He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7
“Wearing bows in your hair is a sin. It’s prideful.”
“I can’t socialize with you if you believe in playing card games. Not even Uno.”
“You shouldn’t have a Christmas tree. That’s idol worship.”
I grew up in a very strict environment. “Making it to heaven” is a phrase I heard so often growing up.
These are just a few of the extreme beliefs I was exposed to in my late teens. My parents and I never ascribed to these particular rules, thank goodness. But I did grow up in a very strict environment. No TV, no jewelry, no competitive sports. Women wear dresses at all times and don’t cut their hair. It was the only way I knew to follow for a long time, and I believed as I was taught: that people who believed like this were the only true Christians, the only ones who would make it to heaven.
“Making it to heaven,” that’s a phrase I heard so often growing up: in church, Sunday School, and the Christian school I went to. “Making it to heaven must be so hard,” I thought. There were all these things you had to do and other things you couldn’t do; and even if you did and didn’t do all the right things, you would still, hopefully, barely make it.
As someone who deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder to this day, I was one of the kids who was serious about obeying all the rules, and when I broke one, I was very distressed about it.
Miraculously, I did meet the real Jesus when I was thirteen years old. I kept following all the rules because that’s what I knew, but salvation became a reality, and I knew that I was going to heaven, not because of what I did or didn’t do, but because of what he did and does in me.
It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I found myself in a very different environment, that I was able to start making my way out of these legalistic beliefs and practices. In doing so, I discovered who God really is. I discovered that it’s not about “making it to heaven.” There’s no way on earth I can earn that. Only Jesus can. It’s all about him.
I often see Christian leaders who ascribe to legalism posting about it on social media. One posted a quote that a person is more likely to get struck by lightning than fall into legalism. I laughed at that thought. If that is true, I must be burned to a crisp by lighting. But thanks to grace, I’ve survived.