“Be not afraid. I go before you always.” – Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT
“I will go before you and level the mountains.” – Isaiah 45:2 BSB
Religious legalism, a form of theology based around works, has hit a nerve inside of me – leaving me somewhat indignant to say the least.
Individuals who have yet to embrace Christianity are often turned off by all of the rules and regulations that legalism self-righteously holds up as the only way to earn salvation.
Even some experienced Christians (good friends and family members not excluded) falsely believe their level of giving, their perfect church attendance, and the number of church committees they serve on can influence how God views them. Throw in some credit for the number of souls you have personally converted on a mission trip to a far away country and BOOM, you are guaranteed front row seats in heaven 🙂
Legalism places all the emphasis on our ability to make the right choices. It implies that when it comes down to our relationship with God, we must make the first move. We must demonstrate our love toward God in the form of works in order for God to love us in a deeper way. It suggests that our salvation is earned through good deeds first and foremost. It falsely proclaims that God favors the self-made saint over the sultry sinner, that we must believe in Him before He believes in us, and that we must be faithful to Him first before He is faithful to us in return.
It paints a picture of a God sitting in heaven, monitoring every one of our actions and tallying every good deed we commit – a judgmental God who is waiting for us to make a mistake or to make the first move toward Him. If we make the wrong choice, join the wrong denomination, or fail to live a life of godliness, holiness, and piety, we are sure to be left out – damned and forgotten.
Here is my contention to religious legalism: Christianity doesn’t start with what we do. It starts with what God has already done. In each aspect of the Christian faith, it is God who has made the first move.
You see….far before we could ever believe in God, He believed in us 🙂 In fact, He believed in mankind, His own creation so much; He set the plan of salvation in place at the beginning of time.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 NKJV)
God’s love for us isn’t dictated by our loving actions toward Him. It isn’t driven by our good deeds or holy behavior. It’s a part of His unchanging character. God’s love extends to each of us every day regardless of who we are or what we do. God has made the first move by loving us. It is the Source of our love that is given in return.
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)
Our salvation isn’t initiated by our good works. It’s a free gift to all mankind, given by a gracious and loving God first and foremost – far removed from our own actions and far more than we deserve!
“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
My friends – Grace cannot be grace if we earn it or if we deserve it!
What drives our faith to believe in God is God’s belief and faithfulness toward us in the first place. What drives our loving actions toward God is how God first loved us. Our salvation is earned because Christ earned it for us long ago at the Cross.
The religious legalist has it backwards. All the things God wants us to become and do, to love Him and others, to serve Him, to believe and have faith in Him, are rooted in His love, service, belief, and faithfulness toward us! God has indeed made the first move! God isn’t waiting for us to become righteous. We have already been made righteous through Christ. God isn’t waiting for us to love Him. He has loved us from the very beginning. He isn’t waiting for us to become perfect. We have been made perfect through Him 🙂
“For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” – Romans 3:23-24 NIV
“For the Law was given through Moses, but grace [the unearned, undeserved favor of God] and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – John 1:17 Amplified Bible
This is the very essence of Christianity and becoming a follower of Christ. When we truly understand how God instigates and reaches out to us, how He saves us and loves us without condition, we cannot help but stand in awe and respond to all He has done 🙂 This is where good works begin – not originating with us, but as a response to what God has done first and foremost!
Tonight I hope you realize that your Christian faith isn’t driven by who you are and what you do. It all starts with who God is and the amazing things He has done. Because God has made the first move, we in turn are moved to live the Christian life in His strength and by His power.
Praise God for who He is and all He has done – paving the way for us to become everything He wants us to be 🙂