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How I Left Legalism Without Leaving God

left legalism

It’s possible. I left legalism. And I didn’t leave God. Here’s how I left legalism without leaving God.

I’m a product of “purity culture.”

I wore the ring, read the books and didn’t date in high school. I could tell you anything you wanted to know about courtship. I was immersed in the culture through my teen years, as a student and a leader within the movement.

I judged girls who did things differently. I judged girls who “dated” and kissed before marriage.

But in one year, the rules I’d accepted as law were overcast with the shadow of doubt. I wondered if it was all a big lie: this Christian life, this righteous living, this purity. I was at a crossroads.

That was the day I left legalism.

How I Left Legalism Without Leaving God

There are entire forums designed for people scarred by “purity culture” and fundamentalism.  A movement that began with good intentions has developed a cultish following, complete with rings and signed commitments and lists of do’s and don’ts. To a society immersed in freedom of sexuality, the whole thing is absurd. To churches more concerned with grace than holiness, it’s extremist. But to those within the movement it makes perfect sense.

Legalism never starts with judgment. It starts with a genuine desire to please God. God does command us to walk in purity (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and God expects holiness from all who claim His name. But that’s easier said than done. So legalism makes holiness seem easier to do by replacing a living relationship with a list of rules.

It always starts with God’s standards, but legalism adds to them: The marriage bed should be honored (but courtship is the only way); women are to submit to their own husbands (and all men within the church); wives are to be keepers of the home (and never work outside of it).

These philosophies don’t happen overnight, nor do they always begin in ill will. What makes them appealing is their ability to shortcut the walk of faith.

You see, rings and rules are the easy route.

It is easier to follow a list than pursue the Spirit of God. It is easier to sign a paper than to dedicate our hearts to the Most High. And it is easier to follow the applause of man than to seek the quiet approval of Jesus Christ.

Legalism is sneaky. It convinces us that the guidelines we’ve added to achieve holiness were written by God Himself. When we believe that man’s rules are actually God’s, when the rules fail us, we blame our disillusionment on God…when it’s not even His fault.

This is why girls who were “raised right” rebel. This is why the purity movement doesn’t always work. And this is why people reject a Christianity that actually isn’t Christianity at all.

God never said you have to marry the first person you date; He said “be holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).

God never said women could never speak up in church; He said “submit to your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22).