This post is part 28 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can read prior posts to this series here:
Introduction: some self-observations about legalism
Part 1: what is “legalism”?
Part 2: standing under the broken heart
Part 3: hiding in shame, packing up my dreams
Part 4: when you “trust and obey” but your heart still gets broken
Part 5: when you’ve been hurt by legalism, hold onto faith
Part 6: What do Brad Pitt, Josh Groban, and Sleepless in Seattle have in common?
Part 7: perfection is not possible
Part 8: finding healing and freedom in secular music
Part 9: “I will keep believing that God still has a plan”
Part 10: Plan A, 2.0
Part 11: Modesty: a picture of grace
Part 12: Disconnect: when God just doesn’t seem relevant
Part 13: Roses in the dumpster: seeing God in everyday life
Part 14: Cheating on my church
Part 15: Can you hear Jesus calling?
Part 16: Checklists, control, and motherhood
Part 17: forget where you “should be” and “give God your ugly”
Part 18: When your church isn’t meeting your needs
Part 19: on being “in your place” in church
Part 20: when your spiritual journey doesn’t look like his
Part 21: “Well…it feels comfortable…”
Part 22: There are no “entry level positions” with God
Part 23: “Sitting on the premises” – sometimes, it’s okay not to serve
Part 24: The real me
Part 25: “You are God, You are God, Of all else I’m letting go!”
Part 26: Leave it all behind…
Part 27: Accepting grace
Accepting grace changed my life.
But from external appearances, I don’t look or act all that different.
I still go to church weekly, if not several times a week. Our new church is still independent Baptist in denomination, but does not claim the title of “fundamental” because of its legalistic connotations. I’m actively pursuing ways in which I can get involved in our church. I still don’t drink alcohol in any form and try to guard what I watch on TV. Nowadays my radio is set to the contemporary Christian stations and I can’t remember the last time I listened to country or Josh Groban. Nor can I tell you what movies Brad Pitt has starred in recently, sorry. While pants have made their way back into my wardrobe, you will more often than not see me in a skirt (at least in the summer). I’m raising my son to pray before meals and bedtime, and he already knows about Jesus, God, sin and who made “da erf.” Most of my friends are Christians, and I make attempts to keep God in my life, through reading books, blogs, and the (yes, still the King James) Bible (though probably too much of the former, not enough of the latter, just sayin…). And I haven’t gone out and gotten any tattoos.
I say all this for two reasons.
1) To rest people’s mind’s at ease lest they think I’ve gone “off the deep end” and thrown out Christianity, “standards,” “holiness,” or the Bible completely (because I know there have been some people who have been a bit shocked by this series).
2) Because I want to make a point that leaving behind legalism is not about throwing out the Bible.
The difference between grace-filled me and former legalistic-me has very very little to do with what I do or don’t do – what I abstain from and what I participate in.
But it has everything to do with my motivation.
Before I accepted grace, my motivation to good works and “holy living” was complex, consisting of many factors:
- The fear of men (not wanting to displease people)
- Addiction to the praise of men (wanting to please people)
- The expectations of others (being told what was sin and what was not based on man’s faulty interpretation of the Bible)
- My own perfectionistic tendencies (wanting to be perfect)
- My desire to be in control of my life
- My own guilt and shame (not wanting to feel that way, wanting to be “where I should be”)
- Wanting to please God, and feeling like good works was how that was accomplished
- Fear of God (being afraid that God was unhappy with me)
- The commands of God to “be holy, as I am holy” and “be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”
That list may not be completely exhaustive. But let me tell you, it’s an exhausting way to live.
I was confronted with the faultiness of this motivation in spring 2012 semester of PWOC when I took Kelly Minter’s Bible study called The Fitting Room. Her book is centered around Colossians 3:12
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (NIV)
She spent a significant amount of time in her book talking about the “chosen, holy, and dearly loved” part of the verse, especially in how it relates to Christian living.
