Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Second Greatest Post-Legalism Danger & How to Avoid It

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: 
and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
2 Corinthians 3:17

Post #3 in the Legalism Series.

I have hit a brick wall of writer's block,

that is, on any other subject than this one.
I have wanted to write about other things for several days,
but the Lord keeps bringing me back to this burden on my heart.

First, let me say that I am surprised by the number of you, precious readers,

who have responded and shared with me.
My heart goes out to every one of you...whether you have or have not responded,
because I feel your pain, and I care.
I had no idea there were so many out there who have suffered or are now suffering 
from the bondage of manrule and a legalistic spirit.

The Lord woke me early this morning, giving fresh inspiration, as I sought Him in earnest prayer,

so I proceed with at least more post on the subject.
We'll see where He leads after this.

So, the pendulum swings...side to side...
from the extreme of complete lawlessness, where anything and everything goes,
and nothing, no matter how ungodly or unholy, is considered sin,
to the extreme of living life in a stranglehold straight jacket of legalism,
where everything, even the Biblically-permissable things are labeled "sin" and life is a miserable drudgery.
Temptation lurks on both sides of the narrow way.
We walk a tight rope of balance,
where the slightest misstep can send us spiraling in either direction.

My previous post 
defined the greatest danger to the newly-delivered-from-a-fanatical-legalistic-stronghold-soul as being the temptation to run full speed, headlong in the opposite direction of complete and utter compromise of Biblical doctrine.

I write these things, not from ever having read or been told about them,
but from personal, firsthand experience.
Having lived and breathed and walked still walking this journey, I know where God has brought us from,
I know where satan has tried to divert our steps,
and I am aware of, at least some, of his tactics.
As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11, 
"Lest satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices."
So, if I can help someone else who comes behind me, by all means, and by God's grace,
I surely want to do that.

I believe the second greatest post-legalism danger is, without a doubt,
the temptation to fall prey to a different form of legalism.
Same horse, different color.
If you are accustomed to walking fettered,
you are extremely vulnerable to being entrapped again.
If you were once enslaved by a cruel taskmaster,
you are likely to give your freedom away once more.
Because it is hard to grasp the concept that you should be free...
that you should actually enjoy your salvation...
and that it is okay to laugh, and smile, and be happy.
Because it is just easier for someone else to tell you what to do.
And it feels good to be liked...and accepted...and a part of something.
It is hard to walk alone.
To be on the outside.
To feel the sting of ex-communication and rebuke.
To buck against the religious elite and feel their scorn.
To hear of the mean-spirited things they say and not fall prey to believing them.
To defy man, and mind God.

So, the devil will have an alternate waiting for you.
You can count on that.
He will make it appear attractive, and of course,
he will cause it to look like the real deal.
You will be tempted by his bait, because you feel so lost, unattached, 
and unsure of yourself on this unfamiliar path.

You might even take the bait and get partially reeled in,
until one day, you wake up and feel that old, sickening, all-too-familiar whip come across your back,
and you kick yourself for falling for one of the oldest tricks in satan's book.
You will stand there asking yourself how you could have been so stupid...
how you didn't even see it coming...
and thinking how sly and crafty and cunning...and EVIL satan is to have set the trap in the first place.
Suddenly, the realization sinks in that the vacuum is gaining strength and momentum,
and if you don't do something quick, 
you are going to find yourself right back where God just delivered you from....
entrapped, enslaved, bound up, tormented, hopeless, and unable to escape from the multiple loops
this new "spider" has wound around you.

But, this time around, you are wiser.
You are more discerning.
You are stronger.
You are more aware...more cautious...less trusting of people...and more dependent on God.
You have more courage.
Because you have seen what God can do.
You have not only witnessed the miracle, you have lived it.
You have inhaled that first breath of freedom and felt the chains fall off your feet.
You have walked the sweet path where there is human hierarchy....
between you and Jesus.
Just sweet, precious, unimpaired communion and peace.

So, when you recognize the whip,
when you first notice that old, familiar tightening of bondage...and dreaded tightening in your chest,
you drop that hook out of your mouth like a hot potato,
and you swim and unencumbered....still bewildered at your own susceptibility.

If God has delivered you and set you free, don't get drawn in again, my friend.
How terribly sad that would be!
How cruel your enemy to have the audacity to try the same tactic twice!
But, trust me on this one, he will try.
He will offer you the bait, and it is up to you to turn him down.

