John 5:9-10 (Not of God)

Legalism

 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”
(John 5:9-10)

Read: 1 Samuel 4:12 – 8:22

Relate: In the Old Testament there are 613 Mitzvot, 613 commands. Apparently that wasn’t enough. There rose up an entire class of people whose sole occupation was to interpret, teach, and enforce these laws. Their intentions were noble, but the results… disastrous. For a good Jew today, you cannot tear toilet paper when using the restroom. You must either have it pre-torn or keep tissues in the bathroom for use on the Sabbath. If for some reason you forgot to unscrew the lightbulb on your refrigerator then you cannot open that door. It would turn on that light, which is creative activity, which is work. For the same reason Scrabble is banned on the Sabbath. One cannot “create” words. I sure hope you have a pair of shoes with velcro… tying laces would constitute “creating” a knot. There is a lot of work that goes into making sure one is not “working” on the Sabbath.

What is true today was just as true in Jesus’ time. These teachers of the law had taken the simple command to not work and created 39 categories of work that are not permitted on the Sabbath. They are:

  1. Sowing
  2. Plowing
  3. Reaping
  4. Binding sheaves
  5. Threshing
  6. Winnowing
  7. Selecting
  8. Grinding
  9. Sifting
  10. Kneading
  11. Baking
  12. Shearing wool
  13. Washing wool
  14. Beating wool
  15. Dyeing wool
  16. Spinning
  17. Weaving
  18. Making two loops
  19. Weaving two threads
  20. Separating two threads
  21. Tying
  22. Untying
  23. Sewing two stitches
  24. Tearing
  25. Trapping
  26. Slaughtering
  27. Flaying
  28. Salting meat
  29. Curing hide
  30. Scraping hide
  31. Cutting hide up
  32. Writing two letters
  33. Erasing two letters
  34. Building
  35. Tearing a building down
  36. Extinguishing a fire
  37. Kindling a fire
  38. Hitting with a hammer
  39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.

React: It was this last one that got the recently healed lame man in trouble for doing and Jesus for commanding it. Was he really working? Yes, sometimes carrying that mat around might feel like work, but right after being healed? Can you just imagine him holding it up over his head as he danced and skipped his way around town? Sometimes for me, writing a daily devotional might be work. Other times it is pure joy. The task is the same, but the approach, the attitude, is different. As Jesus said, God didn’t make man for the Sabbath but rather the Sabbath for man.

In what ways do I turn to legalism? For me, it isn’t the Sabbath but are there areas that I am sure I have to fight against this tendency. Christianity is supposed to be fun. We should be the happiest and the most free people on the planet. Are we? Am I? Have I taken the rules and duties of being a Christian and turned them into a burdensome pile of regulations? Do I impose my religious preferences on others? God forbid that my passion for following Christ, my desire for purity and holiness, ever become a cause to turn others against the grace and love of Christ.

Respond: 

God, let everything I say and do bring glory to You. Help me to live the way You want to live and do what You want me to do… but help me to do it out of love, not as obedience to a burdensome set of rules. Help me to not impose a pile of personal obligations that would drive You to the background and please, please keep me from trying to impose such obligations on others. I want to honor You. Even more, I want to live and talk and act in such a way that others would want to honor You as well. 

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14 thoughts on “John 5:9-10 (Not of God)

  1. Amen! It is almost like a balancing act trying to keep in mind the fine line that separates legalism from a sincere motivation of love to please God and obey His will for our lives as individuals. I’ve seen these rules and obligations imposed on the body of Christ and it has led people away from the grace and love of Christ. Good prayer at the end! I have made this my prayer as well!

  2. In what ways do I turn to legalism? This is a question that we should keep formost in our minds. It is a trap that the enemy uses to ensnare us daily. Thank you so much for todays post. It opened up thoughts in my mind that will hopefully make me a higher quality Christian.
    Keep these blogs coming. They are a blessing

  3. Jesus came to teach the “spirit” of the law, as that was missing in the “to do, check-boxy” kind of religious traditions of the Jewish people of the day. Jesus also did many things on the Sabbath. He was questioned about that and said He was also Lord of the Sabbath as you have mentioned.

    Besides, not a one of the Jewish people would hesitate to save a lost or injured animal of their on a Sabbath day! We are not under the old law today, but under the law of grace! We must understand that this is not a replacement of the old law, but a fulfillment of it!

    Good post, my friend!

    Steve Pejay

  4. “Christianity is supposed to be fun. We should be the happiest and most free people on the planet’. I think, more than anything, this is the big that leapt out at me from the post, BJ.
    You know something? It convicted me because more often than not, I find I’m not having fun, not the happiest and not feeling free. That tells me something. It tells me I need to think about what I believe, the truth vs the lies and then ask God for fresh perspective and act accordingly – fun, free and happy!
    Thanks, again another excellent post.

  5. Pingback: “John 5:9-10 (Not of God)” 5/06/2014 | God's group

  6. ~smiles~

    It is such an integral part of our nature to judge! If you escape legalism, you often find yourself judging the legalists!

    That being said, when you are a church that tries to abandon the old-fashioned for the new (something we have inched towards painfully, slowly… so so slowly!), you end up surprised at how many “rules” that were very unlikely to have existed in early Christianity (like bulletins! Tell me the first century church had bulletins, or even a same every worship service order?) can then be defended by those who are the strictest among you (a favorite for many things is “our God is a God of order”)

    When I hear how deeply some are trapped in rules of history and tradition, my heart breaks for them, and I yearn to cry, “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free!” I think the most radical witness we can live is love, and when we take our eyes off of that kind of discipline, we end up alienating more than anything else.

    Someone, I am sure, will tell me I am leading into doctrinal error. I believe that we love, then teach, with the words of Christ and our example. We trust the Holy Spirit to the work of sanctification of the new believer, and give them a safe faith community in which to grow. It is a challenge to all believers, but oh, what joy!

  7. I have just one question for you on this subject. Jesus never sinned, and we can suppose he obeyed all the laws, since sin is transgression of law. Wouldn’t that make him a legalist?

    • Legalism is a matter of emphasis and motivation, not an matter of action. For example, you and I can both do our best to be kind to our neighbor. You do it because God loves them and you care for them and truly want the best for them. I do it because the Bible says I have to and even though inside they annoy me and I can’t stand them, still I show them kindness. You are acting out of obedience in love. I am acting out of obedience but there is no love. We are doing the same thing, but only I am the legalist. Jesus fulfilled the law far better than any legalist ever could, but because He did it as an act of love for the Father, it was not legalism.

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