Over the past few weeks I have been on a new writing journey. Those who faithfully read my blog, and I thank you for your encouraging words, may wonder where I’ve been the past month. Last November I mentioned that God had laid the book of Galatians on my heart. I started reading, researching, and prayerfully considering the focus and theme for this Bible study endeavor. It is such a powerful, rich, and satisfying journey I’m on! I’m learning so much more about the freedom we truly have when we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our one and only Source of redemption from the bondage of sin. Every day I experience more joy; joy that accompanies embracing the freedom Christ won for us. I’ve entitled my study, “Free At Last!” and today I would like to share some of what I wrote a week ago:
One of the greatest threats to the advancement and spiritual growth of evangelical Christianity today is legalism. It suffocates the freedom for which Christ died. It is akin to putting a dog on a retractable leash; it has the illusion of freedom until the handler reins it in when its behaviour is undesirable. The dog is never really free from the handler’s views of what is right or wrong, what is best for the dog’s welfare, and what would give a favourable impression to others.
I remember growing up in two very legalistic evangelical churches. There were many dos and don’ts. One church even had a code for dress and men’s hair length! As a thirteen-year-old I was criticized by my Sunday School teacher, in front of my classmates, for not wanting to wear a head covering. We were not allowed to go to movies and dances, wear two-piece bathing suits, play any kind of sports on Sunday, wear make-up or, heaven forbid, play cards! I remember one Sunday going to my friend’s home after church and her parents did not allow us to do anything but read or sleep! Needless to say, I had no desire to spend Sunday afternoon there again!
I’m not saying these things are necessarily right or wrong; nor am I somehow “wounded” by the actions and words of well-intentioned Christians who sincerely believed they were doing the right thing. I have learned to put these things in their proper perspective and see them as experiences that drive me to discover how God intends for us to be truly pleasing to Him. I also appreciate the guidance and spiritual training I received from my parents and other Christians who helped to shape my values and motivate me to study God’s Word. I simply grew up in a spiritual environment in which adherence to rules and traditions were seen as markers of spiritual maturity and acceptability to God.
What did offend me, as a young person, was the attitude behind the rules. You were seen by many Christians as “less spiritual” and, in some people’s minds, your Christian faith was in question if you did not adhere to their expectations of what was acceptable for a Christian.
What bothered me more was the hypocrisy that coincided with the legalistic demands. It was fine to impose a strict dress code on children, as was the case with one family in our church, yet the father turned around and treated the children and the mother with disrespect, yelling, and angry outbursts. It was not acceptable to see a movie in a theatre unless it was a Christian one; what if someone who knows you claim to be a Christian sees you coming out of a theatre where smutty movies are shown! As Christian teens we often spent more time worrying about what other people would think about our Christian testimony than learning how to exercise our freedom in Christ responsibly. There were no “gray areas” for us to use our God-given intelligence and conscience to work through. Like the little chorus we often sang, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Period. No questions! Don’t rock the boat!
Please do not misunderstand; I certainly do believe in the infallibility of God’s Word! I do believe what God said, but not everything we face in life is spelled out in the Bible. What He does give us for those areas in question are values, principles, wisdom, and truth that the Holy Spirit within us utilizes to guide our minds, heart, and behaviour.
I reminisce simply to point out that this is not what Jesus intended for us! He said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:10) If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed! (John 8:36) The Law and modern-day legalism are like a thief desiring to rob us of what is rightfully ours.
How long are we going to allow legalists to control us with a retractable leash?
Until next time,