Sometimes I still struggle with legalism. In college I could definitely be described as a legalistic person, but that was many moons ago. My motives back then were pure (most of the time), but my methods were complete insanity. Don’t speed. Always use the cross walk. Never miss a 7:00 am prayer meeting. Never watch rated R movies. Only listen to Steven Curtis Chapman, Twila Paris, or Maranatha Praise Band cassette tapes. Read the Bible at least 30 minutes a day and pray on my knees in the tightest prayer ball I could physically muster. The grossness of it all is that I could not for the life of me understand why others weren’t pursuing “holiness” with all their might the way I was. I longed for a great spiritual awakening in our country and believed we had to prove to God that we were holy enough, deep enough, spiritual enough, intense enough to desire his Spirit to rip through our country with fire and wake everyone up. Whew. It was such a huge burden for my young 18-20 year old self to bare. But, looking back, at the end of the day even though it was wrought with insanity, I really did desire to please Jesus. I had made so many mistakes. I so desperately wanted to pay for what I had done.
I remember during my Junior year of college driving in my car during a thunder storm and completely losing control of my emotions. Someone had challenged me to look at the depth of my sin (I did that continuously for three years. It was HOR-RI-BLE.) Another person had also challenged me to look at the depth of love Jesus displayed on the cross for all of my mistakes. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that part for awhile. Searching through the depths of my sin with no understanding of the cross was exhausting and full of condemnation. At one point the ‘look at the depth of love Jesus has for you’ part of the assignment returned to my memory. (Thank you, Holy Spirit.) After months of praying for a glimpse of his love, I realized in that moment during the pouring rain that Jesus truly loves me. Almost with the flashes of lightening across the sky that night, I had an epiphany that he knew the depth of my depravity, even deeper than I had contemplated it, yet he loved me and wanted an intimate relationship with me. During that time, the story of the sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair became one of my favorite Bible stories. That night was the first of many, many nights I’ve literally sat at Jesus’ feet washing his feet with my hair in humble gratitude that he has not kept the long list of my wrongs.
I guess I could say that I’m less legalistic than I used to be. For me, the legalism enters my life when I start thinking that I need to be doing more for Jesus in order to gain his approval. As I type, I’m shaking my head at how absurd that really is. His fatherly love is already freely given to me. I so long to honor Jesus with my entire being. I want to run the race, throw off everything that hinders, love him with all my heart. The depths of his grace pushes me to the floor in silence on a regular basis. The thought that I can stand with my head and hands lifted high and sing as loud as I can in honor of him thrills my soul. So, why the legalism? Why do I still struggle with the need to prove to him and others that am a devoted follower?
Maybe it’s the fear of taking his grace for granted. Maybe it’s because his holiness makes me almost nervous to the point I feel I should whisper. Maybe it’s knowing he knows my inmost thoughts and it is embarrassing to think the God of the Universe is listening to my depraved mind. Maybe it’s because I love him so much and a key part of who he made me to be is a humongous desire to please those in my life I love.
Whatever the reason may be, I pray fervently that my motives, your motives in pursuing the God of the universe are ultimately because we love him. I hope that I/we live to honor him. I strongly desire to make daily decisions that draws me closer into his presence, that our worship would be pure and focused on his glory and not our own.
I’ve also been contemplating the opposite of legalism... but that is for another day. :)