When He (Jesus) had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me~ Mark 8:34 NKJV
Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time will tell you in a state of wide-eyed wonder that evangelical Christianity has changed significantly over the course of the last three decades or so.
Some changes have been positive and healthy. Changes in attitudes have righted some legitimate wrongs that were shockingly common in some Christian circles, especially in the arena of legalism.
I have an older Christian friend who told me that when she was growing-up her family had an actual LIST of things she and her siblings were told they could not do if they wanted to be followers of Jesus.
Among other things THE LIST included: skipping church for any reason other than serious illness, playing card games (because go-fish and Uno are gateway sins that the devil exploits to lay the foundation for future gambling addictions) attending movies of any kind, wearing make-up, going to the beach (because of swimsuits) and of course wearing pants (because she was a girl). Her Pastor also taught that it was possible to lose ones salvation for owning a television, smoking cigarettes or attending a school dance.
Thank heaven most of us have chosen to part ways with the pharisaical judgment of the past, and leave it in the past where it belongs.
However, Christian’s today are far less devoted to their faith than our more judgmental forerunners were. Christians today are far less likely to attend weekly services, honor their marriage vows, observe scriptural commands regarding sexuality, read the Bible consistently (or at all), pray and serve in their local congregations.
It would be foolish to argue that the problems vexing the Church are somehow less threatening to Christianity than the sins of the past. The current crop of problems the church is dealing with may be different from the problems of the past, but that does not make them any less hazardous to the health of the average Christian.
Theories abound as to how exactly we got into this mess. There are some who blame inadequate teaching from the pulpit. Others attribute the problems on an absence of church discipline. Many blame invading secularism and the acceptance of worldly entertainment in the Church.
Oddly enough, there are even some who believe that it was the demise of legalism that created the problems the Church is now wrestling with.
No I am not kidding.
Some individuals actually believe that legalism (strict adherence to manmade rules) made Christians more aware of their own behavior and fearful of the judgment of others. Thus legalism protected the church from the sinful excesses currently devastating the body of Christ.
Clearly, some theories have greater merit than others.
However, in my estimation they all miss the mark. The real problem is not with legalism per se. In this case legalism is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem. The real problem lies with how we view the Christian life. If we view the Christian life as a list of rules to be kept then we will eventually devolve into a pool of legalistic goo and destroy the beauty and spirit of grace that makes the Christian life a life worth living.
Conversely, if we view the Christian life as simply “asking Jesus into our heart” then we will inevitably come to see our relationship with Jesus as something we get to do on our own terms. The Christian life becomes something we do for our own pleasure and to meet our own needs. God becomes the servant and we become the master. He becomes a tool that we use to get what we think we need out of life. If God fails to meet our needs on our terms we leave Him on the margins of our lives or abandon Him all together and go off in search of something that will satisfy us on our terms.
The answer is not a return to legalism or even simply ridding our lives of bad entertainment and wrong thinking (although that idea is not completely without merit). The answer is to rethink how we view the Christian life. Christianity is not about asking Jesus into our hearts just so we have assurance of salvation.
Christianity is about following Jesus wherever He leads and obeying His commands, whatever the cost.