So I made a quick trip over to Wally World to pick up some late-night Ice Cream and I turned on one of my favorite Christian talk radio stations to see if there was some wisdom to gain in my 3-minute car ride.
The guy on the show was talking about how it was important to set a hedge of space far away from the proverbial "edge" so that if you slip up, you still have some room before you fall. Seems like wisdom, doesn't it?
His specific example was that when he hugs a woman, he has rules for himself about where he can touch her, how long he can embrace her, etc.
Now, I know this brother was just trying his best, and expressing the only way he knows to try to control the sin problem. But he was unwittingly bringing himself and others further into bondage to the sin he was trying to avoid. Just by setting up these rules about how and where he can touch a woman when he hugs her, he's already turned her into an object of lust. At that point there's no such thing for him as a holy hug, even if they only touch pinky fingernails for a millisecond. As long as that rule is in place, he can never have a godly relationship with a woman.
If, on the other hand he sees her as a sister in Christ, an object of God's love, why would he have to regulate himself when interacting with her? Wouldn't his godly love for her naturally result in appropriate affection and appropriate thoughts toward her? This is one right application of these words from Paul, "Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh" (2 Cor 5:16). If I don't regard a woman according to the flesh, I can hug her without an impure thought or the slightest draw towards inappropriate touching.
Now, if all we have is our own, self-willed efforts to control the sin problem, the best we could hope for is to struggle miserably the way the guy on the radio was talking about. But that's not the case. We, all of us in Christ, have died to sin and are alive to God. We need only to reckon it so and we find it true in experience.
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,—which all concern things which perish with the using according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)
It may seem like wisdom to build a hedge way back from the edge. But if you're standing on top of a cliff of legalism, the sand it's made of is already crumbling and your fall is inevitable.
Rather than trying to be strong on our own, Isaiah has some timeless truth for us:
He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:29-31)
Holiness is precious. No cost is too great to achieve it. But legalism is a burden that will stop all progress in the pursuit of holiness; so we must lay it aside, along with every other weight that entangles us, and press on without it.