Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Lie of Legalism

James and Ellie Carr
This is more of a personal post about something I (Ellie) have been convicted about lately.  The lie of legalism an issue that I have battled for years, worse at some times than others.  I can confess that lately it has been a real struggle for me, but the Holy Spirit has been convicting me of it over the past week again.  I say all of that as a disclaimer that I am not trying to convict anyone else of their sin, but rather put my own experiences out in the open for others to learn from and to help me recognize and flee from my own sin.

Right now in the children's home our family serves at, I am discipling one of the seventeen-year-old girls here in a one-on-one study on the fundamentals of Christianity.  Last weekend, we focused on the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the life of a Christian and the difference in legalistic obedience and obedience that flows from the Spirit.  Over the week that followed, the lesson I had just walked through with the girl I disciple kept resurfacing in my mind piece-by-piece becoming clearer and undeniably speaking into my own life.

I have always been a rule follower.  It's just who I am.  I often feel that if I follow the rules and do everything right, things will go well for me.  For example, I figured out early in life that if I stay out of trouble, do the best I can in school, and go to college then I will be able to get a decent paying job and be financially stable.  And it worked.  My husband, who was a firefighter, and I, a practicing nurse, owned a house and were making six figures only two years after I graduated from college.  That was not the plan God had for the rest of our lives, however.

Although we were succeeding according to the standards of the world, we were still falling short according to God's standards.  I often found myself trying to earn God's love by being a rule follower, but instead of feeling loved, I just began to feel bitter.  I would look at others around me who weren't as obedient or hadn't "played by the rules" in life but were still successful.  I would wonder why God allowed things to go well for them when I clearly did things the "right" way  (I am ashamed to even admit that for others to read).

What I am reminded of, however, is that even my best isn't good enough for God (Isaiah 64:6).  When I compare myself to others I am using a relative and skewed standard upon which to base my own legalism.  Furthermore, comparing my life to the lives of others only results in mixed feelings of pridefulness and bitterness, neither of which were healthy for my own heart.  The truth is that we are all equal in that we all come up short of pleasing God no matter how good we think we may be at following the rules (Romas 3:23).  The law wasn't designed for me to compete with others and "get ahead" in life.  It wasn't designed for me to build myself up, but rather to humble me in comparison with the perfect and holy God that I serve.

So what can I do then, when my best isn't good enough?

The Bible commands us in Ephesians to "be filled with the Holy Spirit" (5:18).  Notice that that is passive.  It isn't something that I do or earn.  The only way I can grow close to God is by discarding my own pride and letting Him fill me.  Only when His Spirit is in me can I experience His love- not by what I do for Him, but by what He has already done for me on the cross and continues to do in my heart through the Holy Spirit.  It is only through Him that I can learn to be happy or rejoice when things go well for others.  It is then, that both the focus and the burden is taken off of me.  My life no longer is about me, but rather, is about Him.

I am still learning to walk in this truth daily, and I still mess up.  Frequently.  But in writing this I am trying to confess my weakness, be held accountable for it now, and allow God to meet me where I am to change my heart.  I believe He is faithful to do so.

Romans 7:22-25
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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