Legalism in Prayer

As I am writing this after a long time, I don’t know where to start. But I think this is important enough to be out there. Somewhere. I don’t know if anyone else has written something like this but if not it needs to be written. It needs to be said. I should also mention that this piece is only for mature Christians.

What I want to talk about is an aspect of Christian life. An aspect of christian life that doesn’t get much highlight. An aspect that everyone accepts that it is there and then don’t talk about it. I’m talking about sin and forgiveness. I’m not talking about how one enters the christian life. How we are all sinners and only through the blood of Christ can we be forgiven. Of course, that’s true. But that’s not the part I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the everyday life as a christian. As Christians we try not to fall into sin. We try our best but everyone knows that anyone hardly succeeds. We may succeed for some time but sometimes we fall. Everyone accepts that. G K Chesterton once said, “When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

The standard of righteousness in Christianity is so high that it’s nearly impossible for any man or woman to be completely faultless. Even a wrong thought is a sin. And thus, all of us, all the members of the church, do sin. We do fall from time to time.

I want to talk about how we deal with it. Bible tells us how to deal with it. 1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

And that’s how we deal with it. We confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness. Every day. And we know that our God is just and will forgive us our sins. He has promised. And so, everyday, a part of our prayer is to ask forgiveness for our sins.

And that’s what we should do. And I commend everyone who does it. However, I want to talk about how we do it. I wanna talk about how I do it. When I fall, I have to pick myself up. And the way I pick myself up is I remind myself of that verse. That promise. I remind myself that all I have to do is confess to God and I will be forgiven. That all will be right with the world again. And that’s what I do. I pray, I speak that verse in my prayer (because we are taught to use bible verses in prayer) and I ask for forgiveness.

This would’ve happened thousands of time. G. K. Chesterton said, “There is a law written in the darkest of the Books of Life, and it is this: If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.” After doing it thousands of time, I saw my prayer for forgiveness for the first time.

I felt a tug from God in my heart. And I was left with a question. How does it feel to be in a relationship where one person can do whatever they want but you still have to be graceful, forgiving and accepting of everything. Because, when that person does something wrong, and comes back to you he shows a letter of agreement to you reminding you that you have agreed to accept and forgive them no matter what?

Isn’t that what I’m doing to God? Isn’t my prayer for forgiveness a daily reminder to God about the kind of person he’s struck with? Christianity is supposed to be a relationship. Not a business contract. Why then, am I treating the promises of God as a contract? Isn’t the promise given for my comfort? Isn’t it given so that I don’t lose hope? That I know that there’s always a way back? Yes, the promise is written, but it’s written in a love letter. Not a contract. It’s written not because he forgets, but because I do. And then, just because I forget, I assume that he forgets, and remind him that he promised to forgive! Isn’t then, my prayer for forgiveness, a form of legalism? Do I sin, even while asking for forgiveness? Oh the hypocrisy!

The bible was given for our sake. For my sake. Not his sake. Everything written in the bible is written for us. As a reminder to us. Not God. I thought about it and realized that sometimes, we use bible verses against God! The intended use of the sword (Word of God) is against the devil. Not against the one who put it in your hands.

I realized that using bible verses as a reminder to God in prayers is a form of legalism. It makes you treat the word of God as a contract. A contract that you (selectively) use to further your interests. And then, God is no longer God, but rather, just a party to a contract.

But remember, it’s not a contract. The promises of God are written as a reminder to you. As a way to know God’s character. As a mirror, to measure your character. If you turn it into a contract, you turn Paul back into Saul. And then, as Jesus asked to Saul, he will ask you, “Noel, Noel, why do you persecute me?”

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