The kind of church and the kind of faith family that I grew up in lent itself to favoring legalism. It was as if we all needed this external measuring stick to really believe we were spiritual and to make ourselves appear pious. It truly was so much about appearances. Whether in words or not, I was constantly taught to look from side to side to determine how I was measuring up. Did I dress more godly than that person? Did I listen to Majesty Music and hymns alone while that person blared country music in her car? Did I mask my sins and put on a good show of being Christian better than they?
And I swallowed it all hook, line, and sinker.
On the outside I did a pretty good job of following most of the rules - spoken and unspoken to me. But I did not follow these rules (some, yes, ridiculous, but some wise) because I loved my Savior, Jesus Christ so much, and the very outflowing of my heart was pure obedience. No, I followed these rules because of fear. I was motivated to obey, not because I loved God so much, but because of fear of what people would think about me if I did not obey. I obeyed in order to be accepted by my church, by my faith family, by my friends, etc.
While a relationship with Jesus Christ was something verbally toted, the actions pointed to something much different - a fleshly works righteousness - religiosity. I knew the Gospel, I believed the Gospel, but I was not living out the Gospel, I was living out a man-made, religion. And as much as I tried, I was never measuring up or living up to the unrealistic expectations.
This truth about religiosity and legalism has been squirming its way into my heart for several years now. My husband and I have had numerous talks about the way we both grew up, and the way that legalism and religiosity breeds a false sense of superiority and spirituality "I am better than you, closer to God, further along in my sanctification, because I avoid this". Religiosity and legalism taught me to affirm things about myself at the expense of others - even brothers and sister in Christ. It is not wrapped in the grace-filled love of Jesus Christ. We have witnessed people and whole families completely destroyed by legalism and religiosity.
Yes, I understood the Gospel, and I accepted it, but I was lied to in some form or another and made to believe that the only way to Jesus was the Gospel PLUS something.
We are determined to teach our children differently - to teach our children to not look for acceptance because they obey the rules, but rather to obey God because HE has accepted them. I want their motivation to obey to come from the overflow of a thankful, grateful heart, not from fear of what people will think. I want them to understand the true Gospel, that they are saved by sheer grace, and that there is no need to look to the left and the right but only up to God.
Our small group has been studying Timothy Keller's Gospel in Life:Grace Changes Everything this trimester. It is opening my eyes in brand new ways. One lesson in particular just knocked me off my feet. It is still swirling in my thoughts. We studied the parable of The Prodigal Son, and for the first time in my entire life I finally understood it. Tim Keller taught me that there are actually three ways to live, where before through my legalistic lenses, I had only seen two - the correct Gospel way to Jesus Christ and rebelling from Jesus. When in all actuality there are two ways we rebel against God (in irreligion & religion) not just the one as I was taught and believed.
The younger brother (the prodigal) in the story obviously rebelled against his father. We all know this, and can easily see it in the story. He lived as he pleased. The younger only wanted his father for what could be given to him. He was outright rebellious.
The older brother in the story, however, also rebelled. I NEVER saw this before. I thought he was a little whiny at the end of the parable over the fact that his brother was getting a party thrown for him, but I never noticed his rebellion or the fact that he was just as far removed from his father as his younger brother had been. The older brother only obeyed to gain something from his father, and to make himself look good. He was entrenched in religiosity. The older brother thought that if he could be so good, so obedient, moral, and religious than the father would have to bless him. He was caught up in legalism. He was lost.
The true gospel is neither of these two things -trying to be our own savior and lord by running off and doing our own thing or by coming to church and praying, and studying the Bible and following all of the rules. The Gospel is the wonderful news that we are already justified by Jesus Christ through grace alone. With legalism and religiosity we will always fall short of God's perfect, holy standards, BUT God, Himself, fulfilled all of those requirements in Jesus Christ! Our legalism and religiosity gets us nowhere. We are saved by grace alone, and then out of the gratefulness of knowing what Jesus did for us flows a daily, life-long obedience. An obedience that has nothing to do with fear of man, with legalism, or with religiosity.
Have you been lied to by religiosity and legalism?
It's time to stop listening to the lies, and living in the fullness of His amazing grace and truth.