How To Break Free From Church Laws
“A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”
See Galatians 2:16
“Backslider! There is no hotter place in hell than for a person like you!”
“You have a rebellious spirit! God will rightly punish you!”
“You refuse to give your tithe?! How DARE you steal from God! You will MISS your blessing!”
“REPENT! GET BAPTIZED! IF YOU DON’T, YOU ARE GOING TO HELL, SINNER!”
…Have you ever been preached to like that? Maybe the man or woman preaching can’t stand still, they run around all over the place, yelling at you like you’re a dog? As if you are going to fall in line if they get louder…and LOUDER?
Or maybe, it’s the opposite. It’s calm and quiet. You sit, stand up, sit, stand up, and you feel like a robot? There is no real relationship with Jesus, just showing up to be sure you keep your spot in heaven? A steady diet of bodily movements, robes, and the placing-on-a-pedestal, a particular human? As if they are “holier” than you? Maybe you’ve even experienced a church law which forces you to see a particular leader as higher than the regular parishioners and members–even higher than you.
Or maybe you’ve felt the extremely frustrating and impossible church law of, “Confess every single sin, or else you’re not forgiven of it.” You might have to confess to a man in a box, or in front of a congregation. “You gotta be quick to repent!” “You must confess!” And if you don’t, “God is gonna get ‘cha!”
You may have also experienced being told you need water to wash away your sins, when you know deep in your heart, no amount of water in the entire universe can achieve this church law. Or maybe, you’ve been told you gotta spout out a bunch of non-English gibberish in order to “get more of God,” yet, you can’t seem to do such a weird thing, organically, so you are frustrated and scared that you don’t have God’s Spirit in you.
“What am I doing wrong, God?! WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME TOO?!”
Because you don’t want to force some strange words out of your mouth, or because you can’t decipher what they are saying when someone does this, you feel as if God doesn’t love you as much as He does them. When they shout out crazy stuff in the middle of service, or they wiggle around on the ground in convulsions, you think to yourself, “Does God’s grace not apply to me because I’m not doing that stuff?”
Friend, this is not the gospel. The gospel brings peace, it’s orderly, and it’s not exclusive to certain legalistic actions or wonky rituals. The gospel brings love, joy, patience, kindness, and gentleness. God’s love found in the gospel, keeps no records of your wrongs, it does not dishonor you, it isn’t angry, it rejoices in the truth of Jesus’ finished work at the Cross, it always protects you, always trusts you, and always has a hope and a plan for your future. And God’s love for you has something which a lot of preachers need to get ahold of, self-control (see Galatians 5:22, 23, 1 Corinthians 13, Jeremiah 29:11).
Sure, I’m all for getting excited about God, and I also think the pageantry of some churches is absolutely beautiful, but when you are trying to create fear, guilt, or condemnation–or, placing too much emphasis on a building, denomination, or human person (in order to get people to grow in Christ) that is just plain wrong. Jesus was never out of control, so we shouldn’t be either (even when He did get angry in Matthew 15 and Matthew 21, He kept His scruples–in His anger, He did not sin).
Further, Jesus never put any building, activity, or person on a pedestal, so neither should we.
These issues are called church laws. Church laws are man-made rules that go against the finished, graceful work of the gospel–a work that Jesus completed for us in full. Church laws create stress, confusion, and division. They make Christians strive to no end, attempting to achieve a higher level of status with God and man. Church laws put people on a hamster-wheel that creates fear and Christian classes, in turn, ruining many lives.
Church laws were an early distraction the apostles faced after Jesus ascended, and they continue on today. As a matter of fact, it was church laws–old Jewish religious traditions–which caused Paul and Peter to get into it! The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:11, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong” (Galatians 2:11).
What was Peter wrong about?
Paul had heard that Peter was allowing some Jewish laws to sneak in with the gospel, namely, circumcision. So Paul said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
And isn’t that just like us? We get saved, and then we think if we do “this” or “that,” our saving is even better? We create “Christian status departments” and hierarchies, naming some “First Class,” “Second Class,” “Holier,” and “not as holy.” THIS IS WRONG! Paul flew off the handle with Peter to get his point across–that it is JESUS PLUS NOTHING!
