The denomination I grew up in sprang up out of the Holiness movement in the southeastern United States just after the turn of the 20th century. Less than five years after its beginning, it began to be heavily influenced by the Pentecostal movement which was sweeping the country as well making it one of the oldest Pentecostal denominations in America. Other Pentecostal denominations actually have similar roots and this is a natural breeding ground for legalism. Some groups are more strict than others. Some groups, like the one I grew up in, are more, shall we say, flexible depending on the region of the country where a local church is located. In my own denomination, there was an attempt to differentiate between church doctrine and advice on how to live a victorious Christian life.
The document which was actually entitled "Advice To Members" was never supposed to be a test of membership. It was supposed to be advice or suggestions of things you might want to do or not do to help you grow as a Christian and actually, much of it was good advice such as making a habit of reading your Bible, attending church regularly, getting involved, thinking about what you say and do, etc. However, there were other things that were simply rules and regulations put down because of someone's own personal convictions. It was never supposed to be a test of membership but unfortunately in some congregations it was. This was not so much of a problem in the congregation I grew up in but as I grew older, I became increasingly aware of some horror stories and even some shunning that had taken place elsewhere.
I am sharing all of this because I want the reader to understand that I am all too familiar with legalism. I have seen and even experienced first hand what it can do to an individual and in all honesty, though I am no longer a part of that particular group (though I am still a Pentecostal), I still feel the effects of it to this very day.
Legalism is destructive. I know that all too well. However, I'm afraid that in our efforts to erradicate legalism from our churches, the pendulum has swung the other direction and we have wrongfully ignored holiness. This is a serious problem. Peter writes:
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
1 Peter 1:13-15 (KJV)
Peter is not talking about holiness in abstract terms. He is talking about our behavior reflecting our spiritual state of being. What we say and do does reflect the state of our heart and our mind. How we live really does matter.
In the book, "Good Or God" by John Bevere, the author talks about two aspects of holiness. The first aspect of holiness is in regards to our position in Christ. We hold this position solely because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We can't earn it and neither do we deserve it. This aspect of holiness is the gift of God, period.
There is another aspect which is often overlooked or ignored, however. This aspect is our outward behavior which we should exhibit as a result of our position. The analogy used is that of a husband and wife. When they make a covenant with God and one another, their position is that they are one flesh and they are to love one another and forsake all others. I don't have to spell out what that looks like, do I. We all know what it looks like when a married person behaves like they are not married.
The question we must ask ourselves is, am I behaving like I am a part of the Bride of Christ?