Okay okay, I’ll fess up. Maybe that was clickbait.
But I know someone out there will probably read this and think, “man, she’s got to give this a rest.”
I really wanted to be done talking about legalism.
Thing is – legalism isn’t done with me. It runs deep. In the past, I’ve written posts like The Postpartum Legalist to share how anxiety revealed my faulty view of God and my legalism. I believed I was on the other side of the legalistic mentality. Those posts reveal a necessary turning point, but the healing continues.
After my own personal criticism of the name, I guess you could call me the “dreaded” recovering fundamentalist. (I was over it, remember?)
Legalism affects the wife, mother, and servant of Christ that I am. It is part of my story. Healing and growing in Christ is part of my sanctification. This is the journey I’m on.
I’m not done talking about it.
Going deeper than ever before with this, I went all the way back to the early days following my conversion. I asked myself this question, probably for the first time ever:
What if so much of what you believed protected you from worldliness and sin was the very thing infected you? What if the leaven that leaveneth the whole lump was zero discipleship, topical sermons, and a false doctrine of sanctification by works?
I opened my journal last night; the one I wrote in the year I got saved. In fact, the very first entry was from the night I accepted Christ. I had bought the journal to start the new year fresh, to “be” a better Christian. (Note: I came from a baptismal regeneration + just decide to follow Jesus belief.) The Lord rocked my world and with such conviction, I realized I had never truly asked Him to save me. I hadn’t ever turned from my self righteousness and unto His perfected work on the cross.
Guys, it was beautiful. The early entries are just beautiful. Sure, I didn’t understand everything, but I was so grateful to have been set free from perfection and trying to earn Heaven on my own. In one entry, I compared my life prior to being born again to that of Buddhists – all good works and good ideas, but false religion.
It was glorious.
It wasn’t long, however, before I began to see a pattern. I was constantly questioning whether or not I was truly saved because of feelings. I freaked when I couldn’t feel God. And I took a lot of sincere, convicted notes from sermons and Sunday school lessons like these –
“Are You A Spiritual Baby?” – a message loaded with insults toward people who complain and want to be the center of attention. The term “spiritual baby” was thrown around as an insult for people who couldn’t fall in line. If you’ve got a problem, suck it up and get over it. Grow up!
“Sticking to The Old Paths” – Jeremiah 6:16. Modern versions draw crowds, Christian rock aint Christian, “if it’s new it ain’t true”, obey your pastor even when he ain’t looking, rules you don’t like are there to protect you
“Worldliness and Godliness” – Sanctification is defined as set apart for God’s service. You get sanctified by throwing out music and movies that you shouldn’t have in your life. You get sanctified by doing and being.
Oh, but the messages written down in journals have nothing on the ones written in my heart. Every time I or my husband was passive aggressively called out from the pulpit, being told God would get his money somehow if we didn’t tithe, holes being poked into my salvation, every bad thing was a consequence for my sin, I’m probably not saved if I can’t understand the KJV, I have to try harder, I need to push harder, I’m not surrendered enough, I need to throw something else out of my life, I’m the reason someone doesn’t get saved …
As I continued to read these notes and my heartfelt prayers in response, my heart broke. I truly desired to do what God wanted in my life, to see Him transform me. Sadly, I was handed a cheap imitation of sanctification. I was handed a lazy approach to discipleship. I was given feelings from an emotional song rather than a true understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and true revival.
I was given legalism – doing the work only God can do through the works of the flesh.
I have often carried the blame, despising myself for getting caught up in something so disgusting in the sight of God. But I have to remember how I was exposed to this in my spiritual infancy. I truly knew no better and wholly believed the independent fundamental baptist church (as I knew it) was the only true church. Sure, nondenominational folk and Southern Baptists might be saved. They just weren’t right. (They also needed to be marked, feared, and avoided.)
I wanted to please God. I believed every word from my mature pastor and teachers. I trusted their advice and wisdom. I believed they had special insight into the mind of God. I believed questioning that was dangerous, as we should never touch God’s anointed.
Looking back, I grieve.
I grieve the time I lost. I grieve the works that will be burned at the judgment seat – each time I served to be seen, obeyed to be praised of men, got puffed up in my obedience, treated people poorly because of our differences. Even recently, because, guys, this stuff springs up from the sinful pride in our flesh.
Sure, I regret the mistakes of my lost teenage years. But I was dead in sin then. I knew no better.
However, here I was playing piano, playing the preacher’s wife, playing the perfect Christian in the name of Jesus. I wasn’t doing it for Jesus. I was doing it for me, for them. To elevate myself above anyone who didn’t behave just like me.
To me, my offering of my goodness to Christ is even more offensive than my promiscuous teen years.
Can you imagine? I’ve been saved 11 years and this is what I look back to. So many decisions were made based on gut feelings and not backing from the Word. Other decisions were made with the pastor and other friends in mind.
I’ve questioned so many times if my conversion was even real. But I know I never trusted in those works to save me. I knew that was impossible. I knew Jesus was the only way. Before I could have even understood legalism, I knew I was a lost sinner and unable to earn salvation in my own righteousness. I knew that much.
Sadly, I did trust that standards + extra Biblical laws would make me more surrendered, Spirit filled, sanctified, holy, and mature.
That was all I knew. It often conflicted with my spirit, as I never could seem to gain any traction in spiritual growth or overcome doubt. I believe I knew something wasn’t right, but everyone told me I was growing and becoming more committed to God. The gratification from pats on the back was addicting. Anything or anyone that contradicted the narrative was to be feared. But I could tow the line. (Or at least I gave it my best.) I just kept trucking along, not becoming “weary in well doing”, and “faking it til I made it.”
Someone will read this and say I’m bitter toward former pastors or poor leaders. No. I’m really not. I’m simply broken for the girl who Jesus gloriously saved from perfectionism and then was led back into it.
And yes, I am angry/sad there are still pastors out there today who do this to sincere and willing baby Christians. Paul was pretty angry with the Judaizers of his day who did the same. He wrote that they would bear judgment, as well as wishing they’d be cut off. I first read that as him saying they need to get lost. Further study will reveal he meant to be physically “cut off.” Ahem, emasculated.
When I read that chapter in Galatians, I felt as though I had my big brother, the Apostle Paul, just hugging me and saying, “I’m sorry this happened.”
But I’m not bitter. I’m broken for those still in it. I’m broken for those who feel trapped. I’m broken for the girl I once was. I’m broken for each person I hurt. I’m broken for the time lost.
And now I look to Christ, abandoning my self effort and every work I believed was doing Him a favor. I look to His holiness and righteousness. I pray that He grows me from the inside out, not by my own works, but by His sanctifying work.
In this messy process, I unlearn the insanity and pursue the Truth. I unleash myself of the pride that says I have experience or I’ve been at this a while. (Sadly, so much of that “experience” was just – wrong. And I have to accept that.) I understand my pride and selfishness is the root of why legalism is so appealing. It can still be an issue today if I don’t keep it in check.
I pray God gets the glory. I pray I am truly hidden behind the cross and that He is magnified through every broken piece, even the very experiences which alienated me from Him. I pray that the legalistic mentality that I still carry (more on that another day) will be something that repulses me more as I draw closer to Christ.
I pray that perhaps I can be the voice to someone that I needed to hear years ago.
You know who you are – sitting in the pew and thinking, “either this isn’t right or something is really wrong with me.”
If you’re that person, I see you. God sees you. You’re not alone.
And even though they say legalism isn’t real, it is. It’s okay to talk about it as long as you need to.
I’ll continue to for as long as I need to. ❤️