Legalism vs. Love

My small group spent the last few months going over a series of books that we have, for the most part, found to be agonizing. But somewhere in the midst of the supposedly interesting stories that don’t aid the message, the corny jokes that should never have been told, and the plethora of statements I downright disagree with, my community found a way to thrive.

Oftentimes the books you agree with aren’t the ones that help you grow. So in the midst of all our frustrations, we created some really deep and meaningful conversations. (Also, we laughed a lot at this author’s expense.)

In this our final chapter (cue the Hallelujah Chorus), the author complains that many people seem to think that godly habits are legalistic—nothing more than rules, rules, rules. He goes on to ask why people training for marathons aren’t considered legalistic. Why aren’t people who do their homework legalistic? Why aren’t people who brush their teeth multiple times a day to prevent cavities legalistic?

Why, he asks, is it only legalistic when someone practices godly habits out of a desire to grow spiritually?

Um, Mr. Author Dude… You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Legalistic: strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.

In Theology:
a. the doctrine that salvation is through good works
b. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws

Rebekah’s Conclusion: People who practice godly habits out of a desire to grow spiritually are not legalistic; they are genuine.

Legalistic are the people who practice godly habits because it’s what they do. Because they feel like they have to. Legalistic are the people whose religion is rules. Legalistic are the people who haven’t encountered Jesus. Why else would they be living like the Pharisees He rebuked?

Disclaimer: I understood the point the author was actually trying to make. I understand the value of spiritual disciplines. More often than not I open my Bible out of habit rather than desire. I’m really good at doing things because I feel like I should.

I’m a writer, okay? I realize that inspiration isn’t something that will be faithful to me on the daily. Oftentimes it’s something I have to make room for. So like everyone else waiting to hear from God, I crack open the cover of that book and read, hoping that some verse, somewhere, will jump out at me—my little nugget of truth from heaven today.

Does that make me legalistic? I should hope not.

Because, for me, spiritual discipline is not a checklist of things I have to do to make me holier than thou; it’s a habit I cultivate out of a desire to know God better. Essentially, I do it for love.

So about a week ago, when a friend asked me if my family was religious, I cringed, hesitant to say yes even though I knew what he meant in asking. My eloquent response looked a little something like this: “Uh… Mmm… Yes?”

And he nodded enthusiastically because, after seven months of navigating this friendship and trying to figure me out, it’s all coming together for him.

He probably thinks I’m legalistic; I’m trying to convince him otherwise without going too far off the deep end.

It’s difficult sometimes to find that balance of following the law to the spirit rather than the letter. Hard to navigate living in a world that counteracts Christian culture while trying to be a likeable witness.

Everyone who knows me thinks I’m a good girl who follows all of the rules. They don’t realize there are only two rules I live by.

Love God.
Love People.

As long as I’m getting those two things right, everything else sort of flows out of that.

It’s not legalism; it’s love.

 

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3 thoughts on “Legalism vs. Love

  1. Love love love love this post!!!! It’s such a fine line!!! I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. Thank you for sharing šŸ™‚

    Kathryn Osborn

    >

  2. Rebekah,

    Thank you so much for this. I am currently on a similar journey, and am trying to figure out how to learn about different viewpoints without feeling like it’s what I HAVE to do in order to love God and serve Him (I think that people can have the same beliefs, but different convictions on how to live out those beliefs). I also struggle with how to answer the “Are you religious?” question in a way that sounds genuine but still points directly to God. It seems like Christianity has become so divided now a days that even using the word “Christian” comes with negative connotations.
    -Alyx

    • It’s funny because the negative connotation that comes with the term “Christian” is the reason I’m hesitant to speak up about my faith. And yet the reason the term “Christian” has a negative connotation is because people like me stay silent and allow the super legalistic/judgmental Christians to become our voice by default. It’s a no-win situation. Interestingly enough, that conversation I was so nervous to traverse into with my friend become the best exchange of thoughts and opinions we’ve ever had. I didn’t judge him; he didn’t judge me. We have a better understanding of each other now. It was beautiful, and freeing, and something I should do a lot more often. Fact: People will accept most anything when it is said or done in love.

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