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,
and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

Galatians 5:1

Even though it looks different than the other yoke,
even though it operates under a different name brand,
even though the people involved wear an entirely different label,
even though it feels safe.
Turn, and run with all your might at the raising of the first red flag.
You do not want to live that way.
You deserve better than that, because Jesus gave everything He had to buy your freedom.
How it would break His heart to see you willingly walk back into bondage,
after He has gone to such lengths to set you free!

For you to allow yourself to become entangled with yet another yoke of bondage would resemble the children of Israel's longing to return to the horrors of Egypt,

after God had so miraculously made a way of escape and entirely delivered them.

So, what do those red flags look like?
What should you look for?
Of what should you be aware?

Watch for these types of tell-tale signs and legalistic situations that are similar to these
hypothetical, some not-so-hypothetical, scenarios. 

1.  You are terrified to make a move without running it past Bro. So-and-So first.
Surely, if he doesn't approve, that must mean God isn't pleased either, right?

2.  You are afraid Sis. So-and-So will find out you wore pink last week.
Because if she finds out, she will tell the hierarchy, 
they won't be pleased,
and you will be sick to your stomach for days as you dread 
and try to prepare yourself for the scathing rebuke you know is coming your way.

3.  You force yourself to go to church Sunday morning, 
even though you have a temperature of 102, and your body aches...
because if you don't show up and plow against it, 
Bro. So-and-So will think you are too weak to handle your ministry.

4.  You preach a stronger-than-necessary, harsher-than-Jesus-would-ever-preach message Sunday night 
that ends up wounding 98% of your congregation, leaving them without a shred of hope,
just because Bro. So-and-So is there, and he loves that judgmental, hateful-toned, Pharisee-like preaching.
After all, it seems paramount to please Bro. So-and-So...never mind how it affects everyone else
or what our dear Lord thinks of the situation.

5.  You are terrified to step foot into your sister's church, 
because the upper crust will think you "compromised" by attending services in a place 
that doesn't have their label on a sign over the door.

6.  You refrain from going to a revival meeting across town, 
because it might get back to the powers that be, and they will frown on you because you attended services where the singing was accompanied by musical instruments.

7.  You turn down an opportunity to go hear a minister whose preaching has blessed you numerous times
because if you do, someone might see you there and call Bro. So-and-So and tell him you 
listened to a minister preach who was wearing a neck-tie.

8.  You feel praise bubbling from deep inside and you yearn with all your heart to raise your hands and worship God out loud, 
but you dare not show any outward sign of praise, 
because Bro. So-and-So is sitting across from you, 
glaring at you over his mid-nose-positioned glasses,
and he shows utter disdain at the slightest sign of "emotionalism".
And, you better keep quiet, because you just can't cope with all of that shocked head-turning
and disapproving looks from every other eyeball in the room.

9.  You don't dare ask your grandma to pray for you, 
because it might be found out that you have confidence in someone outside your "group".

10.  You develop an ulcer and hurt for two weeks before Bro. So-and-So rolls into town, 
because you've learned from past experience that he will find a reason to rake you over the coals 
and leave you in tears for weeks after his visit.

11.  Your knees knock together repeatedly during testimony service,
because you want to give God the deserved glory for healing your mother and sparing her life,
but you know Sis. So-and-So will have a fit because she found out your Mom went to the hospital,
and she doesn't think you should give God the glory when and if medical science is involved.
 Can you imagine????

12.  You nervously chew your fingernails to the quick while driving to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for your little boy,
because you know if word gets back to the ministerial hierarchy that you gave your child medicine,
you will be in peril of a good talking to, or even ex-communication.

13.  You spend two hours frantically searching your closet for something to wear to church that adheres
to the personal convictions of Sis. So-and-So, because, by all means, 
Sis. So-and-So's personal convictions should never be disobeyed or rebelled against.

14.  You are petrified to call Bro. So-and-So for prayer for your sick sister,
because you know he doesn't approve of her lifestyle,
and you don't really feel like hearing his gloating, utterly-void-of-compassion voice telling you once again 
that her sickness is nothing but the wrath of God that has fallen on her.

15.  Your preacher stands in the pulpit harshly and roaringly 
commanding you to wear your hair in a certain hairstyle, "just like the Bible tells you to do", 
when, in reality, wearing your hair that way gives you a pounding, debilitating headache,
and, furthermore, upon diligent search, the Bible does not tell you to wear it that way at all.

