I have a confession: I am a recovering “good girl.”
Growing up in the church, I made my way through life attempting to follow the rules and avoid trouble. Many of my early years of life were spent marking off my Christian “to-do” list, tallying up the points I had accrued on my “good girl” record, and trying to win the approval of God and man. Everything came crashing down during my college years when I realized through a devastating sin pattern that I wasn’t created to just be a “good girl” who followed the rules. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t follow the rules at all in my own strength. Jesus used a dark night of the soul to unlock the shackles that held my life in bondage. He set me free from a legalistic lifestyle to a freedom that cannot be checked off of a list. He shattered the chains that gripped my ankles and burdened my spirit, and He will do the same for you.
Are you secretly checking off a list to earn God’s favor? Do you make your decisions based off of the opinion of others? Have you attempted to abide by the rules to prove your worth to the church, the world, and the Lord? You are not alone. The chains of legalism inch their way into the hearts of many Christian women. This struggle between legalism and the freedom of Christ goes back to the collision of the Old Testament law and the cross. In order to understand the magnitude of the freedom we have been given by Jesus to live like Him and for Him, we must first understand the depths of our depravity and need for salvation. We need to journey back to the very beginning where the law began.
The Law’s Beginnings
According to Jewish tradition, the first five books of the Bible are referred to as the Torah, meaning teaching, instruction, or law. These books include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Of these five books, one of the most neglected ones to be read is the book of Leviticus. For too long we have allowed dust to collect on these pages of the Word, not realizing that threaded throughout this long list of do’s and don’t’s is a gospel-centered hope pointing to Christ. Within the 27 chapters of Leviticus, there are 613 laws given by God to Moses that are rooted in the central message that God is holy and requires His people to be holy. God plants these laws within the hearts of the people to magnify the hope of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would one day come to free them from the bondage of the law. First, God spoke the law to the mediator of the people, Moses.
Slip your feet into the sandals of Moses with me for a minute. Imagine you are standing alone on Mount Sinai in the presence of the one and only, holy and perfect God. You are recording with trembling fingers the 613 laws that Yahweh God is giving you. With each law you write down, your soul feels a bit more weighty as the Lord gives this command, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Be holy…as God is holy? This commandment brings with it the stark reality that man is sinful and God is perfect. Man is needy and God is worthy, deserving of man’s praise and adoration. Man is rebellious and God is gracious and merciful to grant a second chance to His people, over and over and over again.
Moses wrote this commandment down, recognizing that this was impossible to attain without the mighty intervention of God. This overwhelming list of laws highlighted the need for God’s people to be set apart from the world. In order for this to happen, innocent blood had to be shed for the atonement of the people. Moses recorded the mandate that Jewish priests would offer daily sacrifices for the sins of the people. This practice would take place during hundreds of years of Jewish history. These sacrifices were a direct response to God’s commandment to be holy just as He is holy. Moses was the mediator of the people at this time, but history revealed that the Israelites were needful of a greater solution than the imperfect sacrifices of animals. They were in need of a perfect sacrifice.
The Chain Breaker
Fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, where we find the Pharisees adhering to these same laws that Moses wrote down on Mount Sinai. The Pharisees strived for perfection, lived for man’s approval, and loved the way of legalism. They thrived off of having an inventory of rules to follow and they prided themselves in their long lists of accolades. They loved the way of legalism and refused to admit that the law highlighted their need for a Savior. They could not be holy as God is holy without a redeemer to rescue them from their vain attempts to earn the favor of God. In Matthew 23, Jesus condemned the Pharisees, telling them that “they do all their deeds to be seen by others” (v. 5). The Pharisees carried around their legalistic measuring sticks. They compared themselves to others, tried to proved their “holiness” by their outward actions, and neglected to address their own sin problems.
The legalism of the Pharisees can often be seen in our own attempts to live the “good girl” life apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ, our Mediator. Legalism is an attempt to earn God’s favor by doing certain things to get His attention and gain His approval. It manifests itself in us through pride and false confidence as we believe we have “done enough” or have become “good enough.” In the end, we beat ourselves up and walk with heads hanging low. The law strangles our hearts. It reminds us of our need for a Savior to redeem us. Paul tells us clearly in Galatians 3:13 that, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”
The reality of life is this: all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and are under the curse of the law. There is nothing we can do in our own strength to fix this problem (Romans 3:23). Jesus shed His innocent blood for us and died on a cross in order for the curse of sin to be broken and our souls to be set free. His death was the only thing that could bridge the gap between man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness. God built a bridge in the form of the cross so we could, through His grace by faith, be cleansed from our sins and set free from the curse of legalism to follow our Savior. Jesus as Lord changes everything. Lordship doesn’t eliminate the law, but it brings freedom and motivates us to obey Christ out of love and gratitude for His grace. Christ, our Lord, fulfilled the law, and He deserves all of our devotion in return (Matthew 5:17-18).
The Liberty of Grace
As a recovering good girl, this message brings hope to my weary, heavy-laden soul. The command to “be holy as I am holy” is no longer a burden I must attain in my own strength, but a gift that has been imparted to me through the innocent blood of Christ shed on my behalf. No longer do I wear the chains of legalism. Now, the law of love motivates my actions, and the liberty of mercy compels my heart to live a holy life set apart for Jesus. I agree with Paul in Galatians 5:1 that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” If you are a recovering good girl, holiness is possible through the cross of Christ, and His Lordship over our lives gives us purpose. The grace of God scrubs our souls, sets us free from the shackles of the good girl mentality, and gives us the freedom to live in the fullness of His ways. The law of love motivates our actions, and the liberty of grace compels our hearts to live holy lives set apart for Jesus.
living free because of the Chain-Breaker,