The Day I Left My Secret Legalism

I sat in the rumbling room not knowing whether to close my ears or to just let myself explode in the emotion of it all. The worship leader had ensured that we would only hear the music and our own thoughts with the Father, undistracted by everything around us.

I felt tight. Like everything was closing in around me.

This was cry night at camp. You know? The night when everyone gets emotional and has their ‘come to Jesus’ moment. I had experienced this night seven times before since I started attending Christian camps. This night was different, though. I had never before felt so trapped by my own humanity. 

I was angry with God about a family member He had taken from me years before. I had lived a double life, pretending to be enthusiastic about His mission, but knowing full well that if I were anywhere near Him physically, I would scream and yell at Him for allowing my family to endure this. I no longer loved His love. I knew the Holy Spirit was beckoning be to it, but I hated Him for not leaving me alone to my own self-righteousness.

So I did the church thing. FullSizeRender 36

I served. I knew the right lingo. I hoped that through the right amount of ‘doing’ I might be healed from all this buried pain.

Then, in this moment, on this cry-night in Black Mountain, North Carolina, I was trapped. My desire to be good enough on one side and Jesus on the other reminding me that He was the only one who will ever be adequate.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

(Colossians 2:6-15 ESV)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Fully God, Really Human, Completely Adequate

You see, I was trapped by a Jesus–The Jesus–who was everything I was not. I was, in a way, staring Him in the face. That’s what made this moment so different than all others before. I was forced to confront His absolute perfection. The Expositors Bible Commentary puts it beautifully. Jesus was fully God, really human, and, therefore, completely adequate. Verse 9 poses, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” The whole fullness.

Do you realize what that means? He wasn’t 50% man and 50% God. He wasn’t 33.333% of the Godhead. He was the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the true and better Adam all in one. He was something–someone–that we will never, never fully wrap our minds around. He was nothing the Israelites could have conjured up in what the Messiah would be. He was better. The latter half of this passage reminds the Colossians that His humanity and deity make Him the perfect sacrifice.They make Him the only and the most adequate one to pull God’s children out of the throws of darkness and beckon us into the light of eternity.

This is the problem with believing that we can do and do and do to be good enough for the kingdom of heaven.

I think most of the church would say, “Oh we aren’t legalist. We know that one is saved by grace alone.” But do we? Really?

Or are we spinning in a constant circle of trying to look good enough?

Of course, we are, church!

We think we must serve in ‘x’ amount of ministries to keep up with our neighbor.

We think that because of the way we spent our last week, we shouldn’t even bother walking into the church building because people will look at us funny.

We assume that our earnest prayers alone will heal someone when we know that it is the hand of God that makes the healing happen.

We check our quiet time off a box.

We brag about our involvement in the body.

We are discouraged and sad when someone else gets glory over us.

We wonder why God isn’t speaking to us, but don’t stop telling Him all of our accomplishments long enough to listen to Him.

We think our houses have to look a certain way for the company.

We do all these things, we use mesmerizing tactics to get people to come to church, but for what? For a crown at the end of the race?

But does Paul not say at the beginning of all this that we should be doing everything simply to walk closer with Christ?

Serving in ministries is beautiful when we are channeling a desire to see people know Him. Feeling convicted for sin demonstrates knowledge of His word. We are commanded to pray that our hope and trust might rest in Him alone. Yes, sisters and brothers–praying and having quiet time and loving the body and making a welcoming home and having fun at church–these are all good, even great things.

Yet, when we do them to place ourselves on a pedestal or even because we assume that He might love us a little more, we are missing the point of His sacrifice.

This ideology is the “good person” philosophy that is blinding the church. The idea that if we are just okay enough, maybe God will accept us. If we stop doing bad things, we can take part in God’s Kingdom. Oh, my friends, we may be able to fool the world into thinking we are good enough. But when was the last time you remember not having an evil thought in the back of your mind? I know I do that daily. Hourly.

So here is my plea.

Here is Paul’s plea.

Let us join together to abound in thanksgiving. When we are celebrating, living by, and loving Christ’s fully God, really human, and completely adequate sacrifice, we are going to do everything because of and by His holy name.

That night at camp, I surrendered to Christ and let Him convict me of my legalist tendencies. I faced my own inadequacy. I faced that I thought I knew better than God. I recognized that walking with Him was the only way I would know love. I did all of this, not because it was in my own power, but because of His adequacy.

I was reminded that abounding in thanksgiving means surrendering myself. That is the only way we are going to be able to walk completely with Jesus. And walking with Jesus is the only way we will know the perfect joy His sacrifice has gifted to us.

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