One of the most memorable Peanuts comic strips to me in my childhood ran something like this:
Linus was complaining about how Lucy always harassed him.
Charlie Brown: Next time, get her to define her terms.
Lucy (later, to Linus): You’re fat!
Linus: Fat? I’m not fat!
Lucy: Of course you’re fat, just look at that stomach!
Linus: Define stomach.
I remember the first time I read that comic strip, I didn’t understand why it was supposed to be funny, so I asked my older sister to explain it. She explained that the term “stomach” was a scientific term not subject to debate, but the term “fat” was subjective and could be argued, so that was the term Linus should have asked about.
I studied the comic strip again and decided it was among the most brilliant pieces of writing I had seen up to that time. I guess I was about eleven.
That may have been the time when a fierce desire for definitions of terms began its ascendency in my life. Now, many years later (many, many years later), when Christians bandy about Christian-ese, I want to ask them to define their terms. Often they haven’t really thought them through.
So here’s some thinking through of definitions to ponder. A lot of this thinking is based on a study of the scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament, who, while seeming to be the godliest of all, were actually, according to Jesus in Matthew 23:13, shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
Sin is despising what God treasures and treasuring what God despises. (Despise doesn’t mean to hate, really, but to regard as of little or no value.)
Holiness is treasuring what God treasures and despising what God despises. (This of course is where the supreme happiness is found, since the things that God treasures are the things that are actually valuable and worthy of being treasured, and they are not transient but eternal.)
Flesh-works are the efforts to accomplish by our own energies the treasuring and despising that aligns with reality. (This results in failure every time.)
Legalism is treasuring and despising things that God never mentions and believing that others must treasure and despise them as well in order to bring the heart to a place of treasuring what God treasures and despising what God despises. (Legalism often stops with the list of things God never mentions as a measure of holiness, believing that these are the things God cares most about. It is often the result of flesh-works, since keeping a well-defined list is easier than truly treasuring God.)
Hypocrisy is making a show of treasuring what God treasures and despising what God despises while in a secret place actually despising what God treasures and treasuring what God despises. (I used to foolishly think of this as just an activity of the heart, because it was too hard for me to imagine that there are people who truly seem so good and godly and humble who are committing atrocious acts. In reality there are brazen hypocrites in our churches and schools who are astoundingly adept at playing at their show while acting out on their evil with their actual bodies in the most depraved of ways in secret places, such as a church office, a Christian school storeroom, or a corner bedroom.)
Legalistic hypocrisy is teaching that others must treasure and despise things that God never mentions in order to be holy (see legalism above), while at the same time treasuring what God despise and despising what God treasures (see hypocrisy above). Legalistic hypocrisy is a deadly combination of evils, and is perhaps the environment in which the acting out on the evil of the heart can breed the most readily and rapidly.
I hope that someone reading this will think, “Let’s talk more about holiness and how that’s accomplished in our lives!” I’m excited about that, and explore it in several of my posts.