Legalism vs. Rules

Then the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream, both of them, each man’s dream in one night and each man’s dream with its own interpretation. And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, “Why do you look so sad today?”

And they said to him, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.”

So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.” Genesis 40:5-8

When we are learning about grace, the story of Joseph has so much to teach us. It is such an apt illustration of what life can be like if we live by the Spirit. If we live by the Spirit, our deeds will reflect that. If we live in grace, then we will live a righteous life. We don’t need the law to tell us what to do. In the Spirit-led life, we know what to do.

But how can I say we don’t need the law, after spending so much time as a professional athlete? After all, if we didn’t have any rules in baseball, the game would be total chaos, not to mention boring. We need rules. Rules help us in all kinds of areas of life. Without the rules of the road, it would be too dangerous to drive anywhere. A lot of us couldn’t go to work! There are good rules everywhere for good reason, and we expect each other to play fair.

But there’s a difference between having rules and living a legalistic life. Our jobs, and the rules they entail, are a completely different issue than how we relate to people. Our relationships and our jobs are two different things. There are rules at work, and grace in relationships. I look at it this way. A person living in grace, as Joseph did, will say, “God will show me how to work to become successful.” Meanwhile, this is what legalism says. Legalism says, “I will work hard, so that God will see how hard I work and make me successful.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Which one are you?

For me, living in grace is to say, “Show me, God. Give me wisdom and show me where to work hard so that I can be successful.” And God says, “Well, okay. Here’s how you do it. Your job starts at nine. So the first little bit of wisdom? Be on time! That will create favor among your bosses.”

If your employer has told you to be at work at nine, then you have to be at work at nine. That’s all there is to it! The Bible says Potiphar loved Joseph and put him in charge of household operations. Why do you suppose he did that? He probably saw that Joseph was responsible and could be trusted with the household. As I wrote last time, Joseph lived in a time of grace, before God gave the law. How could Joseph understand responsibility, if God hadn’t yet given the law? How did he know to show up on time? Joseph knew what to do because he lived by the Spirit, and his deeds reflected that.

I have a little more to say about this next time. See you Thursday.