January 20, 2011

Legalism Rules

The height of my struggle with legalism occurred when Kyle became a minister. I felt an overwhelming pressure to be a "good" minister's wife, the criteria for which I found by comparing myself to other ministry wives. I never felt good enough, especially in God's eyes, so I lived with guilt and condemnation. Because I could never be a good enough Christian, it caused me to hide my vulnerabilities from others. I also didn't want to go to God because I knew He would just tell me more I needed to do or what I was doing wrong.

In my previous post, I shared my belief that legalism is a prevalent problem for many Christians. I think most people think of legalism as its attached to a church, but I think legalism is more of a problem for individuals who live as if they are unloved by God.

As I illustrated above, my problem with legalism was within my heart. I believed, thought, felt, and lived as if God was disappointed in me. It was a matter of wrong beliefs that then infiltrated my actions, behavior, and relationships.

Legalism--the idea that I can earn God's approval through good works-- is death to a person's spirit. Its ever-growing rules and standards speak failure and condemnation, creating insecurity, hypocrisy, pride and anxiety.

J. Stowell says there are 10 tragic flaws to legalism, all of which I experienced:

1.     New laws conintually need to be invented for new situations.
2.     Accountability to God is replaced by accountability to men.
3.     It reduces a person’s ability to personally discern.
4.     It creates a judgmental spirit.
5.     It confuses personal preferences with the divine will of God.
6.     It produces inconsistencies.
7.     It creates a false standard of righteousness.
8.     It becomes a burden.
9.     It is strictly external, never internal.
10.  It was and is rejected by Christ.

Legalism moves from an individual into a church. Others feel they must fit into the mold, they must hide their sin rather than receiving help, and they must do and say the "right" things. Judgments are made, grace dies, and comparison flourishes. Most don't feel good enough. Some, in their pride, make the judgements so they feel more than good enough and not in need of grace.

If we dabble in legalism, we look and appear spiritual (Col 2:20-23), but we have completely negated the work of Christ on the cross. We are estranged from Him. The Spirit is replaced by rigid religious rules.


And many people-- inside and outside the church--think this is Christianity. In fact, it is the first step in understanding the true gospel. Our failures in being a good Christian reveal our need for help and leads us to the grace of Christ. We can't live the Christian life. Period. But Christ lived it perfectly and wants to live it for us.

Life. Freedom. Reconciliation. Relationship rather than rules.

The true gospel is 2 Corinthians 5:21: "He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God." The true gospel says that, if you are in Christ, you are righteous, blameless, and holy. When God looks at you, He sees Christ. God is for you.

Read the next post here.