This post is part 31 (the final segment) 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
Part 28: My motivation: “chosen, holy, and dearly loved”
Part 29: what grace is not: the pendulum and sinning “that grace may abound”
Part 30: From legalism into grace: one man’s story
I’ve spent the last 30 posts, the span of the last 2+ months of my life sharing with you my view of legalism and how I believe it is a harmful, detrimental system to Christian growth in grace – and how it hurt me personally.
I stand by everything that I’ve said.
But I’d like to take this final post of the series to share a different perspective on my past, one which I hope will leave you all with a full, balanced picture of my story, rather than just an ugly snapshot clouded by my emotional hurts.
I am thankful for legalism. I am thankful for my Godly heritage, the countless prayers whispered from lips of kneeling parents and grandparents over my life. I’m thankful for a Christian educational system that we are blessed to have here in America, both on the grade school and college levels. I’m thankful for the thousands of dollars that my parents poured into my life for that Christian education. I’m thankful that I grew up in a Christian home where we went to church regularly.
I’m thankful for all the rules that I followed – both those that were placed on me by others and those that I imposed upon myself. I’m thankful for the standards and the separation. I’m thankful for the blessings of legalism.
1) Legalism protected me a life of sinful living and the hurts (consequences) from that sin:
I’ve never been drunk or high, or smoked a cigarette. I’ve never had a hangover. I’ve never been exposed to hard-core nudity or pornography and had to deal with images that are impossible to erase from my mind. I’ve never had sex with anyone (or even kissed anyone) other than husband. Physically, my body bares no scars of sin (other than that of stitches on my finger from an accident caused by girlhood disobedience).
I don’t share these things to put myself on a pedestal above anyone who has experienced these things. There is grace to overcome ANY sin you have experienced. I share these things to say that I’m thankful for the strict system in which I was raised, because without it, I don’t know where I would be today. If I had to choose between a legalistic upbringing or an upbringing where anything goes and sinful living was the norm, I would choose legalism.
2) Legalism gave me a foundation built on God’s Word above all else.
While I wish I hadn’t focused on things like scripture memorization or “having my devotions” as boxes to check to earn God’s favor, I can’t negate the fact that all of those things etched God’s word deep into my brain, heart, mind, and soul. It is with me always. There’s a reason that one of my friends calls me her “rolodex of Scripture” and others (even my husband) turn to me to help them find verses in the Bible.
I know God’s word. And I owe that to Christian education, Christian camp, all of the Christian clubs I went through at church, and all of the Scripture memory programs I obsessed over. Was I misguided in my motivation? Yes. But I was still blessed with the gift of God’s Word – that liveth and abideth forever.
“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:10-13)
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:23)
My friend and mentor, Jill, so kindly and lovingly brought some of these things to my attention a few weeks ago, and drew some amazing parallels between legalism, grace, the word of God, and gardening:
…the Word…was deposited in you….richly! All that studying, all that memorizing….and maybe motivated by misunderstanding….but the Word, nonetheless. The SEED is incorruptible! Period. It is the soil of our heart that determines it’s activation, whether it grows 30, 60 or 100 fold. Once your soil was balanced with “understanding”, or maybe “revelation” of Grace, that Word which was in you….immediately ACTIVATED, and shot up like a mighty TREE!!!! It is thrilling! And God will bless many by the branches he has grown in you by HIS word!
It is grace which fertilizes the soil. Law is a pesticide…which eventually contaminates the soil, yielding poisoned fruit. Pesticide, while yielding larger crops, is still contaminated.
…the seed of the Word is GOOD!!!! And their prayers for you….were/are GOOD! In fact, it is likely the place that you live in now, full of grace and revelation, is a result of their prayers.
You have to prune the unproductive branches before the plant can grow.
I’d like to add this: There’s a “keeping power” in the law. The reason the law was given, was to keep the seed alive long enough for the promise to be born. The law did that. If the penalty of sin is death, God had to find a way to satisfy justice in order that the second Adam, Jesus, could be born as a man, through the lineage of Abraham by faith (as promised). Israel would have died in her sin. Which brings me to this:
Sin kills…it brings the curse. If legalism kept you and yours from some sins being rooted into your life and the lives of your children, then that is worth acknowledging. Just like the pesticide, keeps the pests from killing the crops…..yet brings with it a contamination….
Jesus can “cleanse” that which contaminates.
Think of all the sickness and disease of the mind that the “keeping power of the law” shielded you and now Ezra from. And then came the promise of grace! HALLELUJAH!!!!! Worth it.
She is so right and stated it all so beautifully. While recognizing the damaging aspects of legalism has been a necessary “pruning” (if you will) part of my Christian growth and I have found it necessary to remove myself from a legalistic environment so that I could find spiritual freedom, it is just as necessary to recognize the value in an upbringing that kept me rooted in God’s Word and sheltered from sin.
Becoming bitter against people or situations from my past is just as much of a contaminant to my spiritual growth as would be the harsh legalism that was imposed upon me. True freedom has come through acceptance of what I’ve been through (and this series has been a big thing that has helped me do that), the ability to see it as it is – the good and the bad – to embrace the good, leave behind the bad, and move on with my life the best that I know how before God. True freedom comes through forgiveness – forgiving myself and forgiving others – even when it’s hard.
For me, the restrictive cocoon of legalism was a necessary part of my life. It couldn’t make me fly, but there would be no butterfly without it. Legalism offered me the protection I needed to transform into what I am today in a safe environment. It was a gift.
Even in the legalism, there was love. Even in the wilderness, there was grace. Even in the tears there was blessing and healing. God was always there, loving me, drawing me in.
“Thus saith the Lord, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness…
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jeremiah 31:2-3)
“The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” ~Ralph Blum
“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
I’m thankful for my past – the good and the bad. I’ve accepted it for what it is. But now I’m moving on. Will you join me?