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Confessions of a Reformed Legalist

I would like to share a testimony from my Dad:

Rereading Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God reminded me of my long journey from legalism to grace. There were significant stops along the way. In the early years of my ministry, I resembled the elder brother in the familiar story in Luke 15. I was judgmental and majored in outward appearance, frequently condemning a selected list of vices: drinking, smoking, dancing, and attending movies. As far as outward appearance is concerned, I railed against hair that was too long and skirts that were too short!

My recovery started with my marriage to Gloria. She is a grace person! I discovered that she was on a journey similar to mine, a journey of freedom from rule keeping as an evidence of spirituality. After we were married and started our ministry, we were called to a church that was also breaking free from the “straitjacket lifestyle” of a rule-keeping mentality. Together we were experiencing what Dr. Charles Swindoll called a “grace awakening.” His book by this same name was a real wake-up call for me. I remember reading enlightening sentences like these: “Legalism is an attitude, a mentality based on pride. It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself. A legalist assumes the place of authority and pushes it to unwarranted extremes.” That was exactly what I was doing on many Sunday mornings.

Then I saw myself in the powerful chapters of Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? He opened this helpful book with a story about a teenager from Traverse City, who ran away because of an overbearing father who “harped” continually on externals, I was like the father in that story! Yancey’s book was another stopover on my grace trip.

Finally, I cannot overlook a week spent at Maranatha Conference grounds in Muskegon, Michigan, sponsored by Open Hearts Ministry. The apostle Peter encouraged us to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), and this was a week of growing for me. I had attended with the hope of helping others and found out how much help I needed to cast off the shackles of legalism. Group sessions helped as we told our stories, but I believe the chains finally fell off on Friday night. That was celebration night, a victory night. I celebrated my personal victory over legalism by joining in with others and dancing! In bondage for 60 years, I had never danced – but that night I did. And it felt good!

Have you been on a similar journey?

Pastor Roy Clark

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