Jonathan's Perspective  

Jul 10

'God’s Answer to Tribalism and Legalism'

Today there is a lot of talk about tribalism in our culture. What is tribalism? It is the idea that a person is only accepted if he or she shares one or two outward characteristics. Tribes may be created by one or more distinguishing features – race, gender, ethnicity, social class, etc. While dividing people by tribes may be helpful to speak of people in broad strokes, it has two dangerous downsides. First, tribalism simplifies people who in reality are very complex. Everyone has a distinct back story, experiences, family, education, and interests. Describing people in narrow terms is a power play to manipulate and use people. Second, tribalism creates division. It typically divides people according to outward characteristics rather than inner characteristics of shared belief, values, and goals. Tribalism pits one group against another on the basis of singular outward characteristics. It creates us/them, good/bad, righteous/evil language that only serves to make enemies of people. In the end, people are told that outward accidentals are more important than inner character.

God is not a tribalist. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:11, “Here (in the church) there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” God is not concerned about the accidentals of your life – where you were born, where you went to school, class, gender, or race. God invites everyone to trust in Him and experience the forgiveness, love, and acceptance of his Son, Jesus. It doesn’t matter what ‘tribe’ you associate yourself with or others associate you with. God wants to be in a beautiful relationship with you and everyone no matter their tribe.

Legalism is at the other end of the spectrum from tribalism. What is legalism? Legalism says that you are only accepted if you are good enough. Legalism insists that a person who falls short of some standard, cannot be loved and accepted by God.  Legalists have no tolerance for someone who has made bad choices or slipped into bad habits. They discount anybody who is not ‘up to snuff’. Somehow, legalists think that they have reached the purity goal and set the standard.

God is not a legalist. God invites you into His presence no matter what you have done. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you [legalistic religious leaders].” (Matt 21:31) Jesus wanted everyone to hear the truth and humble themselves before God. You see, there isn’t a single person who has it all together so that they can say, ‘God owes me. God has to accept me.’ Those who recognize their lack of goodness can come to God who will renew them through his Son. 

No matter who you are or what you have done, God invites you to abundant life in his Son and by his Spirit. Now that is good news!

Jonathan

 

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