Confessions of a Struggling Legalist

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

“Don’t preach the gospel in order to save your soul.”

But after a few years in the ministry, you start to realize that if your church does well and grows and people like you, you feel disproportionately good—and if your church doesn’t do well and people don’t really like you, you feel disproportionately bad. You’re working outside in. You had assumed, “If people like me and say, ‘Oh, how much you help me,’ then God will like me and I will like myself, and then that sense of inconsequentiality, that sense of uncleanness, will go away.’

But it doesn’t.

Many years ago I was reading a critical study that rendered Romans 1:17 in the following way: “He who through faith is righteous shall live,” and I almost heard a voice saying, “Yes, and he who through preaching is righteous shall die every Sunday.”

-Tim Keller

I am prideful. I am selfish. I struggle with the idol of affirmation and approval.

I am also terrible at grace.

I mean, I love it. It overwhelms me. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s unfathomable.

But, I so often “accept it”, but…not really. I still desperately fight for the list. Oh, how I want the list. The list of what I can do to be a wonderful Christian woman…and, check everything off one by one.

Why? I don’t know. Most likely pride. The fallen woman I am still trying to grasp onto being my own savior. Saying, “Thanks, Jesus, but, no thanks. I’ve got it from here.” Or the prideful “humility” of believing my sins run too deep and my failures so wide that Christ’s blood could never fully atone for all that I have done. Surely, I have to work to make myself “okay”; to be justified.

A pastor at my church whom I respect greatly would often remind us to preach the Gospel to ourselves…to beat it over our heads.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

The Spurgeon quote above hit me like a ton of bricks. Why is it that I desire to go into ministry? Possibly live overseas? Why is it that I share the gospel with a coworker or a friend? Why do I seek to live a Godly life?

Am I doing it to feel a sense of relief from guilt on Sunday? Am I desperately seeking the pat on the back, the approval, the glory and praise from others? Am I trying to save my soul?

Cast your deadly “doing” down–
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

I remember one of the global pastor’s asking me the day before I left for India if I was afraid of anything. I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m afraid of coming back and realizing it had all been about me.”

I sometimes can get pretty down on myself about my fear of never having pure motives, for I long for them. I’ve had lots of time to read these past few weeks and have finished a few books. One being, The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. It was absolutely fantastic. It was challenging, but, also so encouraging. A lot of times I am guilty of not thinking I can ever…truly be holy. It’s really a disillusioned since of humility.

The Bible clearly teaches that holiness is possible. This is good news, not bad news. You have permission to see evidences of grace in your life. You are allowed (and expected) to be obedient. You will never be perfect in this life. You cannot do anything to earn God’s love. But as a redeemed, regenerate child of God you don’t have to be a spiritual failure. By the mercies of God you can “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).


By God’s grace working in me and through me, I can be holy and preach the gospel and live a God-centered life without hidden motives and sinful intentions…for it is God who works in [me] both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

I will never be perfect in this lifetime. I will fail. I will desperately reach for that checklist at times. I will be kind because I want something in return. I will desire the pat on the back. I will, unfortunately, try to preach the gospel to save my soul.

Yet, “The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope— at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”-Keller

Preach the gospel to yourself every day. It is by grace you have been saved. You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you. You do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

These are my confessions.


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