It’s easy to poke fun at dudes who read their Bibles on a calendar, wake up at dawn to pray for three hours, and serve on the worship-rap-dance-drama-origami team. That dude attends church nine times per week, drops off food to the homeless from his jetpack, never gets near alcohol or even the rubbing kind, reads the Bible from the original Dead Sea scrolls, and lives in the last known Qumran community that serves lepers and fasts half the year. Someone yells “legalism.”
When we hear about guys doing whatever it takes to quit their sin addiction, like Twelve Step Plans and cognitive behavioral therapy and throwing away their laptops, we think that’s External Conformity. We call it “Religion.”
We throw around the word “Legalist” because just maybe, it relieves our anxiety about being lukewarm. Because maybe that really soothes our conscience about being passive on our own struggles.
The truth is: compare two guys who are both doing all these things, and one of them could be a legalist while the other is not. What’s the difference?
Simply: one loves Jesus Christ. The other loves himself. One relies on Christ. The other is self-reliant.
Legalism is a state of the heart and not your hands. It’s about self-righteousness versus Christ-righteousness. One has it going on with the Lord; the other is basically in love with his own reflection.
Striving is okay. Putting effort into opening your Bible does not automatically equate to dismissing Jesus at the door. If you’re the kind of person who needs a scheduled prayer time in the morning, that doesn’t mean you’re defying the grace of God. He is not offended that you’re using some of your willpower. He’s also cool with you reading your Bible while you eat, on the way to work, or even in your — gasp! — least awake part of the day.
God is not put off by any of that. Because ultimately the power to chase after God comes from God Himself.