Be On Guard So You Can Pounce on People!

On Guard and Ready to PounceMy wife pointed out to me a powerful post on the website of People of the Second Chance entitled I am the Vulture. And I am sometimes.

A few days ago, I wrote an article about preaching for SermonCentral and in the comments section, someone used the article as an opportunity to make some assumptions about me, and even about one of my mentors, without actually knowing either of us.

The world recently learned that the Duggar family is now expecting child number twenty. Awesome! Congratulations to this very loving family! But I’m a bit aghast at the number of people using public forums like Facebook to oppose this further family expansion as somehow irresponsible or immoral (as if its anyone else’s business to begin with).

And earlier, a headline grabbed my attention about an anti-gay Pastor arrested in New Orleans for… an indecent act near a children’s playground (don’t click if you’re sensitive about such things). It isn’t simply that another church leader fell morally. It’s that he had devoted many hours to publicly picketing on the streets and shouting at homosexual residents and tourists.

Three different stories with very different contexts all point out the same characteristic about our human nature. We’re ready to pounce. I’ve pounced before, only to feel regret that I had issued premature judgement toward someone. We’ve all gone into conversations with our guns drawn, ready to find a target to shoot down. We’re ready to pounce.

Now, listen to this verse…

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
~ 1 Peter 5:8 NLT

Here’s the big question we all need to face… if we are ready to pounce on people, are we more like Jesus?… or someone else? Seems like I remember being told a few times what assuming can do.

My real challenge is twofold.

  1. Be on guard against the right enemy.
  2. Drop your guard toward the innocent.

Chances are, if I’m making conclusions about someone without really knowing them or their situation, I’m already wrong even if I’m “right.”

Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

Where Exactly Do We Stand?

Grace Based LivingEven though none of us actually plays by the rules (according to Romans 3:10, 23), we still try rather hard to do so. We’ve all sinned and fallen short, but in our broken condition, we just keep on plugging away in hopes that in eternity all of our trying and fighting and working will somehow qualify us for heaven in God’s eyes.

Most of us find ourselves living a rules-based life. We have an assumption that our Creator will someday evaluate our performance to see if we’ve measured up to His standard. If we’ve been mostly good, we’re in! But Scripture is clear that God has already evaluated our performance. And the bad news is that He has already concluded that we don’t measure up. So that issue is settled. We can stop trying, stop fighting, and stop working.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he expounded significantly on the subject of the grace of God. In chapter five, he proclaims that, “since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1 NLT)

Think about those words. We have been made right in God’s sight… not by our trying, working, and fighting, but because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Instead of struggling to produce a strong performance, we can fling ourselves at the foot of the cross and trust in the mercy and grace of God to save us and sustain us. Let me challenge you to make an enormous and monumental shift in your life – from performance-based living to grace-based living. I can stand before God in my own righteousness, and I’ll never measure up. Or I can stand before God in the righteousness of Christ and be accepted on the basis of His performance.

John Phillips points out about this passage that there is a difference between our standing and our state. We live in a state of struggling and progress. But if we’ve trusted in Christ alone to save and sustain us, we have a right standing before God, regardless of the state in which we find ourselves.

To have a right standing with God – to stand confidently before Him someday – trust in the performance of Jesus Christ on the cross when He paid the penalty for all of our sins. Enjoy the journey of a grace-based life!

How Can I Be Legalism Free?

I like rules, lines, and boundaries. I feel safer if I have clear parameters, which explains my love for graph paper. I like it when everything is nice and tidy. The problem is, life isn’t always nice and tidy. People around me don’t always play by my rules, and I’m the biggest boundary breaker of them all.

It would seem that the alternative to rules-based living would be no rules living, rebellion, and abandonment of moral restraint. But what if that isn’t the best alternative to legalistic living? Jesus’ greatest confrontations happened with legalists who not only lived by rigid sets of rules, but quickly judged others by those rules as well.

The New Testament message – the gospel – is one of liberation from legalism, but it isn’t an encouragement to rebellion either. It’s about being free to really live. But how? How can I really live a life free from legalism and still grow into the godly character that Jesus saved me to be?

Establish Some Foundational Principles

We can know certain things to be true, no matter what. They are unbreakable absolutes that cannot be compromised. For example…

  • God’s Word, the Bible (including the “Law”), is perfect, good, without any mixture of error, and therefore completely trustworthy as the basis for living life.
  • Holiness, complete maturity, and Christlikeness is God’s goal for every believer in Christ.
  • Legalism never gets us to that goal. (So let’s move on…)

Diagnose Thyself

My name is Brandon Cox, and I’m a legalist. At least I still struggle with the remnants of legalism in my life. I guess I’m a “recovering legalist” who still slips into the old frame of mind sometimes. In fact, I think we all tend toward legalism to varying degrees and the longer we’ve been believers, the more susceptible we are.

