There’s an injunction in Galatians 6:1 to “watch yourself.” Eugene Peterson in the Message interprets this command as “saving your critical comments for yourself.” Sometimes (and tragically) the Pharisee in me gets the better of me. Instead of watching myself, I see the speck in someone else’s eye. Which got me thinking about rooting out legalism in my life, and then got me thinking about rooting out legalism in how I engage with the Bible. So here are my thoughts as they pertain to rooting out legalism in Bible engagement:
To begin, I should probably admit to a tendency to promote my own personal Bible engagement standards. My personal standards are rules or expectations expressed in words like, “Christians should have a ‘quiet time’ (prayer and Bible reading) every day.” While this personal standard may be okay for me, it’s not okay for me to press others to adopt this standard.
When I was a young Christian I was free and easy about urging fellow Christians to have a quiet time. I didn’t appreciate that what I was doing was legalistic. Most legalists are legalists without realizing it.
Recognizing that the fog of legalism is ever present helped me identify four legalistic Bible engagement inclinations that I need to guard against:
- Self-righteousness. If I read and reflect on God’s Word in a way that makes sure others are aware of my good behaviour, I’ve crossed the line into legalism. Performance-based Christianity should never be the goal of Bible engagement.
- Human effort. If my motive for reading and reflecting on God’s Word is to exert all the energy I can muster to make God happy or be a good Christian, I’ve got it all wrong. Bible engagement conducted in my own strength is antithetical.
- Religious duty. Reading and reflecting on God’s Word to be devout or faithful is another form of legalism. The spirit of legalism is also inherent in the fear that God might punish or reject me for not reading or reflecting on His Word. Religious duty is the enemy of Bible engagement.
- Personal standards. Telling others to “Read your Bible every day” is legalism. It’s not a command in the Bible and I shouldn’t equate personal values with God’s values. That to identify that the measure of Bible engagement is in God’s hands, not mine.
That’s my Bible engagement short list for rooting out legalism. It reminds me that Bible engagement should never be obedience to a formula or special moral code. Bible engagement, correctly undertaken, breaks all bondage to legalism and sets me free. For true Bible engagement is a grace-filled, Christ-exalting, kingdom-championing process that liberates me to live fully and only all for Jesus.
© Scripture Union Canada 2018