How Legalism Destroys Families

“Christ is the end of the Law, in order to bring righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Romans 10:4


Part of the recovery process for my past battle with alcoholism is to watch the A&E TV series, Intervention. It reminds me of just how bad my addiction was, and the despair I was in as a functioning, successful person, who struggled with drinking way too much.

If you’ve never watched it, the premise is this: a documentary crew follows around someone fighting an addiction. Unbeknownst to them, at the end an intervention occurs.

I studied this show for years, trying to figure out how these extremely addicted people finally got sober. I longed for sobriety, envying their sobriety date each time I saw it before the credits ran. Sadness always overtook my emotions when they relapsed or went back to their addiction. Sometimes the recap text at the end–rather than a sobriety date and how they were doing–would be when they had died…Those episodes would take me even deeper into desperately wanting freedom from my own prison cell of alcoholic tendencies.

Then I finally got it! My sobriety date! May 8th, 2014! Praise God!

I was recently laying on my couch taking in an episode about an addicted man whose family was extremely legalistic. He wanted nothing to do with that, and acted out, fighting back against their extreme condemnation with rebellion. Regularly shaming him to no end–because he wasn’t “good like his brother”–this kind man turned to booze to numb the pain of being a severe disappointment.

Part of his issue was he had caught his devout “perfectly behaved” father having an affair in the act. His world instantly crumbled as he witnessed, in his own words, his “idol having sex with a coworker.” To make matters worse, he confronted his dad about it, told his mom, and his father grounded him for three months while calling him a liar. Can you believe that? I can. Self-righteously-minded people do everything they possibly can to hide nasty behavior because holy behavior is where they find their identity.

As children of God our identity is in our birth not our behavior. That sentence will stir up legalistic demons who hang out with grace-confused people. When we flip-flop the two–birth and behavior–or attempt to mix them, we hurt those around us including ourselves. Our birth-focus must come first then behavior from that birth, second. This is the sweet spot of the Christian life where peace and confidence resides.

As I watched this young man being interviewed by the producers with tears streaming down his face, it was easy to see he wasn’t lying. Why would he make up such a thing? He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. The pain in his voice while telling the tale, and how he was treated by his overbearing, religious family, was heart-wrenching. He was taught to always tell the truth, he does tell the truth, and gets punished by the man who taught him to tell the truth…Why? Legalism. The self-made law of “What will people think?”

His dad refused to admit what he had done. “This would damage my reputation at church, so I’m not talking about it,” he said during a close-up. At one point, he glared at the interviewer, took off his mic, and walked out of the room. But that’s what legalism does. It says, “Look at me! I’m doing everything right! I’m your perfect example!” and when we fail our bogus identity fails too–which is devastating. In turn, we abuse people, frantically scrambling while trying to keep our fake prestige intact. False humility or hypocrisy follows suit, rather than refocusing on our true sinless identity.

Legalism was destroying this family and the enemy was sitting back watching, while eating a big bowl of popcorn with a grin. “Ha! This is great! They think that what they’re doing is making them right with God! And the boy is constantly getting drunk because of it! YESSSSSS!”

One of Satan’s greatest deceptions is to make us think we’re defined by our actions and religious knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth, as even the devil has the Bible memorized (see Matthew 4:5-7). Only our supernatural birth defines us. This birth happens once by grace through faith in Jesus’ ability to forgive us. When we believe He has forgiven us, this act of faith causes our spirit to die and instantly be reborn as perfect–as righteous–just as perfectly righteous as Christ Himself! (See John 1:12, 3:6,7, Ephesians 2:8,9, 1 John 4:17, Hebrews 10:10,14).

Free righteousness is what the gospel is! Understanding our free righteousness allows us to grow in maturity because we know our holy identity can never be altered or reversed! (See Romans 3:21,22, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Timothy 2:13). So when we mess up it’s not that big of a deal due to the fact that we know who we really are. We are not our mess-ups, we are not our successes, we are saints! Wallowing in guilt doesn’t honor God, nor does covering stuff up. Getting up, dusting off, and moving forward as our true self, does!

Satan wants us to not only think we are defined by our good actions, but even more, our bad actions. Just as long as we aren’t seeing ourselves as we truly are: coheirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17). However, if we can allow a great divorce to happen in our minds–separating our who from our do–we can begin enjoying life to the fullest and so can our loved ones!

The dad in this episode of Intervention mistakenly had his identity confused with his actions. His son was drowning himself in alcohol because of the pain this was causing. The most liberating thing his father could have done, for everyone involved, was admit to the affair, admit that choice was not who he really was, and then moved on.

Such an act of humility would’ve brought more healing for his family than he realizes, and he would’ve felt better than he’ll ever know. We never feel more like ourselves than when we are exuding God’s Spirit. His Spirit is meek and humble, expressing Him is where we find the deepest levels of rest (see Matthew 11:29, John 15:5).

So today, my friends, know this: In order to love your family in the most authentic way possible, be yourself. As a Christian, you have everything you need on the inside to love others how God wants you to, and truthfully, how you want to as well. You want what God wants. We don’t need to hide our mistakes or belittle them. When we mess up, the best thing we can do is admit it, learn, and grow. Never allow the enemy to convince you that your actions define you! Birth defines you! Birth into God’s family! Genuine actions only come by way of growing in this truth!

A prayer for you: Father, today I want to thank you for the freedom found in understanding who I am. I know I’ll still be learning even after I leave this body, but I’m so grateful for the truth! You know I struggled for so long with not only an addiction to alcohol, but also to legalism. What misery the enemy had me in! Thank you for teaching me my identity and how to live a balanced life! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them are confused. They’ve been taught that what they do and don’t do, defines them. The truth is, YOU define them. As a believer in Christ, you say they are holy, righteous, blameless, and set apart. Help them begin to understand these truths so authentic behaviors and attitudes can follow. In Christ’s name I pray, amen.

This devotional is from The Christian Identity, Volume 1. Get your copy here!

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