The Christian culture is enamored with the term legalism.
Legalism: the dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.
Growing up in church, attending bible college and marrying a student pastor practically gives me a target on my back to be labeled, "legalistic." But add on the fact that my husband and I have chosen not to drink alcohol and well, you might as well call us 21st century Pharisees.
At least that is what pops in the minds of many people. Maybe yours included.
In fact, more than ever lately, we have been asked by other ministry friends if we "drink" or not. It's like a prerequisite for social outings. It just always seems to "come up" one way or another.
But why is this? I mean, when was the last time someone asked if you watched R-rated movies? It's just an awkward question. "I, uhhh... yes, I mean I have, but no I don't."
They should just go ahead and ask what they really want to know - because I'm pretty sure our choice of beverage is not the issue here.
They want to know if we are legalistic.
Well, we're not. Far from it actually. And I think this word has been completely misused and wrongly insulting towards many people.
While there is a serious flaw in trying to depend on our own good works for our salvation (legalism), there is a huge difference between this and striving for holiness.
You see, our decision to not drink is just one example, of many, that is a result of our calling to pursue holiness. Just as we don't want to tempt ourselves with alcohol, we also don't want to be alone with the opposite sex, dress in a way that draws attention to our bodies, or watch certain movies that compromise our moral convictions. It's all a strive to be more like Jesus and less like our dirty, nasty selves. We don't need any help from alcohol, movies, clothing, etc... we're pretty filthy on our own.
"So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead be filled with the Holy Spirit." - Ephesians 5:15-18
Did you catch that? Be careful how you live. Don't act thoughtlessly. Especially in these evil days.
This is a call for holy living. Set apart living. What that looks like for you, may be different than what it looks like for me. But what matters is that we do what the Lord wants us to do.
Josh and I are completely confident that our decision to not drink is the best choice for our lives. Coming from families who have abused alcohol and just seeing the abuse of alcohol in our society, is enough reason for us to want to abstain. We do not believe this is necessary for everyone. And it definitely isn't necessary for salvation. But we still struggle with feeling the need to defend ourselves from the "legalistic" label.
This brings me to my final point: I don't think it is possible for a true Christ-follower to be legalistic.
This is not to deny that there are truly those living in legalism. There are. Legalism would be for us to believe that any of this actually SAVES us.
But someone who has truly been saved by the grace of God knows that it is nothing they could have done, it was ALL about what Jesus did. And abstaining from whatever may cause them to fall back into a lifestyle of sin, is not legalism - it is holiness.