I know some of these sound absurd to the general public,

but, believe me, however absurd, they are not as unusual as you might think.
Though there are many more I could mention....I feel this is sufficient to convey the ugliness of legalism,
without being any more specific.
It is not my intention to wound or offend anyone,
and I feel this is definitely enough details.
You get the picture.

If you are being asked to do something that God, through His Holy Word or through personal revelation, does not require you to do,
but is being dictated to you by the "rules" of a particular denomination,
you should probably turn and run.

If you have to go around hiding what you do, 
not because you feel the slightest condemnation by God,
but because if "they" find out, you will be condemned,
it is in your best interest to get out of dodge.

If you are being held under bondage to certain aspects of Old Testament law 
that were already fulfilled when Jesus came,
you need to break free while you can.

If you are being asked to wear or not wear something based solely upon the opinions of a manmade religious hierarchy and told that your salvation depends upon your adherence to their convictions,
you need to say "thanks, but no thanks" to their bondage,
seek God earnestly for His perfect will concerning what you wear, 
break free before you get drawn in any further, and move on.

Once the Good Shepherd has set us free and brought us to greener pastures, it is up to us, by His grace,
to continue to follow Him alone, 
and never be drawn into the confines of bondage again.

(To read Post #1 in this series, entitled "The Binding Stronghold of Legalism", click here.
To read Post #2 in this series, entitled "The Greatest Post-Legalism Danger", click here.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Greatest Post-Legalism Danger

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, 
and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy..."
Jude 1:24

Post #2 in the Legalism Series.

It turns out the last post called "The Binding Stronghold of Legalism
hit a raw nerve with more than one of you precious readers.

I wasn't sure when I put it out there whether anyone would even understand where I was coming from.
I anguished over hitting the "publish" button, for various reasons, 
the main one being, I do not EVER want to write something out of the wrong motivation 
or out of a spirit of revenge, strife, bitterness, or contention.  
God knows how long I sometimes wait before I ever publish something I've written.
I want my motives to be pure and holy and Holy Spirit-driven...
never out of a carnal need to just say what I want to say.
I am not here to waste God's....or your....time.

Dear, precious Lord, help me!
I don't realize how far-reaching words can go or where they can end up.
But, He does.
He knows.
He sees every heart...everywhere.

After hearing back from those who requested a sequel and a deeper delving into this,
I am writing now...under the influence and in complete submission to the precious Holy Spirit.
May God help me only say what He wants said.

I believe with all my heart that legalism needs to be exposed for the ugly, oppressive monster it really is.
I think, even though I poured my heart and soul into writing it,
 I only skimmed the surface in the last post.
Because the magnitude and enormity of the effects and influence of legalism 
can probably never be fully measured.
Are there even any limits to the damage it can do?

Standing here, where we do, after being miraculously delivered and set free from the binding yoke
we operated under for so many years,
I can see so many things that I didn't even notice before.
Deception of satan is very powerful, no matter what form or facade he chooses to use.
When we are deceived, we don't know or realize we are deceived...
that is the scary part.
To think we can feel like we are SO right, and be SO dead-wrong.  
I didn't have a clue, until God took the blinders off and revealed the truth for what it is.
Now, I look back and wonder how I could have been so foolish and so easily-swayed to the wrong.

Today, I feel a burden to express a warning to anyone who has been delivered from legalism.
I say this, because I have walked where you now walk, 
and though the air is light and free from oppression,
and though the sky is blue and free from clouds,
and though it is so much easier to take a step without that heavy, dreaded ball and chain attached,
and though your back is straight and trying to acclimate itself to not carrying that heavy baggage anymore,
and though you can't seem to wipe the smile off your face as you relish this newly-discovered, sweet taste of freedom....
let me just say one word to you, my friend.
NOT that I am trying to throw a wet blanket over your sunny days.
Believe me, I am happy for you.
I couldn't possibly be happier.
I rejoice with you in this new found victory and freedom in Jesus.
Trust me.

