I read a decent reflection (http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2013/05/10/the-radical-missional-but-not-so-new-legalism/) on a solid, on-the-mark/to-the-point blogpost (http://blog.acton.org/archives/53944-the-new-legalism-missional-radical-narcissistic-and-shamed.html) on seeking to live a devoted life to Christ and not to become a narcissist over it in the process. The comment stream that ensued in response to the White Horse Inn reflection, however, got a little of course for my tastes.
The original post (on acton.org) was not calling the new labels of “radical” and “missional” themselves legalism with a shiny, new coat of paint. There is nothing wrong with taking Jesus’ words so seriously that they actually affect the way that we live (what the “radical” and “missional” movements are calling for). Problems arise when fanboys take some “new light” they have found and do, in fact, set it up as a law unto itself: “If you have not sold all of your possessions and taken a vow of poverty you are not a Christian,” “If you have not given away your house and moved into a brothel to incarnate the Gospel among ‘the untouchables’ you clearly do not love Jesus,” etc. At this point, our good works become merit badges of radical devotion that we can proudly show off in front of our brothers and sisters…and so narcissism ensues. To me, that is the extent of what Anthony Bradley, the original author, was saying. But the second writer, Mark Green at the WHI blog, takes Bradley’s excellent a bit farther almost to say that good works are not the natural outflow of living faith. To his credit, he concludes by saying that we should all live with a sense of vocation, in life–that is, a recognition of and commitment to God’s calling on our individual lives. But I think he drives the point too far almost to the maligning of obedience to what Jesus called anyone who would follow Him to do.
The eventual comment stream boiled down, of course, to several people proclaiming something of the order that they don’t need good works to be justified before God (which is true, of course) because Jesus is their righteousness (which is also true). What is equally true, though, is that Jesus did not come down to earth, speak a bunch of idle words that He did not expect us to heed, die for our sins, and then get out of Dodge. May we never come to the place as His Body where we excuse ourselves from listening to Jesus, believing Him, and obeying Him.
Obedience to commands that springs from faith-filled love for the One Who Spoke Them is nothing approaching legalism. Rather, it is our right response (“worship”) to the One Who Demands Our Attention.