What legalism isn’t

I was raised in a legalistic faith. Fortunately, I was also exposed to people in that faith system who knew the love of God and understood the importance of removing legalism from a personal relationship with God. Still, I struggled mightily with this battle between works and faith until 2008, when one night, my pastor and house group prayed a prayer that would become a defining moment in my life. I became free to simply love God without the rules getting in the way.

Like all good things though, I got to the point where almost any form of self-discipline warranted red flags. I became so free that I slowly started to equate God as my buddy and struggled with His sovereignty. After all, my buddy talked to me all the time. We were one right?

It was –is– a dangerous place.

In an inspired moment in 2010, I realized that I hadn’t used the word “sin” in years. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last sermon that I listened to that talked about sin. (My pastor must have been convicted of the same thing because about six months later, he suddenly began using the word in every sermon). It’s not that God hadn’t convicted me of wrong behavior in that time, just that a pride had raised up so much in me that I wouldn’t use that word. My and other’s behaviors were “unhealthy” or “not the most beneficial decisions” or “hurtful.”

In realizing that I had eliminated that word, I first grew more arrogant. Of course I can’t use that word! It’s been hijacked by legalistic Pharisee Christians who bind people with it. I prefer not to be associated with them or their language THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

And really! I can’t use that word with others! After all, we all come from legalistic backgrounds, so using that word would cause us all to shut down, right?

But God was working on my heart. Because in time, I realized that if I could’t call it sin, then in some unconscious way, I was trying to lessen the offense. Make forgiveness less of a big deal.

In that place, I also couldn’t realize His capacity to be sovereign.

I really don’t want a “buddy” who can do miracles. I want a God that I can worship. I want a God whose thoughts are not (like) my thoughts or whose ways are not like my ways. I wanted a relationship that would challenge me to grow and change, the same way that my relationship with my husband or best friend makes me grow and change. And fortunately, I have a God who was willing to be both my best friend and my God, so I was in luck.

He’s taught me that calling something sin doesn’t mean that repentance has to be immediate. It’s not behavior modification. That never works. It’s the start of a process: one that allows us to approach our relationship with Him and each other in humbleness and authenticity. And in the end, it grows us as people and as friends.

Legalism isn’t the path to life or love with Christ. But neither is hokey pokey, positive Christian spirituality. Love and life is found in repentance and forgiveness, not because we have to, but because we get to.

Love and peace,