But, please hear me out.
Please listen, because I want you to stay this way.
I want you to keep reveling in this wonderful, precious, life-giving thing called GRACE.
I want you to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has set you free,
and I do NOT want you to become entangled any way...with the yoke of bondage.
Galatians 5:1

As you walk...your steps feather-light, skipping along, care-free and bliss-filled,
let me warn you that there is a very slippery slope located right next to your peace-drenched path.
You may not see blinded are you, by the brightness of the sun shining
 into your long-accustomed-to-dreary-darkness eyes.
But, the slope is there.
Right now, you walk a balanced path.
A path that is dictated and directed by the One Who died for you.
A path where His voice is ALL you hear...
where all other voices are shut out, because you are so in love with Him,
that nothing or no one else matters.
A path where there is no longer a middle man...separating you from Him
and interfering with your relationship and His guidance.
He is so near.
So dear.
And to know that He is the One Who has set you completely free 
makes you love Him more than you have ever loved Him in your life.  

So, how could you be in any danger, you ask?
Why am I raining on your sunny parade?
How can I speak of things like danger...and peril....and jeopardy?
How can I even mention anything as undesirable as a fall from this new found plane of glory?
I'll tell you how I can mention it...
I speak of it, because I see clearly...
and I don't want you to become a victim.
I don't want you to fall from where God has elevated you.
I want you to maintain and go straight on, 
never veering to the right or to the left. 
I want you to succeed and stay on this level, even-keeled path called BALANCE.

As Zachary often tells me, "Mama, I'm going to give it to you straight"...
here I go.
Please don't hate the messenger, and know that I only warn you because I care so much.

On this newly-delivered, freshly-liberated-from-legalism path,
you walk the finest line, my friend.
You walk upon a high, elevated road.
It is extremely narrow.
The width is no wider than the width of one of your feet....
just barely enough room for you to put one foot in the front of the other,
as you walk, or should I say, skip, happily along.
On each side of you lies a deep precipice.
Just one, even slightly off-center step has the potential to start a never-ending downward spiral...
in either undesirable direction.

Both the right and the left precipice have a name.
The one on the right side is called fanaticism.
This one will lead you straight back to the pit from which you were just delivered.
It screams that you should be doing more, pushing harder, adhering to man-made codes and rulebooks,
and that there is something wrong with you....
otherwise you wouldn't be enjoying your salvation so much.
Now, you have already gone this route.
You've already lived enslaved within the dungeon that lies at the bottom of this deep ravine.
You know, from pain-filled experience that you never want to go back there....ever, ever, ever again.
Just the slightest memory or recollection of it sends you into a panic-stricken terror.

Herein lies this hidden, sneaky danger of which I warn you, my dear friend.
To keep yourself from ever, ever, ever falling back into that bottomless pit,
you will feel the overpowering, overwhelming urge to lean towards the opposite side of this spectrum.
You know...the precipice that lies dangerously near on the left side of your joy-filled path.
Its name is as ugly as its opposite.
Its name is compromise.

I warn you that it will woo you. this newly-emancipated state.
Oh, it thrives on people like you!
It sees you as a likely and willing recruit.
After all, you are bound and determined to never slide down the right side on fanaticism's slippery slope.
So, in order to avoid it, you have a tendency to lower each footstep as close as possible to compromise
just to ensure you never slip in fanaticism's direction.
And besides, compromise feels like such a welcome reprieve from 
the stringent, whip-lashed path from which you were just delivered.
Compromise feels good.
It is easy.
There is no effort all.
It is like floating...downstream...with the current...wherever it leads.
Why, it even seems easier than to stay on this bright, sunshiny path you now walk.
Because, after all, it takes quite the effort to stay balanced.
My, it is so narrow!
And it would be effortless to just kind of ease off the edge...there to the left...
and allow yourself to rest in its shade.
After all, everyone else seems to be doing it.
Why, you see people you peek over the edge to the left.
They are on varying levels of this slippery slope.
Some are still clinging...holding on for dear life to Balance's path...near the top.
Some have slid farther, but are still casting a wistful eye backwards towards the top.
All at once, you spot one of these souls, in particular.
Something about his face strikes you, and you find your eyes powerless to look away from him.
Isn't that regret you discern?
A longing to be back up here...where you are?
Like maybe he realizes from whence he has fallen, but the thought of climbing back seems too daunting...
so he is contemplating staying there...right where he is?
But, alas!
As you keep your gaze fixed on him, you find that a scream rises in your throat...
a warning that compels you to call to him.
For you realize that, unbeknownst to him, 
someone is falling at break-neck speed...spiraling right towards him,
and they will inevitably pull him downward, as they pass, if you don't warn him to move out of the way.
As your voice rises, you realize it is in vain, 
for impact has been made and the poor fellow's desperate attempt to hold on has been thwarted,
because the tide downward is just too strong.
The influence is just too powerful...
so he slides, helplessly several feet, landing on a rock much closer to the bottom...
out of your view, never to be seen by you again.
A tear comes to your eye, as you realize what just happened.
The image of his eyes...yearning to be back where you are....
remorseful that he ever left the path...
it haunts you, and it will not go away.

