My friend, Peter Rodriguez, grew up in a denomination that was extremely legalistic. His church had rules about everything. Rules about clothing and rules about baptism. Rules that a woman could not cut her hair, wear makeup, or curl her eyelashes. Rules forbidding wedding rings. They taught that their church was the only way to get to heaven. If a church member did not follow the constitution and rules of the church, they were ostracized from fellowship.
Peter never knew if he was really saved. He felt bound up in religion, held hostage to rules made up by men. He felt empty because he always fell short of expectations. He was caught in the rat race of legalism. He always had to outdo his last good act. He felt condemned if he so much as missed a church service. He usually felt all-around general guilt about himself and his lifestyle.
Peter and his wife were involved in leading music at their church, but they always sensed they were not quite good enough to be on the platform. His wife was criticized for cutting her hair. The couple were labeled as rebellious.
Their church leaders were brutal on the laity. They kept pushing people to do more and more. The leaders imposed strict standards on their members even though the leaders themselves were unable to keep all the rules. Image was more important than love. One church leader brutally beat his son for going to the movie theater. Other leaders preached strong sermons about holiness, but were caught sexually abusing children. Repeatedly, the congregation heard that God was angry and disapproving.
Today, many of Peter’s friends and others that he grew up with in church are no longer serving God. They listened to the condemning legalistic preaching in his church and figured, “If I am condemned anyway, I might as well do something really bad.” Many of them fell into drug and alcohol addiction, sexual perversity, and living a life of sin.
Eventually, Peter and his wife both tumbled into severe depression. They were unable to handle the condemnation and judgment that came from other members of their church. They sought professional counseling. But, what really set them free was a Bible study. At a home group, they started to hear about God’s grace. Slowly, the message of grace released them from the trap of legalism.
Peter says, “It was hard for me to recognize grace. I had a difficult time knowing that God loved me. But, slowly I discovered that in spite of who I am, God still blesses me. He taught me to receive His love. Little by little, God peeled away the distortion and revealed Himself to me. I saw that God is a God of grace. Now I know that He cares for me.”
He continues, “Grace, like a tsunami wave without warning, crossed high walls of my legalism. It flooded my deepest inferior valleys that harbored my psychological, physical, and spiritual tragedies. It overwhelmed me. It keeps seeing me for what I can be and not for what I am. How could I not have noticed grace before?”
Now, Peter and his wife Lorena are serving the Lord wholeheartedly.
What is your story? Have you ever felt trapped by legalistic religion? Have religious rules frustrated you? Do you ever feel like you are going to church out of rote habit instead of because church refreshes you? Did you ever wonder if there was something more to Christianity? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, keep reading. You are about to discover God’s amazing grace.