Legalism Versus Obedience

When I was a boy I was terrified of consequences. When I obeyed, be it at home, school, or wherever, it was usually because I didn’t want to find out what sort of punishment would come from my actions. I rebelled, but my rebellion took place in the hidden section between my two ears.

Of course, like any other Human, I sinned. I genuinely wanted to please God, but the burden of trying to live up to God’s incredibly high standards, at least as I perceived them, was beyond my reach. Time and again I would fall; time and again I would face the same fear of divine retribution.

My understanding of sonship was flawed, both from a human perspective and in relation to God. I failed to grasp the concept of love.

As I got older, it was no surprise that I found my way into certain church circles where sin was dramatically preached against (think “hell-fire and brimstone”), and love was a byword. I did my level best to walk in conformity to the gospel of legalism, which was no gospel after all. I put on my Sunday best every week; I was in church twice every Sunday, every Wednesday night, and every other time that the doors would open. I absorbed the anti-gospel of legalism. The God that I worshipped was a God of wrath and judgment. All of my actions were to appease an angry God, and not to please Him.

Eventually, after years of yo-yo Christianity, backsliding, and bitter resentment, I stumbled upon the truth. The true Gospel. The Gospel of love and peace. Finally I understood that God isn’t looking for reasons to punish me. He loves me. And, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).

I discovered the difference between legalism and obedience, between law and love.

I had lived my life in fear of God, because I believed that He was out to get me, looking for any excuse to squash me like a bug! But I’ve come to understand that He watches over me with love, as I’ve tried to do with my own children, looking for and finding all that is good in them.

And while He desires for us to live holy, set-apart lives, He wants us to do so from a heart filled with love for Him. “If you live me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). Jesus didn’t die for us so that we could live our lives in fear of judgment. He died so that we would no longer be bound to sin, trying desperately to keep our heads above water while chained to an anchor in the middle of the sea of God’s wrath. He died to make us sons and daughters of God!

It’s important that we live our lives as an expression of God’s love, and not in perpetual fear of punishment and rejection. Jesus made the most unbelievable trade with us: our sin for His righteousness! “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).

The burden of sin, which was too much to bear, has been replaced with a righteousness, which is not our own, but has become the lens through which God the Father sees us! If that doesn’t provide the love motivation we need to obey, then we will be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else!

The difference between legalism and obedience?


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