All of a sudden, it hits you...that to ease off the edge...there to the left...
and allow yourself to rest in its shade would be a risky proposition.
Because, no matter how lofty your intentions and determination to not drift too far off-course, 
the continual onslaught of traffic flowing and veering in that direction seems endless
and the danger of being knocked downward by one of them in their swift pursuit to reach the bottom
may just be too big of a gamble for you to take.

So, what to do?

My advice?
Stay where you are, my friend.
On solid matter how narrow.
Keep your feet on a steady path...straight as an arrow.
Don't take any chances.
After all, you hold in your hands, that part of you that will live forever.
What if you lose control and drop it...sliding down that slippery slope?
Believe me, this is what satan hopes for.
He is quick to take the control you lose.

Don't give in to compromise...not even one, little inch.
Don't be overcome by the temptation of its ease.
Don't lean into its shade...not even for an instant.
Do whatever you must to stay on the narrow path where the the sun shines.
I know it takes effort.
I realize how hard it can be to stay balanced....I'm right there with you.
But, we must.

Do you see the danger?
Of both precipices?

When you are newly-delivered from legalism,
the natural alternative satan is going to offer you is compromise.
He wants your soul.
It matters not to him how he lands you in Hell,
just so he gets you there.
Both slippery slopes...the right and the left....ultimately lead to the same, disastrous, hopeless end.

Coming out of legalism leaves you extremely and dangerously vulnerable.
Because of this natural tendency to RELAX.
To let down your guard.
To run as far from fanaticism and a legalistic mindset as you can and leave it all behind.

I get that.
I understand it....more than you know.
I grasp the concept that legalism is a place you never want to revisit.

But, be careful.
Because you do not want to veer too far in the opposite direction 
where anything and everything goes 
and where nothing is called sin.

True, Biblically-defined sin has nothing in the world to do with legalistic demands inflicted by men.

Biblically-defined sin is still and will always be....sin.
God's Word is the ultimate authority,
and it is what you and I will be judged by on that last, great day.

When coming out of legalism, there is this urge to throw away all rules,
not just the man-made ones, along with their humanly-contrived traditions,
but to even reject the Biblical doctrines put in place by God Himself.
To run free....and care-free.
To buy into the concept that because of grace, 
there are no boundaries.

This is SO detrimental and dangerous!
Because I have personally walked this path of deliverance, 
I know, firsthand, how serious this is and how real and strong the temptation is to head the opposite direction.
I am so aware of the jeopardy that is unique to coming out of legalism,
because the Holy Spirit has been very faithful to my soul and the Lord is continually opening my eyes to the traps and snares that are prevalent and frequent on this path.

God will keep us, if we truly want to be kept.

As vehement as satan's desire is to land us in Hell, 
God's desire to see us through to Heaven is far more powerful and intense.
He is not willing that any should perish, but that all of us should inherit an eternity with Him.
This is why He paid such a heavy price to redeem us and to offer us the free gift of grace.

G -  God's 
R -  Riches
A -         At
C - Christ's 
E - Expense

The Apostle Paul addressed this SO clearly in the 5th & 6th chapters of Romans.
This man had the concept of grace so down-pat.
I wish I could understand it like he did!
How blessed we are to have his writings to guide us and to open our eyes to the truth.

Read this....

"But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
That as sin hath reigned unto death, 
even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
Romans 5:20-21; 6:1-2
(Emphasis added)

Grace is not a free ticket to go hog-wild, throw all caution to the wind, and live anyway we want to live.
Grace is not there to excuse sin, 
but to empower & enable us to say no to it.
Grace was ushered in when Jesus came, not to destroy the law,
but to fulfill it.
When He made the sacrifice of Himself on the cross to purchase our redemption,
it was the ultimate atonement for all time.
When He said, it is finished, He meant that every part of salvation's plan was complete.
Everything had been done to satisfy God's requirement for the sacrifice for our sins
and to offer us the ultimate gift of forgiveness and the unmerited, unearned favor of God, called grace.
Praise God!

Applying that grace to our everyday lives gives us the victory over sin
and gives us the strength to refuse to live under its dominion.
Grace conditions us to stay balanced.

