For me, it's a reminder of the Lord's grace in my own life. It is only in recent years, since my conversion, that I have even begun to learn what it means to live the Christian life. Before my conversion, my view of Christian living was summed up in rules and laws that I couldn't live up to. I felt condemned before God and walked around knowing that I could never live up to His standards. I thought Him to be a harsh judge and a Father with little time to fool with or care for someone like me. Little did I know, it was that realization of my own condemnation that would lead me to saving faith.
It's hard leaving behind the chains of legalism to flee to Christ. I still find myself pondering my "performance," and then I must confess and repent of the sin in my own heart. Oh, how I wish I were not so apt to fall prey to the Tempter himself.
In this book, C.J. Mahaney lists three areas that keep us from living a life that is centered on the cross of our Lord:
1. Legalism, which means basing our relationship with God on our own performance.
2. Condemnation, which means being more focused on our sin than on God's grace.
3. Subjectivism, which means basing our view of God on our changing feelings and emotions. (p. 23)
The chapter on legalism profoundly affected me and caused me to flee to Christ even more. He shares the story of a plate spinner that he saw on the Ed Sullivan Show as a child. The man would have those long rods with plates spinning on the top of them. He would keep adding plates, and Mahaney grew anxious as he watched the man on television add new plates and try to keep the previous ones from falling. He compares this to the life of a new believer who hears of various spiritual disciplines and receives advice from other believers about matters of spiritual living. This Christian then adds more and more plates to the rods of his life, and "instead of being a further expression of his confidence in God's saving work in his life, his spiritual activities became spinning plates to maintain" (p. 29).
Mahaney goes on to mention that even the worship and heart attitude of this new believer is manifested differently at different times as a direct result of his performance-based mentality:
The shift is plainly seen on Sunday mornings. On one Sunday, Stuart sings and praised God with evident sincerity and zeal. Why? Because he's just had a really good week. Not a single plate has wobbled.
But on another Sunday, following a week in which several plates fell, Stuart is hesitant to approach God. He finds it difficult to worship freely, because he feels that God disapproves of him. His confidence is no longer in the gospel; it's in his own performance, which hasn't been so great lately. (p. 29)
Mahaney's answer is to ponder the meaning of justification. At salvation, God declares us to be just. We've been given the verdict of innocent because Christ took our punishment. At salvation, we repent of our sins and receive Christ's righteousness accredited to our account! Mahaney urges the believer who is prone to legalism to remember that "God completely and totally forgave you. He not only wiped the record of your sin away, he credited the righteousness of His Son to you" (p. 31). Oh, how marvelous is the love of God! My right-standing is based on Christ's righteousness. I obey Him now not out of debt or duty, but out of love and through grace.
In the end of that chapter, he admits that he knows the temptation to legalism: "That's why, when I complete my daily devotions and close my Bible, I make a point of reminding myself that Jesus' work, not mine, is the basis of my forgiveness and acceptance by God" (p. 35).
I encourage you to pick up this little book. I'm not a quick reader, yet I was still able to finish it in a few days just by reading a few minutes each night. It has changed the way I view my Christian life, and it was an encouragement to my soul.
Christian, always ponder the cross and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.