are told to let each person be convinced in his own mind. It was for freedom that we have been set free…as long as our freedom does not violate the Scriptures and as long we do not view our freedom as a means to commit further sin so that grace may abound even more.
RC Sproul states about this kind of legalism:
… legalism happens when we add legislation to God’s law and treat the addition as if it were divine law. This perilous danger has afflicted the church from the time of Cain and Abel. Jesus was in constant conflict with the Pharisees over this issue because they were teaching human traditions as the Word of God (Mark 7:1-13). When this happens, people presumptuously and arrogantly usurp the authority of God.
Obviously the church may set up policies, but when rules made by people are set up on the same level as God’s law and are made the test of Christianity, then a serious distortion has come upon the gospel of Christ. Because of this sinful legalism, many think that we define a Christian as someone who doesn’t dance, smoke, drink, wear lipstick, go to movies, or play cards.
We come perilously close to blasphemy when we project this distorted view of Christianity, because it draws our eyes to a set of rules and away from Jesus’ sacrifice. Obedience must be part of the Christian life, but it is a fruit of salvation not the root of it. Sanctification is that life-long process whereby obedience to Scripture leads us into conformity to Christ.
R.C. Sproul, Before the Face of God: A Daily Guide for Living from the Book of Romans [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1992], excerpted from pgs. 458-459)
Our holiness, our obedience to the law of God, should be a natural response, a by-product of our thankfulness for the free gift of salvation that God in his grace has given to us. That is why I pray. That is why do not go to restaurants on the Lord’s Day. That is why I do not smoke. That is why I don’t watch much TV. The more I mature spiritually, the more I become aware of my sinfulness, the more I become aware of how much has been forgiven and the less I want to sin and partake of questionable things. That does not mean that I never sin, far from it. (Just ask Teresa) What about you? Do you know how much has been forgiven you? When I talk to someone about their smoking, or other such things, it is not out of a sense of legalism, or of superiority, but out of love for my neighbour. I place far more emphasis on prayer and devotions than on quitting smoking…if I asked you about your prayer life would you accuse me of being legalistic? I doubt it…. But if I said you should pray when you awake, before each meal, and before bed, and I judged you for not doing it, then I would be guilty of legalism.
I find that I am much harder on myself than on other Christians when it comes to these things. So, if you feel that I am judging you by what I write, perhaps you should take a look at what you are doing in light of the scriptures, and pray about it. Perhaps you are feeling that way because you are growing in your discipleship. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is working in you to sanctify you. I don’t know, but it could be a possibility. Why not read the bible pray about it?
I’ll ask in the morning how it went 🙂
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.