Having moral standards, personal convictions and strong family traditions isn’t wrong. But it is wrong to believe that these things are the cause of our acceptance before God. Scripture makes clear that we are accepted, forgiven and transformed solely because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. Everything else should be a consequence of the cross. But legalism sets in when our good works are an attempt to earn God’s grace, instead of springing from a deep appreciation of God’s grace.
I’ve noticed it’s easy for we home-schooled folk to get in such a habit of seeing good things done a good way, that we eventually cling to our own doing more than Christ’s having done. That’s legalism. To be so focused on your own expressions of holiness that you start overlooking He who makes us holy. Sometimes it’s good to stop and double-check what motivates your Christian walk.
Jesus Christ addresses this issue in a parable found in Luke 18. Check out the opening verse:
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others…
Right off the bat, here are two ways to know if your main motivator is legalism:
First, you trust in yourself that you are righteous. When you compare yourself with yourself, guess what? You always come out winning. Perhaps you are sure of your status as ‘righteous’ because, well, check out all these things you’re doing right! You dress right, you talk right, you look right and your family has perfected the formula of being totally right all the time. And this is where error seeps in: you start trusting all this ‘righty stuff’ is the reason God keeps loving you. Over time, the consequences of self-righteousness start piling up. For example, you quickly assume that everyone who isn’t an exact copy of you, your family or your church is either a lost sinner or an immature Christian — if not an outright heretic! Another consequence is that your world implodes every time you mess up, because you can’t fathom you were actually capable of sinning like regular ‘ole sinners.
Here’s a test, ask yourself this: If all the righteous elements of my life were suddenly stripped away — my looks, my traditions, my habits and routines I hold so dear — would I still be loved by God? If I were suddenly empty and naked of everything that gives me an appearance of being righteous, would I still be sure of my redemption in Christ?
Would such a scenario fill you with despair, or would it remind you that your hope lies solely on Jesus Christ? Paul’s certainty sprung from Christ alone: “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Secondly, perhaps you despise others. When folks don’t add up to your list of expectations, is your knee-jerk reaction to despise them? Do you have a habit of pushing people away just because they aren’t exact copies of yourself? It’s a dangerous thing when our righteousness doesn’t inspire us to love those who are loved by God, nor reach out to those who are blind to Him. Pharisees were so irate when they saw Jesus sitting at the table with sinners because they assumed He would only speak with non-sinners. Legalism can make us treat the Gospel the same way. “The Gospel’s joyful truths are exclusive to me and my flock. No one else is welcome to share it unless they’re part of our secret club.”
Here’s a test, ask yourself this: what kind of change do I require from those I hold at arm’s length before I’d consider speaking to them, befriending them or loving them? A haircut change? A dress change? Or perhaps even a change of denomination? Now ask yourself this: which changes did God expect from me before sending His Son to save my soul? All through out Scripture we see God’s love taking the initiative and reaching out to those who would never reach out to Him. And it is this exact love which, according to 1 John 2, is planted in the hearts of His children and becomes one of the greatest signs of true conversion.
A born-again disciple of Jesus Christ will stick out from the rest of the crowd because of these two things: his righteousness rests on Jesus Christ alone, and his love for others is undeniable. Are you striving to have this kind of testimony? Or are you content with your own self-righteousness?
I like to say that the term ‘legalistic homeschooler’ doesn’t have to be redundant. Because after all, Jesus came to seek & to save us, too.