Day 11: Lure of Legalism

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

As I think back to my early days of Christianity, I was just a young teenager transitioning from middle school to high school.

I did thinks like stop listening to shady New Kids on the Block, took all Joey McIntyre’s pictures off my wall, and I start listening to K-LOV.  I bought Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and David Meece cassette tapes.

I wanted to look, sound, talk, and walk Christian in my school.

I began to judge every single thing I was exposed to.  Was this movie ok to watch?  Was this tv show clean enough?  What is clean enough?

This was a drastic change, especially since I had grown up in a non-Christian home and my dad was still not a Christian.  I had not only watched Poltergeist as a kindergardener (I’m sure my mom loves that I keep bringing that up), but I attended a sleepover in elementary school where we marathoned the Poltergeist series, once they had made a few of those silly movies.

This shift in behavior and media consumption makes sense, and it is probably very common among teen converts.  I don’t even think this shift was wrong.  I was trying to be more like Christ, and I know it was good for me to have positive influences on that stage of my life as a baby Christian.

What was wrong was the attitude of legalism that develops after behavior becomes such a big value.

Legalism feels good.

It feels right.

It feels true.

The reason it feels good, right, and true is because living a morally good life, you are basing your decisions on the truth of the Word of God.  You’re right there in the truth, snuggled up and feeling right with God.

We are called to live in this truth.  The problem comes when we make enemies of the world, withdrawn from it.  The world is bad, wrong, and false, and I’ll just be over here being good, right, and true.

I know this is a big idea, and it is an aside of this topic I’m covering today and the topic I am covering as a whole.  Let me just say that I believe we are called to go into all the world and proclaim Christ, and we cannot do that if we are afraid to be around non-Christians or afraid to influence the culture we live in.

Being drawn into legalism is like quicksand, slowly debilitating and hard to get out of.  We begin by just judging the world, but we don’t stop there.  We start judging each other.  “Is she acting Christ-like?”  “Is he doing that?  What about his witness?”

I know I had those thoughts.  I know I still have those thoughts.  I still get drawn into that judgy place all the time.  It just feels so safe, good, right, and true in my judgy little den, and being in the world feels so bare, raw, and exposed.

Yesterday I shared how I assumed people with big mistake testimonies had more love for Christ.  Today I want to tell you another myth I had about Christians with big mistake testimonies.  I believed they didn’t have the lure to legalism that I had.

A few months ago I read a memoir by the Christian rapper Lacrae called Unashamed.  (If you haven’t read it, why are you reading my silly blog?  Stop reading, and read his words.)

In his book, I was surprised to learn that he had a period where he got caught up in legalism after converting to Christianity in college.  Here was this guy who had a sin-rap-sheet that makes me blush, and Jesus had forgiven it all.  He was thankful, but he wrote in his book about how he gravitated to extreme good behavior and pride over his extreme good behavior.  He broke every cd he owned and made a tower out of the broken cases in his dorm room.  The tower became something he had pride over.  He bragged about how Christian he was, when friends came to his dorm room.

I was flabbergasted.  I thought that only happened to good girls like me.

I was wrong.

Legalism can happen to anyone, and it is a struggle we will fight our whole lives.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
— Galatians 5:13-15 ESV
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
— Romans 14:1-3 ESV

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