I grew up in a small conservative church. For us, there was one definition of disciple: Bible-Learner. So, to be a good disciple we had to study. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). It was one of our first memory verses.
From the first grade, I was convinced that when Jesus returned, the safest place would be in my room studying the Bible.
For most of us, the Bible was a textbook to be studied and quoted, even if it felt like punishment to do so. Before I graduated high school, I could prove where everyone else was wrong about doctrine and details. Truth was, I was an uncertified master of biblical trivia.
I think that’s where I developed my addiction to legalism. At first it was my duty to stay inside the lines, then it became fulfilling to stay inside them. I liked it. The focus was on staying inside the lines. If I ever made a mistake and colored outside the lines, I would wad up the paper and throw it away. If it was inside a book, I would tear it out, wad it up, and through it away. I lived with an emphasis on the lines.
I didn’t know it, but I was a functioning legalistic. I had to have the rules to feel normal, and I lived to stay clear of the appearance of evil. Church attendance was a duty; Wednesday nights were a must. The only good part? My friends were there with me, and we could endure anything together.
During my college years, it happened. Three of us in the restaurant booth were engaged in one of those late night “experimental theology” discussions, coffee in our hands and questions in our hearts. That night turned into my intervention.
Carl slugged down his coffee, called for a warmup, and blurted out, “You’re not saved by keeping the rules; you’re saved by grace and faith. Nobody can keep the rules. That’s why the rues were invented, to show us we can’t do it. We are saved because God sent Jesus and gave us an option. Believe it or lose it. It’s a gift if we will unwrap it. It’s grace.”
But the rules are comfortable. You don’t have to think, or grow, or discover, or change. Spiritual life is defined by what you don’t do. Just don’t get outside the lines.
Grace on the other hand, is sometimes a mystery, sometimes an adventure. It’s liberating and forces us to grow. Our gratitude moves us to action, to color with passion, to get out of the study. Grace empowers us to color everything around us with passion.
Legalism pulls us inside the walls of church and grace pushes us out.
Now that I know what grace feels like, I still study; but, I study to know Jesus, to learn to live like HIM. Instead of concentrating on the lines, I find myself helping the blind to see, the left-out to belong, the broken to be mended, the rejected to gain acceptance, and legalistic to find grace. After all, I am a follower of the ultimate Life-Giver.
How about you?
A number of years ago I was part of a small group of men we called an A-Team (short for Accountability Team). We closed each of our meetings by sharing prayer requests. During one of those prayer times God rocked my world.
David was praying for God to provide $200 by the end of the day for an out-of-work neighbor. In mid-sentence Tom interrupted, “Stop!” It was the first time I had ever heard an adult interrupt someone else talking to God. I looked around to see if Tom was about to get slapped up the side of the head.
Tom pulled out two $100 bills from his wallet and handed them to David, “I just heard God say, ‘David doesn’t have to ask me. You’ve got the money in your pocket.’ So here.”
For the rest of day I couldn’t get this incident out of my mind. How many times do we think we are doing the “spiritual thing” by praying for God to do something for us or someone else? These are perfect grace-opt times—-opportunities for followers to quit praying or talking or planing, and just “Do it.” Color with courage; make God proud.
Close the book, quit praying, pick up some color, and make it happen. Be the story of grace. Be Jesus.
Break free of the legalism addiction
Time for some re-think. Grab an action partner and spend this week following Jesus outside the walls. Be the story in your world. Let God open your eyes to a world of adventure outside the walls of church. Just follow HIS lead. At just the right time, HE will tell you when to act. Get your eyes of the lines and on the people. Color boldly.
Stop praying for God to intervene in your life, and become HIS story of intervention for others. That’s what followers do. That’s what Jesus did and still does.