Because here’s how a legalist’s mentality translates the verse:
“To be chosen, holy, and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with…”
The cart gets before the horse. The good works try to pull the Christian. And the Christian just gets too tired to keep trying.
Kelly says it this way in a blog post about her book (I would quote directly from the book, but it got passed on when we moved to save on space):
Though I grew up in a Christian home and had accumulated a lot of knowledge about these Christ-like characteristics, I realized my approach to them was backwards. That I had tried to pick the virtues-lock without the primary key Paul reveals to us in Colossians: That we are chosen, made holy and dearly loved.
Without understanding these truths in the deepest places of our hearts the virtues can quickly become a maddening endeavor of dress-up.
This is not a book about what you need to do more of or try harder at. Instead, it is meant to be a freeing exploration into how we can wear the virtues in a way that doesn’t stem from legalism or behavior management, but from the indwelling Christ. My greatest hope is that you will turn the last page believing how chosen, set apart and dearly loved you are by Jesus.
I think that it took the whole semester, til that last turn of the page, before I could really take in this concept. Literally, I struggled to wrap my head around it:
That I am chosen, holy, and dearly loved – regardless of my actions.
That my actions don’t make me that holy – I already AM holy.
This? This is grace. God’s unmerited, unearned favor.
When you really take hold of this, it changes everything. When you start seeing yourself not as a failure, not as a woman struggling to be “good enough” or measure up – but as a woman who is chosen, holy, and dearly loved – it makes it so much easier to look at the Bible with balance.
When you realize that the only goodness you have is because of God’s grace – his righteousness within you – it takes the burdens off and gives you the motivation to say, “God, you have done so much for me – what can I give back to you? I’ll do anything.”
Realizing you are chosen, holy, and dearly loved makes it easy to want to go to church. It makes it easier to pick up the Bible without hearing the voices shaming you for not picking it up earlier in the day, the week, or the month. It makes it easy to turn the country station off when the “drinkin songs” come on because you’d much rather hear “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul” any day of the week. It makes it easy to teach your child about prayer because you want to thank Jesus for His grace as much as you can.
Realizing you are chosen, holy, and dearly loved makes those verses that used to make you feel like a horrible person seem more like gentle, loving nudges in a better direction. And even when they sting because you don’t want to be that better person, you can smile and fall back onto the loving, accepting arms of Jesus because you know you are already chosen, holy, and dearly loved in his sight, regardless.
Realizing you are chosen, holy, and dearly loved makes you want to sing about Jesus, talk about Jesus, and blog about Jesus.
Realizing you are chosen, holy, and dearly loved makes you to be loving to other people. Because that love that you feel starts overflowing out of you and it has to find somewhere to go.
Realizing you are chosen, holy, and dearly loved makes you it easier to brush off criticism, judgment, and the harsh words of others, because you know that he sees something in you that they are just missing.
Realizing you are chosen, holy, and dearly loved makes you see that even your best doesn’t come close to being a big enough “thank you” for Jesus. But you just say “thank you, Jesus, for your love and grace” and keep giving him your life day in and day out, because you are motivated by him.
All I can do is thank You
For this life I never deserved
Wanna thank You for the grace
I know I don’t have to earn
You love me, You love me
Your mercy is proof
All I can do is say thank You
Let me say it one more time: letting go of legalism isn’t about throwing out the guidelines that the Bible gives us for Christian living. It’s about realizing who God is, believing and resting in what he has done for you and who you are in Christ. It’s about good works and obedience to God being an outpouring of the Spirit of God, the righteousness of God, that was given to you at the moment of salvation – rather than a fleshly means to earning God’s favor all on your own.
The good works are still there. But the motivation is completely different.
What’s your motivation? Are you motivated to love and good works because of the rules of men? Wanting to please people, or fear of disappointing others? Or are you motivated by the love and grace of God, resting in the fact that you have been declared righteous and are holy, chosen, and dearly loved?