Grace does not hand us a license and permission to slide down the slipper slope of compromise,
but it infuses the strength within us to never set foot in its direction to begin with.

And if we do falter and slip and fall over the ledge landing us in a slippery place,
the arm of grace is far-reaching enough to pull us back to the balanced, narrow way.

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. 
And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
I John 2:1-2

Isn't this wonderful news?
Can you tell I am excited about grace?
After living for Jesus for 37 years,
going to church umpteen times a week for most of my growing up years and many of the years since then, 
I feel like I have only recently begun to even know what grace all.
My view of God's grace has been horrifically distorted and twisted to the point of near hopelessness,
due largely to continual blows from the merciless, dogmatic, ruthless whip of legalism and its unattainable demands.

But, the light of God's grace has pierced through the blackness!

I am now beginning to see!
I have sung "Amazing Grace" for years, and I have cherished it dearly,
but only recently have I really grasped its depths.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
Was blind, but now I see!"

I can hardly sing this old, familiar, often-sung hymn now without the shedding of tears.

It is so real and precious to my soul.

So, I write this post with the heaviness of needing to warn about the lurking dangers

that surround the coming out of legalism and a fanatical mindset,
and I write this post with the joy of first-hand 2 Corinthians 12:9 realization
that God's grace is sufficient in all circumstances,
and that the weaker we are, the more His strength is perfected.

God can keep you on a balanced path. 
He can, and He will.
His grace will sufficiently enable you to keep from veering to the left's miry clay or to the right's bondage.

Stay close to Him.
Stay right in the middle of the narrow way...
not too close to the edge...on either side.

If video doesn't load, click here.

God will make your path clear.
His light will shine in front of you, and He will keep you from falling...if you want to be kept.

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, 
and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 
To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."
Jude 1:24-25

(To read Post #1 in this series, entitled "The Binding Stronghold of Legalism", click here.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Binding Stronghold of Legalism

"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, 
This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Mark 7:6,7

Post #1 in the Legalism Series.

First of all, let me say that I still have lots of ideas floating around in my head for 
the continuation of THE TITUS 2 SERIES posts.
I feel that if God were finished with that, He would not continue to inspire thoughts along that line, 
and I will continue writing and posting those inspirations in the future, as He wills and leads.

But, for today, I feel He wants me to open up on an undesirable subject
that has deeply and detrimentally affected my life and the life of my family.
The pain of it all is still somewhat keen and the memories of what
we have been through are still quite raw, in many ways.
A lot of healing has transpired, but some of the wounds are still scabbing over.
I don't know that I will ever feel capable of disclosing the exact particulars
and/or the intimate details of our journey.
Maybe one day I will.
Somehow, I have a hunch that one day, God may even inspire me to write a book about it all
to help others who may be walking the same path we have walked.
I do know that God never wastes an experience.
He never allows us to enter the crucible of pain without having a Divine purpose for it,
and often, that very purpose is for the very benefit of those who come after us.
But, enough distance has been placed between us and our ordeal that I feel it is the right time to share at least a small portion of our testimony of God's deliverance from the ugly, powerful stronghold of legalism.

I think in order to understand where I am coming from,
even in the most general, non-personal sense,
we need to first figure out exactly what legalism is...
to explore its nature and unearth its characteristics.
I will try, by God's grace, to define and address those particulars in this post.

With that being said, however, I don't think you can ever really, really understand legalism,
unless you have lived it...breathed it....and anguished over and through it.
I don't think you can ever really, really relate to the strength of its power,
unless you have succumbed to it, allowed it to become your master,
 been delivered from it, then stepped away from it far enough to see it for what it really is..

If you are not familiar with legalism,
if you have never walked its path or been captured in its clutches,
I would encourage you to bow your head and thank the God Who spared you the grief.

If you were once enslaved, but have been marvelously delivered and set free,
I would encourage you to glorify His holy name from the depths of your soul.

If you are there now....bound, sad, tormented, and miserable,
let me just tell you, there is hope for you, my friend.

It is my sincere hope that if there is anyone reading my words who is now struggling with this powerful force,
you will somehow take cheer and find hope in knowing someone once stood where you now stand,
and stands there no longer, thanks entirely to the liberating and delivering power of the precious Holy Spirit.
If God can deliver us, He can set anyone free.
Believe me.
Tears fill my eyes and praise rises from deep within, as I stop and consider
where God has brought us from and where we are today.
Of the glorious freedom and liberty He has miraculously brought into our lives.
I could never tell it all or put it into words, but it is true.
It is reality.
I have seen His mighty, delivering hand reach down and pull us out of some very miry clay,
and I have watched Him set our feet upon the Rock and establish our goings.  (Psalm 40:1,2)

So, what exactly is legalism?

