I was talking with a man who had spent the last couple of years as a 'backslidden' Christian - by his own admission. He had been hurt by church leadership and the politics of the day, and had questioned if he even believed in Jesus any more: If Jesus is Lord, then how could He allow such a messed up system to exist, a system political internally with a facade of spirituality, that made it nearly impossible to experience and know Him?
As we talked I had what I'd call a 'mini-vision' that I could see in my spirit while at the same time talking to him. I saw his condition through his eyes, which looked like him on one side of a room and Jesus talking to him from the other side of the room, yet in the middle of the room between them was a mass of pipes and wires and furniture and people looking as if they had all been tossed like a salad and put in the middle of the room.
This young man wanted desperately to know Jesus, to see Jesus, to walk with Jesus, but couldn't hear nor see Him directly because the pile was so large and as Jesus talked someone in the pile restated what He said but with their own additions and edits, so that the man heard not our Lord, but our Lord combined with these twisted and tangled people's ideas.
As I watched this mini-vision a person who was so completely covered in this debris that only their arm and hand stuck out of it, flung a stinging piece of metal towards the young man, inflicting first one and then more cuts on his body as he and others threw things at the man to the point it seemed the more he tried to experience Jesus the more cuts from the people he received.
Each time he would wince at the cut, for each cut though small, drew blood, and with other people who I couldn't see but whose arms and hands controlled similar pieces of steel, lashed out at him until the cuts were so numerous he realized he had to leave the room or possibly die.
I saw him walk out head down in discouragement, closing the door behind him, muttering to himself "I only wanted to see Jesus". And it ended.
The compassion of the Lord came on me as we talked, and I realized that his 2 years or so away from church had been healthy for him - and I thought what a sad thing that a person is often healthier emotionally and spiritually away from church than in church. During those 2 years the wounds had healed, but they left enough scars he would not go for his own spiritual health return.
He told me that even though he would tell people he wasn't a believer anymore, and sometimes would tell a person he was agnostic, in truth he said he never left the Lord, he just didn't know how to know Him without the structure of the church. He just couldn't jump through hoops and over hurdles any more.
That day the Lord removed that pile of debris between the two of them, and a great reconciliation and reunion happened, and he began walking with the Lord purely, as two friends might walk through life together, rather than trying to know Him only after first having satisfied requirements he had been told were needed.
You might be a legalistic believer if...
2) You really don't know the Lord on your own, except through the system
The sudden realization that a person knows the system more and better than they know the Lord, is devastating. To realize the faith you thought you had in the Lord is actually faith in a formula, or faith in the structure or history of the institution, causes one to question their faith. This is what I've seen in a wide range of Christians - from missionaries who spent decades in foreign lands only to be 'burned' by their home organization, or the house wife with journals filled with notes from dozens of teachings - when something happens to a favorite person or church or system - their hurt causes them to question everything.
They realize there is a pile of debris they had placed their faith in, human error and traditions they thought were God, that were actually preventing them from knowing the person of Jesus Christ. They had never thought of themselves as legalistic, but realizing they had built a framework of man-made structure through which they understood their faith, devastates them.
The flow goes both ways
In the way in the mini-vision the Lord kept trying to talk to the man but was hindered, the opposite is also true: A Christian sends their worship and prayers up through a doctrine or fad teaching or movement to the Lord, not realizing the filtering effect of what is in truth, the same debris as the man above. it works both ways - sometimes He tries to reach us but it is filtered through error and traditions, and sometimes the only way a Christian has a relationship with the Lord is 'upward' through that same debris.
If you identify yourself to others by the particular teaching or place you have latched onto for the moment, you might be a legalistic believer.
If you get offended when someone challenges your doctrine, you might be a legalistic believer.
If you have lost the ability to exchange ideas, but get defensive and resort to personal attacks when someone questions what you believe, you might be a legalistic believer.
If you place great emphasis on outward appearance, or believe your faith and the outward appearance of yourself and your church are linked and very important, you might be a legalistic believer.
If you believe what x teacher says rather than the chapter and verse you can read for yourself, you might be a legalistic believer.
The thing about legalistic believers is they think they are free, but they are actually in the worst kind of bondage.
I've run out of room, I'll wrap this up next week (I hope) with points 3-5, until then, blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org