He stood up and publicly corrected Peter: “How is it that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (See Galatians 2:14). I’d personally bet a day’s wages that nearly all of the people reading this devotional are Gentiles! You and me! We are not Jewish! Anyone who is a non-Jew is a Gentile–we weren’t even invited to follow any Old Testament laws–only the blood of Jesus brought us in.
Paul continued, “a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God” (Galatians 2:16,19).
DO YOU SEE THAT?! The law isn’t dead, but as Christians we are dead to the law and alive in Christ! Church laws included! THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE! What makes us think that giving a certain percentage of our money to a church organization is not a law? Or that we won’t “receive our blessing,” if we don’t give an offering “on top of” the tithe?!
WE MUST STOP LEGISLATING GRACE! I’m all for giving, but there is no directive in any New Testament epistle which states we must reconcile our bank accounts with a church building to the tune of ten percent–not one book after the Cross states this. The tithe is a church law. We must stop mixing in church laws with the gospel, just like the Jews had to stop mixing in the Mosaic Law as well!
I know this may be heavy for some of you because of what you’ve been taught, so please allow me to break down “law” for you. This is crucial if you want to escape any religious bondage holding you back from enjoying your life with Christ to the fullest: A law is any act we perform to gain a better status with God or man—or to achieve salvation—or to be sure we keep our salvation.
Religious Christians get furious when you speak against their church laws. “I’ll pray for you! You’ll need it!” they’ll say, when you simply ask them a question…”Why?”
It’s in our human flesh’s nature to want to make what we already have better. But when it comes to the finished work of the gospel, of JESUS ONLY, we can’t! No amount of “sprinkling in” of anything can add to what Jesus already finished. This includes church activities, church attendance, church volunteering, donations, mission trips, Bible reading, attending Bible college/seminary, tithing, giving away our stuff to look more holy, water baptism, repentance of incorrect behaviors and attitudes, pastoral actives, pastoral approval–you name it–NOTHING can earn you more prestige than you already have after you first come to faith in Jesus! (See Hebrews 10:10, Romans 6:10, John 19:30).
Let’s talk tithing again for a moment. There is not one verse in the New Testament which says we must give a certain amount money or goods to God or a church. Jesus does refer to tithing in Matthew 23, but when He did so He was pointing out the hypocritical greed and nasty hearts of the Pharisees; those who looked to their tithing as righteousness. Jesus scolds them about how wrong they are, saying they should have been practicing “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (see Matthew 23:23).
After the Cross, the apostles tell us to not give under compulsion or pressure, but instead to give out of the abundance of our hearts because God loves a cheerful giver—not a lawful giver (see 2 Corinthians 9:7). A lawful giver is someone who does math to give to God, thinking that math percentage earns them kudos with our Creator—as if God is a “heavenly waiter” wanting His tips to be “just right,” so that we can get a nod of favor. It doesn’t work that way as New Covenant believers. JUST, GIVE—because you don’t HAVE TO.
If you want to give ten percent, give it. If you want to give three percent, or thirty-three percent—give it away! God is not looking at your ratio of giving, He’s looking at your heart. IS JESUS THERE? Yes?…THAT’S ENOUGH FOR HIM!
When it comes to your giving, God isn’t needy or expecting anything. And don’t believe the lie that your money is on loan from God, as if He expects it back. HE’S DOESN’T. He doesn’t expect anything from you. Expectation is not what any good relationship is built on. God isn’t disappointed in your giving, or overly-impressed by your giving; instead, He just smiles, loves you, and says, “I’ve got plenty for everyone.”
This church law of tithing creates fear, or worse in my opinion, smug self-righteousness. Friend, we don’t give to get, we give because God is a giver and He lives in us! We are all even-Steven because of our faith in what JESUS has given for us—His blood. Without this truth, the grace of God is nullified, and instead of grace, we get “earned rewards.” We are then right back to the old way of doing things, B.C.
A religious Christian might attempt to pull grace away by rebutting, “So Matt, are you saying we don’t have to do anything? That we can just live however we want?” WELL NO! Why would you?! Why would you want to take the face of Christ, and SLAP IT?! He lives in you!
