One of the dangers of legalism is that it redefines worldliness in such a way that joy is barricaded. Make no mistake, worldliness is a sin. However, many things that are often classified as sinful are not necessarily sins. They can be. Anything can be. Yet worldliness is not defined by a sin-list. Worldliness is living life with no consideration for the reality of God. Worldliness has a lot more to do with what a person believes than whether he dances, for example.
Some Christians have fallen into grievious error, concerning worldliness. The result has not been pretty. Instead of enjoying everything that is biblically lawful, they have developed lists of rules that they imagined would serve them well in regulating their behavior. The result has often been a cleaning up of the outside while leaving a mess on the inside. While varnishing the exterior the fumes from the varnish have suffocated the heart. The heart cannot pump blood when the oxygen supply has been cut off. In an attempt to protect the heart, the heart is killed. Legalism is deadly and it often acts in a murderous way towards others. When a person develops a personal list of of ways to achieve righteousness, they usually seek to impose that list on others. The list often contains items that are not forbidden in the Bible. But even the commands of Scripture can be attempted in a wrong way. Obedience to God's commands is beautiful, but obedience requires the oxygen of grace.
The evangelical field is littered with hollow-eyed professing Christians who have spent their evangelical lives jumping through hoops, in well-meaning attempts to live the separated life. They have worked hard. Separation as the ruling factor leaves its adherents empty and disillusioned, but still running the spiritual treadmill. They lose their song, music, passion, and their first love. Life is drudgery. Hoop jumping is tiring, but not in a good way. Godly fatigue is cleansing. Serving and separation that are invigorating characterize the godly person. Such joy escapes the person whose life is marked by refusing to touch, to taste, to celebrate, to eat, drink, and cheer for their favorite sports team.
Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, tells us that life is fleeting and that everything is vain. However, he teaches the wise person how to take the vain things of life and enjoy them in a way that glorifies God. Remember that worldliness is pursuing happiness apart from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25). God-centered living is inseparably connected to God, by faith. With that connection one can plant, harvest, get married, have children, build vineyards, enjoy good music, and sweep the streets with a sense of meaning. After all, it is God who gives us the business that we are busy with (Ecclesiastes 3:10).
The worldly person has expectations for money, sex, possessions, food and drink, that those things cannot provide. The end result of real worldliness is total emptiness and a meaningless life. The godly person, on the other hand, has discovered:
. . . there is nothing better. . . than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God's gift to man (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
God is glorified, not when his gifts are refused but when they are enjoyed. The Legalist cannot bring positive glory to God because he is afraid to receive the gifts of God, with a smile. He fears that the gifts might corrupt him and so he builds barricades in an attempt to keep sin out. What he really does is smother grace. It is good to protect the heart from sin. The Bible commands it. However, the way to protect the heart is not by refusing the generosity of God. In fact, it is the generosity of God that leads to repentance.