Why I Left Legalism

by GfG on November 21, 2013 · 19 comments

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I am a reformed… reforming… legalist.  It’s not a lovely admission, but it’s true.

There are several reasons I struggle with this sin: my personality (I see only black and white naturally), I have people pleasing issues (and being right is important to those of us who have this problem), I often used to choose to surround myself with those who saw only black and white also, and I want to glorify the LORD by walking in obedience (and having freedom in areas makes it difficult to know if I am obedient).

In Christian circles, and especially in the homeschooling Christian community, legalism (the excessive use of the law of God in order to achieve salvation, maintain salvation and/or judge other Christians). is rampant.  So is permissive-ism  (the opposite end of the spectrum), but that’s not my struggle, so I’m not sharing on that today.

Naturally, people tend to lean one way or the other.

Our steering columns tend to misalign to one side (permissiveness or legalism) when left to their own ways.

This is another reason we need Christ: we see only one way without His love, His perfection, His Word, and His changing of our hearts.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time in a land very near here, a woman stepped back from a friendship with an older woman.  She had changed her mind about the woman and no longer believed that the friendship was one that would sharpen her, but would do quite the opposite.  She continued to be friendly and kind, not drastically changing her outward behavior.  She behaved more like an acquaintance than a close friend.

For seven months, the friend didn’t notice a change.  When she did, she confronted the younger woman and asked for an explanation.  The younger gave one reason for her decision to step back from the friendship, but the woman would not accept it.

She demanded deeper explanation, evidence, and/or an apology.  She and her husband, in length, explained that Christians could not step back from close friendships without following Matthew 18.  They stated that unless this was done, because the one reason presented wasn’t considered good enough, that the younger was in sin and would be treated as “a tax collector and an unbeliever”.

They used some Scripture tilted to their favor, even.  The younger woman and her husband wept at the turn the situation had taken.  They prayed.  They cried.  They studied.

Sadly, phone calls would not be returned so email was their only mode of communication.

They attempted to explain their stance: friends have the freedom to step back from friendships without citing Scripture or every offense, sin issue, or reason AND in honor of the friendship they had already given one reason and instances that supported their reason.

The older couple would not budge.  Only a list of reasons (because the one shared was not valid to the older couple), with Scripture to support why it was a sin, evidence that the older actually had this issue, or an apology stating that the younger woman was completely at fault would settle the matter.  Until that time, whether done by email or in a meeting, the younger would be “disciplined”.

It is not possible to describe the pain inflicted on this younger woman.  There are no words to sufficiently explain what a shunning feels like and what it looks like.

left legalism WEB

The two women saw each other monthly at meetings, so the pain was inflicted publicly.  The older left the area when the younger spoke, refused to make eye contact, shared only parts of the story (half truths) with others in a light that left the younger woman seeming unkind, and more.

The younger was even told that she may not come to any event where the older woman was (which extended to social media situations), “until she repented”.

For over a year, the younger bore the brunt of this behavior.  Finally, because they would not change their opinion on what Matthew 18 addresses or their opinion on Christians stepping back from friendships and in hopes of helping the group the two women were a part of, the younger couple agreed to meet with a moderating couple.

Despite the moderators’ opinion being that the younger satisfied Matthew 18 and despite agreeing to follow the moderators’ decision at the start of the meeting, the older couple would not change their behavior and refused to abide by the mediator’s decision.

They refused to see differently.

They refused to believe that their interpretation of Scripture was wrong or open to different interpretation.

They refused to walk in kindness towards someone who saw an issue differently than themselves.

This story is my story.

My snap out of legalism was incredibly painful.

I’m so grateful it happened.  I saw, first hand in my heart and spirit, what can happen when someone walks in legalism to its full end: a sister (or brother) in Christ who sees Scripture differently is “disciplined”.


Not a truth area.  Not a clear cut area.   An area of opinion.

I wish I could say this story, my story as the younger woman, was probably rare.  I fear it isn’t.  I know it isn’t for this couple, sadly.

While it is the first time I have seen a couple who claim Christ actually state that they were disciplining for an area of disagreement and different interpretation, I’ve seen it in smaller degrees in others

by their haughty eyes

by their refusal to develop friendships

by their clinging to convictions as the only godly way to interpret decisions.

It’s legalism.

It breaks my heart now.

Legalism is when others within the body declare or simply believe themselves more holy, more godly, or more right.  The Pharisees did not declare their legalism to the pagans, to the Greeks, to the Gentiles.  No, they brazenly declared their “rightness” towards their own.  And Jesus called them on it.

Legalism Love WEB

The Pharisees smiled, whispered, and even boldly spoke of themselves being more holy as compared to the regular Jews.

Most legalists today smile, whisper, and even declare in their own mind of being more holy as compared to the regular Christians.

I have no one to blame for my legalism except myself.  My church didn’t preach it.  My husband didn’t walk in it.  My first Christian friends didn’t encourage it.

I had to evaluate my heart deeply through this painful experience.  I had to take every belief out for reevaluation.  I had to separate them into truth, conviction, and preferences.  I still have to do this often.

Scripture addresses each, amazingly.

How like God to know that our steering columns would steer us wrong and that we needed a more trustworthy guide than our own hearts, our own experiences, our own leanings, and our own interpretations.

Why did I leave legalism?  Because God broke my heart of stone.  Because God showed me how ugly it was.  Because He helped me choose love.

Leaving legalism offered me something I never would have guessed: freedom.

Freedom in Christ to walk in obedience out of love for Him and for no other reason.

Freedom in Christ to learn from those who have different convictions yet operate in them in love, because Christ calls us to that.

Freedom in Christ to parent in the gray, leaving my children’s hearts to Him alone.

Freedom in Christ to stand firm for truth, fighting the fight that He calls us to, and lay down the weapons where there are godly ways to interpret an issue differently.

Freedom in Christ to believe that He truly loves me because I am in Him, not because I do, believe, say, or preach the right thing.

Leaving legalism and embracing freedom in Christ cost me two years of pain (and I’m still healing in many ways), some friendships, and more, but it was so very much worth it.

Much of this does not come naturally to me.  That shouldn’t be surprising.  Walking in Christlikeness isn’t natural.  It’s supernatural.

Only He can equip us to fight our steering columns.  Only He can show us they actually pull us towards misalignment.  Only He can make us walk in grace and truth, a Biblical paradox.
Only He can equip us to leave legalism (or permissiveness).

I’m grateful to have left legalism.  May He keep me from ever going back.

Can I get an amen?


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