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I’m not being racist but…

There is no greater guarantee of a racist sentiment than the opening "I'm not being racist..."  And the louder the protest, the more we worry about the diatribe to follow.

But there's a preaching equivalent.  Last week I listened to many online sermons by the great and good and I repeatedly heard this phrase:

"Now, I don't mean this legalistically, but..."

I must have heard the saying about a dozen times in 5 sermons.  In one instance it was prefaced by this nugget of reformation gold: "Obedience opens up the channels by which God's grace may flow."

...But not in a legalistic way you understand.

Protests that "I'm not being a legalist" do not exempt you from the charge.  To my mind they only raise greater suspicion.

12 thoughts on “I’m not being racist but…

  1. Heather

    Interesting consideration. I've probably made similar protests before jumping into a statement that looks exactly like what I insist I'm not doing.

    This post particularly grabbed my attention because I've been wondering how frequently I will label something "legalistic" simply because it doesn't suit my own selfish tendencies.

  2. John B

    Some of my best friends are publicans!

    "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

  3. Glen

    Lol - I aint layin down a law here. Just telling a story. Making an observation. I now free you all to Love God and preach how you want (as Augustine might say).

    Hi Sarah - legalism is living your Christian life by the law. The Apostle Paul has this to say about the project:

    "We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified... I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:14-21)

  4. pgjackson

    Well, I don't know very much about the examples you heard so I can't comment on them.

    But I do know that 'legalistic' has sometimes come to mean 'exact or firm over matters of obedience'. In that sort of environment the phrase 'I'm not being legalistic' can be used to preface a statement that is thoroughly Biblical, Pauline, and reformational.

  5. John B

    "For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life. ... Christ did not earn only "grace," for us, but also "the gift of the Holy Spirit," so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin." - Martin Luther, writing in a non-legalistic way.

  6. Glen

    Yes Pete and John, there's certainly a time and a place for distinguishing "by the flesh" and "by the Spirit". That can be very helpful indeed. But if the only thing saving a sermon from being legalistic is the insistence that it isn't then it starts to sound like the "I'm not a racist" line.

  7. Rich

    The same applies with "...Remember, we can't do "x" or "y" in our own strength" ..followed by what amounts to a call to go out and do "x" or "y" in our own strength. It's a dead end. We need the One who is the Way.

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