Our Scripture today includes the most definitive choice of words ever spoken to describe legalism.
How powerful that these words were uttered by none other than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

"Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

There is no earthly way legalism could better be described.

This is powerful red letters in my Bible.

Having been under the influence of the mindset and spirit of legalism for many years,
I feel led to share eleven key elements I have personally learned and experienced 
through a school-of-hard-knocks education.

I will warn you ahead of time...
sadly, the eleven things I mention are not anywhere near as pretty as these beautiful mountains.  :)

#1.  Legalism reverts us back to the Old Testament dispensation.
The demands of legalism mimic the requirements that were in place under the Mosaic law.
Jesus didn't come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.
When He came on the scene, grace appeared!
The demands for earning favor with God were nailed to an old, rugged cross.
Legalism doesn't recognize grace or acknowledge that it exists.
In fact, it works in total opposition to grace.
Those who are held captive within its clutches never even see the light of grace
because all focus is placed on outward works and their eyes are blinded to the Way, the Truth, and the Life
and how He wants us to be on the inside.

#2.  Legalism perpetuates the Pharisee spirit.
While I realize history bears out that the sect of the Pharisees disbanded many years ago,
the sad truth is this...
 as long as legalism thrives, the sect of Phariseeism will never die.
It fosters the attitude of spiritual pride, screaming,
"Look at me!  See how self-sacrificing I am!
Watch me look holier than everyone else!
See how pious I much better than all these sinners!
I am so much more righteous than those in other denominations.
Why, the ones in my "group" are the only ones who even have hopes of making it to Heaven.
We are it, and there are no others.
 We are so much more virtuous than everyone else,
so if you aren't in our circles, you're on the outside and out of God's favor."

#3. Legalism is a hard taskmaster.
When the soul is weary, the body is exhausted, 
and the mind is overwrought,
legalism cracks its merciless whip harder than ever.
It is relentless.
Unreasonable beyond belief.
It demands the impossible and expects the unattainable.
It requires more than you will ever be able to give,
and it gives nothing in return.
It is completely and entirely void of the love of God.
Legalism marches to its own drum beat,
and labels its own traditions and rules as Biblical doctrines,
when in fact they have no Biblical foundation or backing, 
but are based solely upon the opinions and views of men.
"Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Mark 7:7

"And He said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers!
for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne,
and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers
Luke 11:46

"For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men,
as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
And He said unto them,
Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered:
and many such like things do ye.
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him:
but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man
Mark 7:8-9,13,15

#4.  Legalism is a loathsome ball and chain.
No matter where you go or what you do, it tags along,
as the most devoted, albeit uninvited and certainly unwanted, companion.
It never sleeps.
It is ever present, ever on the job, ever reliable, and ever unchangeable.
It drags you down, impedes your progress, and pulls you back.
It is a heavy load to carry and lug around.

#5.  Legalism distorts true Christianity.
It turns what is the best news ever into the ultimate drudgery.
It twists the freeing power of the Resurrection into the most binding misery.
It perverts the pure vision of who Jesus is and what He came to do into something to fear...and dread.
How warped can this be?
Any effort made to leave a legalistic system is met with accusations of leaving Christianity itself.
You will be met with scathing charges of having left "the truth", 
when, in reality, you have never been closer to Jesus Christ, Who is the way, the truth, and the life,
and your accusers show none of His attributes at all.
It becomes extremely difficult to distinguish between God's approval 
and the approval of the legalistic hierarchy.
If you leave, you can expect a cult-like rebuke with ex-communication from the very ones who professed love for...and fellowship in the past.
After coming out of legalism, it is nearly impossible to fully comprehend 
and absorb the reality and true meaning of grace.
Legalism's scales are unjust and unbalanced.
It thrives on extremism, fanaticism, and dogma that is beyond anything mandated or required in God's Word.

"Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples,
Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; 
but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; 
but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men:
they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren."
Matthew 23:1-8

The spirit of legalism swells with pride as it goes over and beyond Biblical commands
and demands the same of everyone else...even though its extremism has no Scriptural backing.