What you must begin to do is form a loving relationship with the One who is infused with your spirit. Are you perfect in your relationships with people? No. So don’t expect to be perfect in your relationship with God. You don’t have that ability, just yet, and He knows that. This is why He sent Jesus here, to do what you can’t do.
Only in heaven will you take on absolute perfection in word, thought, and deed, because you will shed your flesh and your mind renewal will be completed–you will finally be one with God, perfectly.
So for now, do your best to show Him how much you care. But be sure to realize there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more, or leave you! The truth of the gospel is this: YOU ARE JUST LIKE JESUS, IN YOUR SPIRIT, ONCE YOU BELIEVE HE’S FORGIVEN YOU!
THE FATHER CAN’T, AND WON’T, BREAK THIS COVENANT WITH CHRIST! The Messiah is in your body! How? By grace through faith! By a new agreement between the Father and Son—we are simply the ones who benefit from this bloody contract! We don’t create it, add to it, or sustain it! We open up our hearts and receive it! We are FOOLS to think we can possibly do ANYTHING to get on God’s good side! HE IS GOD! The only thing that makes us good is God in us–Jesus Christ! (See Hebrews 7:18-25, Hebrews 8:13, Ephesians 2:8,9, Galatians 3:1).
So what good is law? Lots of good, for unbelievers. It reveals the character of our Creator and shows you what you can’t do on your own. It points out all of the dirt on your face, and then it does nothing to remove it. Only Jesus can do this. Only your faith in Him as your Savior can, and will, do this completely–once–as in, one time. (See Hebrews 7:25, Hebrews 10:10, Romans 6:10, 1 Peter 3:18).
The law only applies to non-believers in Christ. Jesus took on the impossible-to-complete laws of God on your behalf, because you never could. That’s how much He loves you. He became His own creation to save you. Your job now, is to allow Him to live through you, while relaxing, with grace…How amazing…How freeing (see Hebrews 4:11, John 6:29, 8:32).
This is why Paul said to the Romans, “It is the goodness of God which will lead you to change your life” (see Romans 2:4)–not more laws. When you finally realize that you are completely forgiven, forever, no matter what you do in your flesh or mind, your entire view of life becomes different. You begin to organically grow spiritual fruit for all to enjoy, including yourself! (See Galatians 5:22,23).
Paul was correcting Peter in his letter to the Galatians because Peter was attempting to add to Jesus’ finished work through circumcision, so he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Do you see that? We’ve been spiritually crucified with Him, and now we are vessels, actual temples of God. This is the gospel, the truth that will set you free from any religious church law prison. Church is good, sure; that is, the building we gather at, if the graceful good news of the finished gospel is being preached–if a sense of ease and relaxation in Jesus’ completed work is present. If not, don’t go there. Find another one, or start one yourself.
There are no church laws that will make you look any better to God–instead, Christ in you makes you look perfect in spirit! And that’s what counts! This is the free grace of God, which is what we all truly need. A grace that Paul describes: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21, my emphasis added).
So today, my friends, know this: Christ didn’t die for nothing, He died for you. And if you believe that He died on the Cross for your sins, and that He was raised from the dead–you are 100% acceptable to your Creator for eternity. When you finally realize that God loves you so much, He would actually come down and pay off your law-debt with Him, freely…everything changes. You finally understand why the gospel means “good news.” Because that’s what it is!
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, today I want to thank you for your grace! When I think about how kind you are—SO KIND that you would allow me to have access to your presence through UNEARNED salvation—I get excited! I feel so free! Thank you! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who have misunderstood what it is that you truly require, as if there is more to do than simply believe Jesus has forgiven them, help them. Show them that it is by grace through faith we become one with you, THROUGH Jesus. GIVE THEM A BRAND NEW OUTLOOK AND A BRAND NEW CONFIDENCE IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU! Let them know that there are no special tricks or church laws required for proof. We just believe in you and receive you, in full. And one last thing, I rebuke any legalistic, religious spirit from anyone reading this, in the name of Jesus set them free! Amen.
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