In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off]. Ė Galatians 5:1 AMP
In this verse Paul is specifically talking to the Galatians about men converting to Christianity being circumcised. There were some Jewish converts in the church who were telling Gentile converts that unless they were circumcised their salvation was incomplete. Paul is correcting this error and tells the Galatians that their faith, not legalistic rituals, is what keeps them from the gates of hell. Although weíre not faced specifically with legalism of this sort today, this passage has implications in todayís church.
Legalism is something that we allow to run rampant today in churches all over the world. I say WE because without our actions legalism would not exist. When I first received my salvation, I was ensnared by legalism. I felt like I had to wear a tie every Sunday. I felt like I had to volunteer all of my spare time. And I thought I had to be at church every time the door was unlocked. I had enslaved myself to the church and its way of life. I felt like being at church and doing things for the church proved I was a good and perfect and happy Christian. Surely that would get me into heaven.
These works and actions were all well and good, but the problem with all of it was my heart wasnít toward God. I just wanted approval of people. A pat on the back and an ďatta-boyĒ was all I ever wanted, and I got plenty of it. As Jesus said, that was the only reward I received (Matthew 6:1). On top of that, the only time I opened my Bible was when I was at church for a service. I spent no time alone with God. I knew about God, but I didnít know Him personally. I have only myself to blame for such a mess, but looking back I can see where I allowed legalism to wiggle its way into my life and keep me confined.
Now donít get me wrong and think that Iím saying that everything in the Bible is all legalism and we donít have to follow any of its instructions. The Bible is very legalistic, but it doesnít contain any instructions that keep us in bondage. As Christians we should want to follow its every step and not try to find loopholes around things to get our way. It is when we think we find ways to justify our sin that we become submitted to a yoke of slavery. This yoke can not only hold us through sin, but also through a ritualistic and legalistic routine at church.
Have you ever woke up Sunday morning and felt like you just didnít want to go to church? We have. Not once have we ever prayed and asked God if we should go. Surely God would want us at church, right? It had to be the devil wanting to keep us away from some kind of blessing, so we dressed ourselves, made sure the kids were ready, and blazed a trail straight there. What if those days were days He just wanted our family to spend time together? What if He wanted us to take a quiet day trip to the beach in the dead of winter and just relax? We might have missed out, but we will never know because we never took time to ask God what He wanted us to do. I can also admit that I attended partially out of fear. I didnít want to be accused of being an uncommitted Christian by those who liked to talk about such things.
So remember: slavery has been illegal in the United States since the 1860s. There are still choices Christians make every day to enslave themselves. It comes when they decide to keep sin in their life, which can be easy to spot. But legalism also comes in when Christians hold themselves prisoner to a church and its way of doing things rather than listening to Godís ways. And believe it from someone who has been there, Godís ways are leaps and bounds better than the churchís ways. He will never hold us captive, and His ways for our life will always captivate us.