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Recovering From Legalism

I was introduced to Christianity in a church that put a legalistic leash on my behavior. By strict rules they believed they could force me to live a holy life. You can imagine how that worked out for a teenager in the sixties. Our denomination reminded me of characters from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We did not have the dreaded knights who said, “Ni” but we definitely had the dreaded pastors who said, “No.”

I’m certain there were several volumes filled with things that were forbidden and, not surprisingly, most of them were man-made rules. Here is a sample platter of no-no’s I was asked to follow.

NO movies. (Might have been in violation)
NO drinking. (Too young so I got holiness points for this one)
NO mixed swimming. (I kid you not)
NO television. (The temptation of Mr Ed, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction was too strong)
NO cards. (More holiness points)
NO rock-and-roll music. (Definitely in violation)
NO smoking. (Nailed this one)
NO slacks for women.
NO long hair for men. (Deduct holiness points)
NO makeup for women.

I remember asking my grandmother what she thought about the no makeup law. She smiled and gave this memorable reply. “If the barn needs a coat of paint I think you should paint it.” She was my first dispenser of grace.

It’s not surprising that it took me a long time to figure out freedom in Christ. Ironically, there are a few verses that strongly emphasized the word “no” in the New Testament that our marauding moralists somehow overlooked. For example, this little “no” verse would have come in handy (capitalization and italics added for emphasis).

There is NO condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2, NLT

That would have been a refreshing mist of grace to our parched flock. Or how about these “NO” verses?

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is NO fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:17-19, NIV

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is NO commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31, NIV

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps NO record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NLT

I have been crucified with Christ and I NO longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:20-21, NIV

That is a very different “no” list than the first one.

NO condemnation.

NO fear.

NO commandment greater than to love God and your neighbor.

NO record of wrongdoing when you love one another.

NO longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.

I can be holy because of Christ and not because of my anguished rule keeping. There is joy and freedom in that second list.

NO kidding.

Parts of this article excerpted from Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace