This last year I have had the privilege of simply being part of a church versus being in direct leadership and staff. I call it a privilege now but hindsight is 20/20. I remember when I resigned from my last church staff position and how my expectations to just grab onto the next opportunity were so high. God was telling me to wait and learn. I remember pleading with God to allow me to learn what He had for me “On The Job” and if He could just provide the right open door, I could be so effective. God’s primary lesson over these last 17 months has been about legalism versus personal holiness.

Legalism1As a minister of the gospel, it can prove difficult to discern between obedience to God versus keeping to a set of known rules that you think makes God happy with you. The lines between the two can become blurred to say the least. In Colossians 2:16-23, the Apostle Paul refers to food and drink as well as mysticism and other philosophies that we are to never regard above the supremacy of Christ.

In parenting we learn that actions precede belief for our children. Often after a child obeys many times over it becomes a solid part of their personal belief system. The Bible teaches us to have the faith of a child and to come to Jesus with child-like faith (Mark 10). However we learn from the prodigal child (any of us who have walked away or ha a child do so) that a solid belief in something is not necessarily built on truth and if any part of the belief is weakened due to lack of truth, the belief not only goes away but becomes a thorn.

For example, years after finding out Santa was not real I had a lack of trust in traditions ad ultimately shaped why I never told my kids that Santa was real. While I do not oppose one way or the other, my choice as a father was molded by this experience. In a more serious example, the teenager that discovers their father or mother had an affair and was told to be pure and wait for the marriage bed. This child is wrecked because they only see the marriage bed as defiled now so why wait. When we teach our children or even our congregation to do something simply because I do it and believe it is right, we are robbing them of the personal relationship experience and the moral/biblical reason why. So in the situation of a spouse who had an affair the child can clearly see that imperfection and flesh was the reason of the fall and not walk way from God because their idol fell off the pedestal.

As believers, we are challenged to follow spiritual leaders and to not forsake the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10), but we are also challenged to have a personal holiness and devotion to Christ that comes by way of relationship with Him. I was devoted to study of the Scripture, parenting, ministry, prayer, and family, but my zealousness for personal holiness lacked the right motivation. I realized that I was developing a critical spirit birthed from a form of legalism.

Peter was approached by Jesus on the beach one day after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved him. This is probably one of the scriptures that are difficult to fully interpret, many preach on how Jesus asked Peter three times to cancel Peter’s three denials of Christ, others share that Peter was saying that he “liked” Jesus, that he “liked Jesus a whole bunch: and finally admitted “I love you Jesus. Either way there is a simpler lesson here to be learned, even though dividing and conquering the original Greek or Aramaic may be tantalizing to someone like me. Jesus said “feed my sheep” three times to Peter. Jesus despite all of Peter’s shortcomings, set him up to be the first preacher of the church and ultimately Peter’s holiness was only by the power of the Holy Spirit and not of personal accomplishment.

Personal holiness is fantastic and a must, but when we do not see that God loves us so deeply and that His grace and mercy are available we can become bitter and strive for legalism without even seeing it on the horizon. Sanctification is a process courted by the power of the Holy Spirit and our efforts are of no value when our motivation is to keep our position, stand tall above our peers or avoid vulnerability. Every tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44) and in due time legalism will rear its ugly head if we believe our personal holiness is of greater value than the love, grace, mercy and righteousness of Christ.

When we come before the judgment throne, God will not see you as innocent on all charges, “due to your personal holiness and keeping of His law”. God will declare you innocent because “you are the righteousness of Christ” and the righteousness of Jesus alone is the reason we can even be in the presence of God to begin with.