He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. - Psalm 147:3

One of my biggest fears as I write this series is that I will fall into pride and arrogance. I want to acknowledge now that there are a good many Christians who have strong rules and standards who are on their way to heaven. I myself have standards God has given me that are a result of obeying and listening to him, rather than legalistic beliefs.

I realize that there is also a flip-side to this that needs to be addressed: lawlessness. It is being so used to grace that you begin to abuse it and think you can sin freely and still please God.

God desires the inward person, the person of the heart.

But I believe God has called me to address the issue of legalism because I have seen it so close-up and because there are real dangers to it.

  1. We can believe that what we do and don’t do is what will get us into heaven.
  2. If we make the rules so impossible to follow, seekers will stumble over them and be afraid to even seek salvation because of all the man-made obstacles.
  3. God desires the inward person, the person of the heart. He longs to go deep and heal us on the inside, rather than simply making us look a certain way on the outside, which is what legalism tends to focus on.

Another church experience I had years ago was overhearing a young woman being counseled at the altar by a well meaning soul. The well-meaning soul asked the young woman what Jesus had done for her. The young woman replied, “he helped me forgive (person who had wounded her very badly)” The well meaning soul was not satisfied with that answer and pressed on, “but did he save you?” My heart hurt because I knew the well-meaning soul just wanted the young woman to do and say the right things instead of being healed on the inside.

I’m so thankful that God is faithful to reveal himself even in the midst of legalistic teachings.

For me, this illustration speaks to what is so wrong about legalism. We can think that someone is holy when they do exactly what we think they should, instead of trusting God to work in their heart. Everyone is different, and has different needs and struggles. This young woman needed guidance in forgiving a wrong done to her, not a list of rules. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, because he knows what our hearts need and what it will take to truly change and honor him.

I’m so thankful that God is faithful to reveal himself even in the midst of legalistic teachings. I’m thankful that when we confess our sin, he forgives. I’m thankful that he is the one who knows our hearts. When we remember that he is the one who changes us, not our works, we learn what it means to truly abide in him and follow him.

I love the song “Holy Water” by We the Kingdom because it points out that God’s generous grace is what truly makes us want to change.

What God the Father gives – Jesus, Holy Spirit, grace – are enough for us to make heaven. Because we don’t make the way. He does.

Have you struggled with legalism in your life? If so, here is an example of some prayer guidelines.

  1. Search your heart. Tell God you love him and want to follow him from the inside out.
  2. Confess any time you have depended on outward acts instead of his Spirit.
  3. Let God guide you through his Word. It is a daily process.

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