Over the years my eyes have gradually been opening to this fact of my life: I’m a junkie, an addict. It’s not to something I could smoke, shoot, swallow or snort. But I have been dependent on “it”, and at times have felt like a slave to it. “IT” has been the thing I relied on to protect me from my deepest, deepest fear – that God would be angry with me and condemn me to hell. As a little girl, somehow I developed an unhealthy fear of God. He was so easy to anger, so hard to please. I believed that His anger might flare up at me at any moment, for almost any reason, so I did all I could to find something that would protect me. And what could possibly protect me from the wrathful God I imagined?
Legalism is the belief that you can keep enough rules, do enough good things, avoid enough bad things to earn God’s love and stave off His anger. I believed that if I could just do everything right, if I could be perfectly good in every way, then I would have the protection I craved. You would not believe the rules and rituals I made up for myself as I sought to appease God.
Years later, as a teenager, I began to unlearn my earlier, distorted view of God. I began to understand what a healthy fear of, and love for, God meant. It was then that I began to see that my legalism was not a shield that protected me; it was a chain that bound me. I started praying, crying out to God to free me from my addiction. But the habits of a legalistic life die hard, and they would not let go of me without a fight. Legalism constantly reared it’s power in my heart, and like a chemical addiction, I turned to it again and again to survive (I thought) spiritually.
An Unlikely Remedy
However, God does answer prayer, and His ways of answering are not always what we would prefer. In my case, He had a surprising, slow-working, painful instrument in mind. He used depression.
How, you ask? Simple. When I cycle into depression, my legalistic “fix” doesn’t work. I don’t have the emotional energy to depend on myself for anything, let alone trying to be perfectly good and blameless.
During my episodes of depression, I go through a sort of withdrawal. My brokenness and imperfection become so much more obvious to me. I know God sees it too and my instinctive response is to fear His anger. I again crave the chains that masquerade as my shield.
He Opens Blind Eyes
But it isn’t real. Legalism isn’t a shield. Nor have I need of one. Through depression, ironically, God frees my heart and opens my eyes with this truth:
The cross is my shield.
Because God loves me, He poured His wrath on His only Son. Because the Son loves me, He surrendered to that wrath on my behalf. Because of the cross, I will never know the wrath of God, only His love.
That is true grace.
No chains attached.