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My Battle With Legalism (Part 1)

I've been struggling. My focus has been all over the place, my energy has been low, and my "God-time" has been contesting with everything else that vies for time, attention, and energy. I've tried to cut myself some slack, but that's never been a strength of mine. The resulting guilt left me in a bit of a pit.

Maybe I haven't expressed it in these terms before, but legalism has been third-wheeling in my relationship with Christ for most of my life. Trying to disentangle myself from that web over the past few years has been difficult—mostly because I have a hard time discerning between conviction and unnecessary guilt.

Do I feel guilty about this little pleasure—like a good book or a fun show—because God doesn't want me enjoying those things, or because I've learned to believe that there's no room in life for pleasure that isn't reading my bible or praying? Is this the Spirit pricking me, or just my unhealthy conscience?

Will I ever be able to enjoy anything without guilt???

I'm crying a little, writing this. Maybe that seems ridiculous. But in my short life, I've come to realize what my greatest struggle area is, and this is it. I'm a passionate person, and I don't waste time on things I don't really enjoy. But then I feel guilty for really enjoying them. And then I shame myself. And then I question whether I'm saved or why I'm saved or how I will ever be a Christian and a normal human at the same time.

I don't know where I'm going with this. Can you tell this is a bit of an emotional tirade?

My biggest struggle is this: every time I get excited about something fun and pointless, like a cool book or a great musical that gets my creative juices flowing, I scorn myself for being excited about something with no eternal implications. I shame myself. I beat myself up. I'm hyper-aware of my geeky passions and can't enjoy any innocent pleasure too much without feeling guilt—but since I don't do things I don't really enjoy, that means I feel guilty about almost every pleasure in my life.

My guilty conscience tells me that I must not really love God. If I get excited about worthless things but my love for God looks understated or quiet by comparison, is it love at all? Am I a fake Christian? Do I love God enough to make the cut, or will I make it into heaven by the skin of my teeth?

That, my friends, is legalism talking. It sucks the grace out of the gospel and makes every little failure (or perceived failure) into a deal-breaker for salvation.

God's grace is so much bigger than that. If you remember one thing from this post, don't let it be my guilt, my struggle with legalism, or my geekiness—let it be that God's grace is sufficient for you. He saved you, and that means you are SAVED. You are CHOSEN. You are KEPT. It doesn't mean we don't have Kingdom work to do, but it means that we do that work out of love, not fear.

God knew when He chose me that I had the attention span of a puppy. He knew when He chose me that I'm a passionate person, that I love a good story, that I'm a hopeless romantic. Day by day, I try to give that to Him and trust that one day, He'll channel it into a Kingdom purpose. But for now, all I can do—all we can do—is keep reaching for Him. Keep reminding ourselves of how much we love Him and striving to express it more fully each day. Keep fighting to be better while remembering that through Christ, we have already been justified in the way that matters most.

We can give our struggles to God and ask Him to assist us. We can give Him our feeble love and worship and ask Him to multiply and deepen them a hundredfold. We can come to Him with our shortcomings, confident that they do not outweigh what Christ did for us on the cross.

If you have accepted Christ as the savior who died and rose to pay for your sins, that means you are SAVED, and through the ups and downs, your savior will keep you. Keep walking with him.

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Emma Flournoy
Emma Flournoy
Jul 30, 2022

Yikes, I can't tell you how much I relate to this, Niki. Especially the not-always-being-able-to-discern between a conviction or unnecessary guilt; the prickings of the Spirit or my hyperactive conscience. I appreciate you putting these thoughts into words and sharing how much you're at sea in it.

For almost as long as I can remember, I've had a ridiculously sensitive conscience, and while I know that's much more good than it is bad, sometimes I wonder if some of it is just me and my hyperactive guilt, and if it shouldn't always be acting up when it is.

Or maybe it's a gift of God to be thankful for; and I am, but man, if some of it's just me…

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