Is Reading the Bible, Legalism?

Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

It’s the Heart, not the Actions
Vanessa Bonilla

Growing up, legalism filled my environment. I was taught, indirectly, that the length of my hair or skirt; the places I avoided; the ways I served, prayed, or gave were what would save me from the evil of this world. I made unhealthy connections with very healthy disciplines. The actions were good, but my heart posture was all wrong.
A simple definition of legalism is an excessive commitment to a method or procedure expecting a specific outcome. The things I did weren’t wrong but the way it framed my view of God was all distorted. My heart was burdened by legalism which made me feel hopeless the more I tried to live up to the rules. I felt that God didn’t care about me and that the time I dedicated to Him was never quite good enough. 
After leaving that environment, every time I would start trying to develop a particular discipline, like Bible reading, I was plagued with imposter syndrome. “This isn’t me. I’m just trying to act holy. I’m just trying to earn my way into God’s good graces again.”. Instead of accepting those lies and giving up on good discipline altogether, I created a list to help me identify when I was operating in legalism.

Legalism leaves no room for grace - If I miss a day of reading my Bible or maybe even a week, do I feel I’m letting God down? Do I carry guilt? If so I remember that it is His faithfulness that carries this relationship, not mine!
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is YOUR faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) 

Legalism focuses on the Method more than the Purpose - When I don’t have my Quiet Time Companion or my favorite Bible, do I feel like I can’t have a “good” quiet time? Do I avoid meeting with Him when I’m away from home? I don’t need to do the same things, the same ways, every time I meet with Him. Psalms 19:1-2 reminds me that I can find His glory everywhere I look and wherever I am. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

Legalism is expectation-based - When tragedy, depression, or hard times come, do I ask something along the lines of “But God didn’t I ______ enough?” This question reveals the motivation of my heart. Instead of loving God, I might be using Him for an outcome. I must take my eyes off of the situation and pray as Paul prayed over the church in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

It is as difficult to identify false motivations as it is easy to find reasons not to be disciplined. In both rule-keeping and rule-breaking, we’re focusing on actions and avoiding the condition of our hearts. The gospel has given us freedom from the penalty of our sins and the freedom, not to do whatever we want, but freedom for a life of wholehearted obedience. So, let us allow the truth of God’s word to renew our minds daily and reform our thinking by reading the Bible for the right reasons. Let this be the meditation of our hearts as we leave behind legalism and push forward toward a healthy, life-giving relationship with the Lord and His word.
“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

  Vanessa Bonilla lives with her husband, Eli, in Brooklyn, NY where she homeschools their five children. Vanessa is also the Children’s Director at her church, and she loves fire pits, friends, and spending time with her family.
Gospel habits Legalism

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