Legalism. It’s the dirty word in Christianity. The legalistic Christians are the ones that we frown upon. They are the ones who fail to understand the radically disarming nature of grace.
We worship with abandon on Sunday, celebrating grace and delighting (appropriately) in God’s love.
Then Monday comes. With no Church service or event, we resort to what we are taught to do – spend some quiet/devotional/special time with God.
I am grateful for quiet times; some of my favorite times of worship have come while alone with the Lord. But if you are anything like me, this time, this fundamental facet of Evangelical practice, is also the backdoor through which legalism slips back in.
I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been racked with guilt over my repeated failure to spend time with God or to keep up with my Bible reading plans.1
From conversations with various people, I know I’m not alone. We celebrate grace in the Church service, and practice legalism on our own.
When legalism is the driving force, quiet times become more about checking off the daily reading plan or making sure we record something in our prayer diary than spending time in the throneroom of God, worshiping the Father, Son and Spirit.
Our quiet times become impersonal. God becomes an idea, not a person in the room through the Spirit’s presence. Jesus becomes someone I read about, not someone truly with me in the midst of my day. We enter a cycle of guilt, struggle and frustration.
The solution, as we might expect, is not easy, but is familiar. It is to leave everything and follow Jesus. We must leave behind the legalistic, impersonal quiet time. We do so by remembering that God requires nothing of us. Our best quiet times are as filthy rags; it is the loving-grace of the Father that allows us to come to him. It’s painful to realize that there’s nothing we can do, but it’s the reality that ultimately leads to our freedom.
Our calling as Christians is to spend time with the person of Christ, not the checklist of our efforts.
1. Just in case you’re thinking you’re particularly bad about this – I started a Bible Reading Plan in May, and by August found myself 60 days behind. Good luck matching that! And for the record, I gave up. Now just trying to read slowly through John’s Gospel.
A Personal Note: Confronted by Christ took a bit of a surprise (but much needed) Summer break for the month of August. It was a combination of life events (papers, a visit home, etc.) and a general dryness of words that resulted in that rest. Now, however, I feel refreshed and look forward to seeing how we can walk more closely after Christ together in this next season. All this to say, you can expect weekly posts once again.