Hope for the Legalist
Last time, I wrote about the difference between legalism and discipline. Let me tell you, I did not write that post because I have conquered legalism. I struggle not only to obey God but also to do so with pure motivations. Even in the days after I wrote my last post, I started feeling resentful of people around me. It was ugly and self-righteous and stemmed from legalism.
So I’m a Legalist. Now What?
Maybe your struggle with legalism doesn’t show up as self-righteousness or a holier-than-thou attitude. Perhaps your legalism produces guilt and discouragement or even causes you to completely give up trying to do anything “good” because no matter how hard you try, you feel like you never quite get it right.
Whether your legalism shows up in pride, shame, apathy, or a combination of all three, we should be encouraged when God points it out and causes us to want to change. It is sometimes difficult to embrace conviction as grace, but it truly is a gift when the Holy Spirit reveals our sin in order to draw us closer to Jesus (John 16:7-11). So how do we respond to that conviction?
Repent, Believe, Act
For a long time, I would pretty much just repent when I was convicted. I would tell God I was sorry and ask for forgiveness. I would ask Him to help me change. I had a desire to turn away from sin. All of that is a proper response, and through my repentance, God has worked in my life.
But I was missing the “believe” part. What I mean by “believe” is to search our hearts for what untruths we are believing and replace them with truth. Believing is when we turn away from sin but also turn toward Jesus. It gets to the motivations behind our actions. The chart on my last post is an example of what this change of heart might look like. It takes a lot of prayer, study, and reflection, but it is ultimately quite freeing (John 8:32).
Finally, we are to act. God does call us to actual obedience, not just correct beliefs. We must not wait until we have it all right; we are always going to be learning and growing. Thankfully, we can step out in faith, knowing that God’s grace is sufficient to cover shortcomings in our actions and our hearts.
Truth to Believe
I have been studying the book of Romans for the past few months, and it has been so helpful in identifying the legalism in my heart and replacing it with faith, humility, and discipline. Paul constantly points to Jesus, not our works, as our hope, and explains how faith in Christ is what drives our obedience. I encourage you to read the whole book yourself. One section that has been especially challenging and encouraging to me is in chapter 3:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (vs. 20-22, 28 ESV)
Let’s remember that because of Jesus, we can get rid of our checklists for earning God’s love and acceptance. Because God already loves and accepts us, we seek to serve Him.
See y’all in the Round,