Many times to better understand something, it is helpful to learn what the opposite of that something is.
I’m a student and proponent of Grace. But Grace can be a squishy word. So I would like to talk about the opposite of Grace, which is LEGALISM.
Pastor Tullian Tchividjian writes “Legalism says God will love us if we change. Grace says God will change us because He loves us.”
Nicodemus was a legalist. He was a Pharisee.
Max Lucado writes “It’s a fact of the farm. The most fertile ground remains barren if no seed is sown.”
This defines legalism. Legalism is obsessed about soil preparation but totally misses the point of the seed. This is how legalism thinks. Faith is an outside work. How you speak, act, pray, the image you portray.
If Nicodemus would have been a farmer, he would of had a degree from the University of Farming in cutting edge soil preparation techniques.
The Pharisees were really good at making the soil look good but they had one problem, (How many of you would love to have one problem? But it was a big problem) they produced very little fruit.
Nicodemus, was tired of his fruitless, shallow, look good on the outside life, so he is drawn to Jesus. He sees the fruit, passion, love and humility of Jesus. He sees Jesus breaking the rules so he can touch the untouchable and love the sinner that the religious leaders had shunned.
Nicodemus’ spiritual life has become a charade and it’s shrinking his soul, so the Gospel of John says that he came to Jesus at night. He’s drawn to Jesus, but he has a reputation to uphold, so he sneaks out to see Jesus at night.
Which is very symbolic of legalism. Legalism offers no light.
Legalism robs your freedom. It sets your standards so high that it leaves you paralyzed.
Legalism damages relationships. Nobody wants to spend time around people who feel they are spiritually superior to everyone else. The Bible says, “Love forgets mistakes. Nagging about them parts the best of friends.”
Legalism puts rules in front of people. I recently met a couple who were teaching a high school Sunday School class and they took some high school students to an elderly widows home to paint, clean and bring her a meal. The youth were reprimanded and the couple asked to leave the church because they happened to do these biblically good deeds on the Sabbath. The rule was more important than the person.
Legalism ultimately destroys your joy. Because there is always a gap between what you want to be and what you want others to think you are and who you really are! The gap destroys your joy.
And here is Nicodemus, he has no freedom, all his friends are legalists, he is putting rules ahead of people and his joy is gone, so he comes to Jesus.
In the dark of the night, Jesus tells him, “Nicodemus, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God (No one can be good enough, no one can have flourishing relationships, no one can love people the way I love them, no one can experience a joy that is indestructible and liberating, no one can have eternal life) unless he is born again.”
Jesus gets right to the point “Nick your problem is legalism. Your soil looks good, but you have no seed.”
This meeting in the dark is a meeting between two opposing views on salvation.
All the world’s religions can be placed in one of two camps: LEGALISM or GRACE.
Either man saves himself or God saves him.
Legalism is a dark world. Fear (Have I done enough?) Arrogance (I have done enough!) Failure (I’ve made too many mistakes.)
Jesus goes on to tell him, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit give birth to spirit.”
Jesus says that salvation doesn’t come from church attendance, a certain set of rules or perfect theology.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that Salvation is God’s business, Grace is his idea and it is at His expense.
In the dark of the night, Jesus looks at Nicodemus and shares these revolutionary words, “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (And you thought the guy with the rainbow, curly wig who sat in the endzone of NFL football games holding a sign of John 3:16 made this saying up, but this comes from the very mouth of Jesus.)
Nicodemus, the legalist, had had a lot of conversations about salvation. But not like this. This was the first time no rules, systems or secret decoder rings were needed.
“Everyone who believes can have eternal life!” Not “Everyone who achieves or succeeds or agrees.”
EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!
When Nicodemus heard those words, his life was changed forever!
GRACE CHANGES EVERYTHING!
It gets you off the perfectionism treadmill, because as the Psalmist wrote “Nothing is perfect except God’s word.” I hate treadmills, because you run and run and run and you sweat, you get beaten down and tired and when you are done, you are standing in the exact same place you started. That’s legalism!
Plus, trying to be perfect is not only tiring, it’s narcissistic. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian goes on to say, “To focus on how I’m doing more than what Christ has done is Christian narcissism.”
Pretending to be perfect is also hypocritical. The Greeks used to call actors, hypocrites, because an actor is someone who pretends to be someone or something he or she really is not. This is the same word Jesus called the Pharisees.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “Your soul is tired and worn out because you have been on this perfectionism treadmill. Jump off, because salvation comes from me, not from your works. My Grace is available.”
Grace changed Nicodemus. How do I know?
A while later, Jesus was killed on the cross, by the legalists, and the disciples were scattering like cockroaches when the lights go on, but a man named Joseph of Arimathea asked permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and John 19 records that: “Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, came too…” and he brought embalming ointment and he helped lay Jesus in the tomb.
Nicodemus, the one who came quietly, fearfully, secretly at night now comes boldly, courageously and confidently in the day.
Grace has liberated him!
Nicodemus had received the seed of Grace and now plants the seed of salvation, Jesus into the tomb and 2 day later that seed burst forth and defeated death once and for all!
Grace liberates and brings forth life!
Our world is being destroyed by legalism.
Grace is our only hope.
EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!
I pray you get off the perfectionism treadmill and receive grace!
You don’t have to pretend anymore!
You are loved and accepted.