How can you tell if you’re a legalist? Here’s a quick checklist…

  1. I determine whether God likes me or not based on how well I’ve kept the rules.
  2. I might acknowledge I was saved by grace alone, but I think my effort has something to do with staying saved.
  3. I tend to pray less when I fear that God is probably mad at me about something.
  4. I think I’m disqualified from the Christian faith because I’ve messed up, in spite of the fact that I’m still alive and breathing.
  5. I tend to notice the “bad behavior” in others without giving thought to their past pain, poor upbringing, or unknown circumstances.
  6. When other sinners suffer for their choices, I hear a tiny voice saying “serves them right.”
  7. I’m more passionate about the rules I find easy to keep, and minimize the ones I personally struggle with.
  8. I’m all about being “in the Word” but sometimes fail to let the Word get into me.
  9. I love going to Bible study more than serving or witnessing because it “feeds me” and makes me feel more spiritually mature.
  10. I recognize that traditions are not necessarily biblical… unless they’re my traditions.

Thoroughly self-diagnosed yet? Let’s talk about the cure.

Heal Thyself

You need to know, up front, that you’ll never completely get over being a legalist. Since the garden of Eden, God has been all about grace. It explains why God made coats of animal skins to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. And since the garden of Eden, we’ve tried (with Satan’s help) to re-write the gospel to somehow include merit. As humans, we are rules addicts.

But we can break free. Jesus invites us to His freedom…

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Paul developed a distinctive theology of freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

~ Galatians 5:1 NLT

Here are some steps to take…

  1. See your sin for what it is. It’s an offense to God to sin. No, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over past mistakes, but you also shouldn’t vindicate yourself on the basis that sin “isn’t a big deal.”
  2. See Jesus for whom He is. He’s your sacrifice. Nothing you’ve done could have prevent Him from going to the cross just for you. He’s the only perfect and righteous Savior.
  3. See the cross for what it is. The cross was where He died for your sins. In other words, your sins are paid for. Stop trying to pay the debt yourself. Every time you do, you ignore the cross and insult His sacrifice.
  4. Embrace grace. Revel in it. Bathe yourself in the idea of it. Roll around in the concept that you are free… free indeed!
  5. Embrace grace… more. Don’t stop thinking about it. Read about it. Read about how Jesus showed it. Understand that you’ll never totally understand it, but don’t stop trying.
  6. Show grace. In fact, mob people with it. Show it when you don’t feel like it, when it doesn’t make sense, and especially when it would feel better to do otherwise.

I recently joined the People of the Second Chance. No, it’s not a cult. It’s just this…

People of the Second Chance gives voice to a scandalous movement of radical grace in life and leadership. We challenge the common misconceptions about failure and success and stand with those who have hit rock bottom in their personal and professional lives. We are a community that is committed to stretch ourselves in the areas of relational forgiveness, personal transparency, and advocate for mercy over judgment.

We are not ashamed of our scars, wounds, or failures and leverage them as a source of strength and character development.

People of the Second Chance have experienced a second chance so we actively support social justice organizations and advocate for the vulnerable, forgotten, and left behind.

We are People of the Second Chance.

We extend grace in our relationships, workplaces, and in the world.

We refuse to be victims and are not defeated by our past. We courageously open ourselves to personal forgiveness.

We sacrificially give our time and resources to the work of renewal, restoration, and social justice.

You don’t have to join a movement, attend a Bible study, or wear a badge. Just embrace grace! Celebrate it and never look back. You can be legalism free. Jesus said so!

Also, if you’d like a nice downloadable pdf of this, check out the same post on the Grace Hills Church website.

God Took Me To School About My Rules

Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Beach, CA

Yesterday, we headed to Treasure Island Beach. It’s a beautiful spot in Laguna Beach hidden away behind the Montage Resort. You have to hike a bit to get down to it, but once you’re there, you’re enclosed between two beautiful cliffs.

We put our towels down about 50 feet from the wet sand to make sure we were out of reach of the waves, then Ella and I headed down toward the water to start a sand castle empire bump. Ella has a bit of a fear of the waves and was a little paranoid that they would unexpectedly come in farther than the wet sand. This is where my rules came into the picture.

[Read more…]

Snakes! Blind Leaders! How Terrible God’s Judgment Will Be For You!


One of the best books in my entire library is A. T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels (aff link). It was my constant guide through the Life of Christ class I took in college and I’ve gone back to it more than almost any other in the study of Christ’s life. It isn’t a detailed commentary – just a chronological arrangement of the gospels.

Robertson called studying the last few days of Jesus’ life being “in the shadow with Jesus.” And next to the passage from Matthew 23 when Jesus is engaged in a final showdown with the religious establishment of the day, I wrote down a single sentence uttered by my professor, Dr. Jesse Thomas…

The Jewish leaders were guilty of slamming shut the door of the kingdom…

[Read more…]

Legalism Free

Our second message in the Wednesday evening message series, Exposed: Shocking Truths About Liberated Living, pertained to the idea that we can live legalism free! Legalism is perhaps an overused term, but it’s also an over-lived one. It’s defined in different ways by different people and debated in all kinds of religious circles. [Read more…]

Shocking Truths Exposed!

I’ve struggled a bit for direction in what to teach in our midweek Bible study. I had wanted to tackle the subject of grace as it relates to living the Christian life. But I also wanted to touch on the subject of joy and how seldom we possess it. I thought also of the subject of the fulness of the Holy Spirit. All seem interrelated and books and materials abound on the subjects. Therefore, I’ve been reading from about six different books on the subject. [Read more…]