How Free Is Free?
There’s all the difference in the world between working to gain someone’s acceptance and working because of someone’s acceptance. I meet people all the time who feel compelled to serve God in order to merit His love and acceptance. Often this is the result of a theological error they’ve been taught since childhood: “You better be good or else ...” On other occasions, it stems from growing up in a home where parental acceptance depended on their behavior: “Be a good girl, and daddy will love you.” This pattern of thinking can become so entrenched, adults will work themselves into the grave attempting to prove to their parents they’re not a failure. I’ve met men who were driven by a desire to gain their father’s approval long after their father had passed away.
When this system of performance-based acceptance is transferred to our heavenly Father, the result is legalism. Legalism is an attitude. It’s a system of thinking in which an individual attempts to gain God’s love and acceptance through good works or service. Some people sincerely believe their salvation is at stake. For others, it’s a vague feeling of divine disapproval of which they’re trying to rid themselves. Either way, however, legalism always leads to the same dead end: a lack of joy, a critical spirit, and an inability to be transparent.
Freedom from legalism comes through accepting the truth about our favored position in the family of God. Those who’ve put their trust in Christ have been adopted into His family. There’s no concept that speaks any clearer of acceptance than adoption. Whereas a pregnancy can come as a surprise, adoption is always something that’s premeditated and planned. While you and I were still without hope, God set the stage to adopt us into His family (Rom. 5:8).
Do you feel you must work in order to gain God’s acceptance? Do you find yourself being critical of those who don’t serve the Lord with the same fervor as you? Have you developed a martyr’s attitude toward your service for the Lord? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it could be that you’re not really resting in the finished work of Christ—a work that settled the question of your acceptability once and for all. Through Christ, God provided you with an eternal place in the family of God and allows you to call Him your Father.