A couple of years ago I poured out my heart to my counselor telling him all I’d been through as far as hard times in my life and about my present issues.
Then he asked a challenging question.
“Are you a better person now than before these latest trials started?”
I thought for a moment and then realized I liked the present me much more than the old me. My husband and children had expressed the same thing. One reason was that through my difficulties God had delivered me from legalism.
Legalism had deceived me into spending time trying to follow religious rules rather than focusing on loving others as Christ would. I came across as a constant rule-maker. It’s not that guidelines were bad, but I went overboard and presented them in obsessive ways.
Although God may not have called me a Pharisee, I saw how I slipped often into behaviors and attitudes they had. I wanted to be holy, perfect, righteous, but by embracing the Pharisees’ ways to reach those goals, I displeased God, distanced myself from Him, and alienated people.
With legalism I took whatever pieces of the Bible I deemed important and based my being right and others being wrong just on those issues.
Areas of legalism I wrestled with were the matter of tattoos and piercings, manner of dress, length and style of hair, what music was listened to, what TV shows and movies were watched, foods or amounts of food eaten… and the list went on.
Just this past Sunday I slipped back into having a legalistic attitude. My husband usually drops my granddaughter off at her Sunday School class, and I retrieve her. When I picked her up, I noticed she had brought a “my littlest pet shop” coloring book to Sunday School. I reprimanded her and told her she should have brought her Bible.
It wasn’t that my comment was wrong, but my attitude was. I insinuated that following the rule of carrying a Bible to church made her a better person.
As we discussed the coloring book, she showed me a thank you note she had colored and cut out for a friend while in Sunday School class. The child didn’t happen to be there that day. On it Destiny had written a loving note.
I realized I was like the Pharisees who had accused Jesus when he healed someone on the Sabbath. (See Luke 13:14) The problem was I wasn’t looking at my granddaughter’s heart—just an action, which I judged. She brought the coloring book out of love for another person.
I thanked God He quickly made me aware of sliding back into that negative way of reacting to others. I also thanked him for showing me how far I’d come.
After I got home, I read Matthew 23 where God describes the Pharisees and says repeated to them “Woe to you.” There He showed me once again the danger of being dedicated to the letter rather than the spirit of the law:
But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. verse 23
Another book besides the Bible that has helped set me free from legalism is a book a faithful friend urged me to read: 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me) Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer.
In the introduction, the author writes: “This is the gospel for those courageous enough to tear off their masks of adequacy and self-righteousness and get on with a life of gratitude and love for others.”
When I first read this book, I mourned over how I had hurt others and the Lord by clinging to rules and judging people rather than clinging to God and letting the Holy Spirit guide me. The good news is God didn’t condemn me for being deceived but was delighted I had finally seen the truth.
I’m praying for grace to continue to live in that truth.
How about you? Do you battle legalism? Take the issue to the Lord and let Him show you how to live in grace and freedom.