life:unmasked – Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

Life: UnmaskedA couple years ago, I started being more authentic on the blog, and joined Joy, a writer I’ve come to know and respect, in sharing about life: unmasked, in which I share some of my struggles, questions, and failures. I may link up with her or I’ll just do it on my own. Either way, I feel it’s important to live and write unmasked.

I love legalism. There, I said it. I’m not joking either. I’m not really talking about the Old Testament law, here. I’m talking about the new Evangelical legalism that I somehow learned growing up, despite it never actually being verbally taught. Don’t cuss. Don’t miss church. Don’t drink. Ok, I can live without that one. Don’t watch rated R movies that aren’t about Jesus being crucified. As annoying as they are sometimes, I WANT these external litmus tests. I want them because they give me a sense of control. I want them because they keep me focused on everything but what really matters and allows me to live life unchallenged.

Having these tangible measurements keeps all the attention on me. When someone asks me why I wasn’t at church, in that “I’m worried for your soul” kind of tone (which doesn’t really happen at The Village, I’m speaking historically), it points my eternal status back toward my actions. It feeds my ego. It makes sure that I have a physical representation by which I can gauge how good or bad I’m doing in my “walk with God.” As hard as satisfying legal requirements may be, it satisfies me to be the one in control of my destiny. If that were actually true.

You see, even though these litmus tests may gauge how important I view certain forms of obedience to conservative Christian standards, all they do is misdirect my affections and attention away from that which is important. Namely, Christ. If I’m so focused on making sure I’m at church on Sunday and not doing the wrong things and striving to do the right things, then how much time do I really have to pursue Christ? How much time do I really have to look at my heart and ask who or what I really love? If I appear to be acing all the tests, why would I stop to check my heart for idolatry and pride? And when my pride is being fueled and fed by my good deeds, any time someone challenges my motives will be an assault not just on motives, but on who I am.

Fortunately, just as Satan knows how to misdirect us by even allowing us to be “good” to keep us distracted from focusing on Christ, God knows that we only find redemption through the broken body and blood of King Jesus and He will pursue, woo, and wage war for the soul of those who confess Christ as Lord. That’s why when Paul details out how to combat sin, he first tells us to focus on Christ, and then to put to death worldly desires (Col. 3).

When we focus on Christ first, and allow Him to transform our heart’s affections, then we become free to walk in grace. We become free to be people who make mistakes and know that we are still loved by a holy God. We become free to set aside the rules and weight and snares of legalism and trust Christ in whatever we do, knowing that as we pursue Him, the Spirit will convict our hearts of sin and bring us to repentance.

I admit it, I still want to be in control. But I’m glad I’m not.

2 responses to “life:unmasked – Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

  1. good stuff. I’m actually walking out of legalism right now. I grew up in a legalistic church…. and read “all” the books from christian culture etc…. I am working on it… with God’s help to be more balanced. Legalism has brought a lot of fear into my life. The legalism I grew up with was outward and inward. Being very aware of what’s going on inside and being my own Holy Spirit. I’m learning what God’s love is about how to live in freedom. It’s a process.

    • Yeah, it’s a tough balance to find, between legalism and licentiousness. The more extravagant stuff is easy to steer clear of, but checking our motives is another animal entirely. I’m incredibly grateful that you have come to see and are coming to see God’s grace and love and being freed from the hindrances of legalism.

      Thanks for sharing part of your story here.

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