#6.  Legalism is deceptive.
It looks like the real thing, until it is more thoroughly investigated.
It mimics what is true, on the surface.
The only force that will reveal the counterfeit of its true identity is Holy Spirit discernment.
Only after true, thorough deliverance can we look back and realize 
the magnitude and mastery of its deceptive efficiency and effectiveness.

#7.  Legalism is insatiable.
It cannot be satisfied....
no matter how many hoops you jump through,
how many sacrifices you make,
or how many rituals you adhere to.
It keeps demanding more...and more....and more....
until you are completely defeated and without hope.
The more you give in to it, the more territory it will claim.
Trying to satisfy a legalistic spirit of man-rule will leave you frustrated to the point of complete despair,
because regardless of what you do, it is never, ever enough.

#8.  Legalism is a binding yoke.
It gives no chance of room to breathe.
It is like a spider, clutching mercilessly to its prey,
encircling round and round, loop after loop after loop...
until the victim loses every ounce of fight and its very life is squeezed and snuffed out.
It never releases its grasp until it feels its sufferer relent in complete submission and obeisance.

#9.  Legalism is a powerful stronghold.
Unless you are miraculously delivered through a Divine-intervention miracle, 
legalism is a formidable, invincible force with which to reckon.
There is no human means of escape.
No human measures of relief.
No man-made antidote.
No mortal hope.
The only remedy that will pull the stronghold of legalism down is for the light of the Holy Spirit
to enter the darkened, benighted, hopeless, maximum-security cell of bondage,
and to shine the glorious hope of grace into its blackened night.
This, and only this, is stronger, more powerful, and capable of destroying and tearing this stronghold down.

#10.  Legalism is a sneaky thief.
It creeps in subtly, cleverly, unnoticed,
and it saps every ounce of joy from living.
It steals inner peace.
It robs happiness and slips in a deep, aching sadness as a replacement. 

#11.  Legalism's strength increases over time.
Back to the spider analogy, 
the longer the prey stays in the spider's clutches,
the greater the intensity of power the spider holds over its victim,
and the less its chance to escape.
 If you give legalism an inch, it will become the ruler of your life.
It will become your god.
You will find that you are worshiping a legalistic set of rules,
instead of God Himself.
"Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator,
who is blessed for ever. Amen."
Romans 1:25

Legalism self-exalts and sets itself up above everything else in your life, becoming an idol in the process,
and, like a snowball, it gains momentum as it rolls downhill, pulling its victims miserably and powerlessly along in its clutches.
****************************************************** I will never forget the day I was first made aware that my "worship" had crossed the line into legalism.
I honestly did not know.
I sincerely thought I was doing the right thing, until I heard my sister's voice on the other end of the phone.
She was worried about me.
Her concern was genuine.
Her words cut right through...straight to my tormented heart.
I will never forget the timeliness and accuracy and wisdom of her words.

"Cheryl, you used to enjoy your spirituality."


As I pondered the depths and gravity of what she had just said,
my eyes began to slowly come open to just how far I had drifted from God.
How distant I felt from Him.
How void of joy my salvation had become.
How sad and miserable and oppressed my state of mind and spirit.

The first step to obtaining help is to come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that help is needed.

Looking back, this realization came to me 
the moment I heard my sister's words.
As I absorbed them,
illuminating, exposing light began to shine,
and I knew something had to change.
I could not go one step further.
I had reached the end of my endurance,
and I wanted help.
I was finally ready.
God knew, at that moment, that I was willing...
to allow Him to work and move on our behalf and to begin our emancipation from the throes of bondage,
no matter how painful the process.

And, it has been painful.
I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and yet, I would wish it on anyone who is where we were.
Because the freedom and JOY in standing fully set free and delivered is worth it all....
every hurt,
every broken relationship,
every slanderous comment,
every ounce of being shunned,
and every part of being ex-communicated.

God has turned our tears into laughter and great joy.

Glory to God, we have been set free...
free to worship Him...wherever He leads,
free to work for Him...however He directs,
free to serve Him...whenever He calls.
And, at the end of the day, 
nothing could be sweeter. 

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
2 Corinthians 3:17

If you stand where we once stood, remember this, my friend... 
God is with you.
It is not His will that you remain enslaved.
He wants to set you free.
Trust Him and His escape route.
If you follow Him, you will walk away...delivered and set free.
God will strengthen you and give you grace to stand.
He will not leave you, nor forsake you.

"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." 
Deuteronomy 33:27