Was It All Wrong?

27 March 2014, 06:00

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486861_14627055Okay, now we have left the legalist church/organization/teacher. Now what? Where do we stand? Do we throw out everything we learned? How do we sort out all of this? Does it all just need to go?

I have been getting a lot of these questions lately. Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are gone. Bill Gothard has resigned and the future of IBLP is in question. Churches and ministries and teachers that had all the answers suddenly don’t even have answers for themselves. At the same time, the message of God’s love and grace is being shouted from the housetops and people are hearing that it isn’t about their performance after all.

But we were immersed in the performance doctrines. We learned them throughout our lives. We judged others and ourselves by them. We grieved when we couldn’t measure up and wondered about those who didn’t even seem to try. We worked so hard to do well and sacrificed to go to the conferences, seminars and the right churches. We did what we thought we were supposed to do.

If we can’t trust the ones who spoke to us in the name of the Lord, who can we trust? Besides, it all came out of the Bible, didn’t it? We understand that it didn’t seem to work for the teachers, but shouldn’t it still work for us? Or is it all bad? Was it all wrong? No. But it was all touched by the error. It’s a little like baking cookies and putting in soy sauce instead of vanilla. The rest of the recipe is just right, but the mistake affects the whole batch. The strange taste can be found in every bite. The only way to move forward is to put together a new batch.

Yet, when you begin to bake the new batch of cookies, you find that most of the ingredients and proportions are just the same as before. The sugar was fine. The flour was good. The amount of butter, salt, and baking powder was just right. So much was right. If you can remember what the error was, you should be able to avoid it in the future.

Obviously, baking cookies does not compare with building a way of thinking about life and relationships and spirituality. But the error of legalism is usually confined to a few toxic teachings that affect the applications and effectiveness of the perspective. In fact, a simple wrong substitute might have caused the whole problem.

Many of us were brought up in an atmosphere of fear and shame. Sometimes it came from our parents. Sometimes it came from school or the community. Sometimes it was just the lie in our own hearts. We learned that condemnation was normal and deserved, even if we didn’t like it and tried to reject it. We learned little about real love, because whatever love we experienced was bound up by conditions and expectations.

What we know of the fundamental lie and the evil one who promotes it is that it stems from fear and pride, an unwillingness to rest in the provision and love of God. If I were to risk simplifying the lie, I would suggest: “I can and I should do it myself.” That lie has been cultivated into our humanity for all of history and is an integral part of our world. It should not surprise us when we see it everywhere, nor when we learn that we have been affected by it. Our parents lived in it as did their parents. The world’s thinking and most of the thinking of the church has been affected by it. The lie is everywhere. From Eve to the Antichrist, the lie has permeated our world.

So it also should not surprise us that we would naturally gravitate toward teachers and churches where the lie was just under the surface. We hate the lie. We hate feeling insecure and inadequate. Yet, those feelings are so familiar. It is difficult for us to accept teaching and influence that doesn’t have something of those feelings for us. But we don’t want it on the surface, at least not at first. We want to hear about love and acceptance, but we subconsciously look for performance and shame.

But that was the lie. Now we have discovered the truth! The lie was substituted for love. Shame and performance are not part of the good news. God loves us and sent His Son to be our hope. He has provided all that we need “for life and godliness.” What the Father has done for us in Jesus is enough. We are not condemned and no longer need to live in fear, shame, and inadequacy. Jesus is our hope, our righteousness, our life. The truth has set us free.

And now what? Now we go back to the building blocks of our faith and learn again. This time we will be watching more carefully. This time we know that the soy sauce smells and tastes different from the vanilla. We know that the lie will damage everything, so we will avoid it by prayer and wisdom. We will see that the Lord has invited us into a relationship because He loves us and He will give us all that we need for that relationship to be a lasting reality in our lives. We will remember His love for us and how it defines everything of our faith and lives.

Yes, it will be tempting to stay away from the faith altogether. My heart grieves for those who have tasted the recipe that included the lie. Now that they have spit out the vile thing they don’t want to taste anything that looks like it. We understand and sympathize. We have some of the same feelings. We will be much more sensitive to the taste in the future.

And, sadly, there are those who have grown used to “Soy-sauce cookies.” Some don’t know there is anything else. Legalism, with its shame and despair, is all they know. We have to be patient and gentle when they claim that their way is better than ours. They are wrong, and their hearts give testimony, but sometimes it all begins just by realizing that there is a joy they have been missing.

Much like we would if we were baking the new batch of cookies, we will remind ourselves of the former error as we rebuild our way of thinking about spirituality and life. We will be telling ourselves to avoid the lie. We will speak words of affirmation and truth along the way. We will tell ourselves and others about the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, the freedom of our relationship with Jesus, and the assurance of His faithfulness.

And if we smell the lie again, even in something we have accepted, we will search for it and get rid of it. We will denounce it over and over until it no longer affects our thinking. Then we will rest in the knowledge that the Lord has been with us and has guided us into the truth we need to experience His love and the joy of our salvation.

All that needs to go is the lie.

Dr. David Orrison has been a pastor for over 30 years and is now the Executive Director of "Grace for the Heart," a ministry dedicated to proclaiming the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for all aspects of the Christian life. Dave has served in the Evangelical Free Church and in the United Presbyterian Church, and he holds a Ph.D. in Theology from Trinity Seminary. Dave has unique insights into the struggles of what he calls “performance spirituality,” as he has worked extensively with people who are unsure of their relationship with Jesus because of the burden of legalism and the hopelessness of a “works-based Christian walk.” David has lived in Loveland, CO for 25 years and is happily married to Alice. They have eight sons. David blogs on a regular basis at http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.

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