through His Word
Racing in a potato sack is an awkward feeling. Any burst of energy and a zeal to win must be harnessed, because if you try to run in a potato sack … splat. Down you go.
At Field Day in elementary school, I learned what it felt like to move hindered. Bound. It wasn’t possible to run free like the wind. If I moved forward, I had to hold the potato sack at my waist and hop. And if I fell, I went down confined in my sack. Claustrophobic. I couldn’t wait to get out of that sack.
When we hold on to legalism, we move through life hindered. Bound. Our hearts may find security in adhering to rules, but we miss out on the freedom of focusing on a relationship with God. When we operate in life like God intended His children to, we can run like the wind.
Why Legalism May Be Appealing
Legalism can become an oppressing bondage in the lives of believers, but some of us have a tendency to run toward it. Although we were saved by faith, we may try to keep a good standing with God by keeping His rules and self-imposed rules. Rules apart from relationship. Maybe we were taught that obeying the rules keeps you safe, keeps you walking on the straight and narrow. Maybe we turned from a wild lifestyle and found relief in a set of dos and don’ts. But if we practice legalism, we miss out on resting in the unconditional love of God who cherishes us regardless of how good we are. Yes, God blesses us when we obey Him, but God’s love for us isn’t dependent on our performance. He loves us because that’s who He is—He is love (1 John 4:8). In this we find freedom.
Learning to Run Well
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
Galatians 5:7 NKJV
If legalism is trying to hinder your race, hold on to the truth. We were saved by faith and by God’s work in us. That’s how we continue the Christian life. Our faith and cooperation with God, along with His work, make us holy. The “rules” or principles that He gave us in His Word, help us to become more godly, but they don’t give us eternal life. Faith is key, and for the Christian life, so is love.
God wants us to obey Him, not out of a sense of duty (I have to), but out of love (I want to). Bask in the freedom of God’s love for you, and focus on your relationship with Him, not on dos and don’ts. Let His love motivate you to practice His ways. Your soul will gain some breathing room, and you won’t beat yourself up when you mess up. I know because I’ve been there.
5 Strategies for Overcoming Legalism
1. Remember how your relationship with God began.
How did you receive eternal life—by doing good works or by receiving God’s grace? Rest in the fact that God saved you because you trusted in Jesus. Salvation is His work in us, and God doesn’t leave us on our own to live the Christian life. He is still working to make us like Christ, as we cooperate with Him.
2. Make your primary life’s goal to know and love God.
This is what God wants most—for us to know and love Him (John 17:3, Mark 12:30). He is all about relationships. Sharing life with Him and helping others to know Him is life’s greatest adventure. Don’t make your goal of life to never mess up or to keep a rigid set of dos and don’ts. Return to the joy of your salvation—fellowship with God and His people (1 John 1:3,7).
3. Obey God because you want to, not because you have to or you’re scared if you don’t.
Let a love for God motivate you to walk in His ways. He is so good, so loving and kind, so patient with us. He knows when to get our attention and discipline us, but He is longsuffering. His perfect love for us doesn’t change, so let that love be an inspiration to follow Him. Set aside “duty” to walk in a vibrant, warm-hearted, close relationship with God. Consequences for disobedience can motivate us to be good, but we may decide we can handle them and choose against God’s ways. I’ve found that loving God is the strongest motivation for obeying Him. We fight for what we love, and we live for what we love.
4. Fall in the arms of your loving, heavenly Father when you mess up.
God knows that His children battle a sinful nature, and the battle is tough. But He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us win that fight (Gal 5:16). As our sympathetic High Priest, Jesus helps us to walk on God’s path for our lives, and He intercedes for us (Hebrews 4:15, 7:25). When you mess up, don’t run from God, but run to Him. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). Run to God when you mess up, repent of the sin, and keep moving forward in life with Him.
5. Have grace toward others when they make mistakes.
When you allow yourself some breathing room to make mistakes, you will give breathing room to others. The grace and forgiveness that we have received from God is an example of how to forgive other people (Colossians 3:13). Since God has been gracious to us in our failings, we can show the same kind of love to others.
Have you seen legalism attempt to hinder your spiritual race? Which of the strategies above would help you to unwrap the chains of legalism and set you free to run like the wind? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and run the race well!
© Copyright 2015 by Katy Kauffmanlegalism, spiritual bondage, Galatians, Breaking the Chains: Overcoming Legalism, Katy Kauffman, Lighthouse Bible Studies