I used to be pretty legalistic, a sort of modern-day Pharisee; I probably still am in some ways and don’t realize it, but I’m doing better now.
The Apostle Paul warned the Colossians about being legalistic. He asked them why, if they were Christians, did they submit themselves to such religious laws as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (Col. 2:21). Paul told the Colossians such rules have “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion” but are of “no value against fleshly indulgence. (Col. 2:23). In other words, they look to others like a form of religion but they are spiritually useless.
When I was in law school, it dawned on me that some of the religious rules Christians keep really have nothing to do with true holiness. They were matters of conscience, nothing more. (They do give religious people a way to monitor the supposed religiosity of others). As Paul said, they are “self-made” and don’t make one more like Jesus, which is the ultimate goal.
My wake-up call came when another law student, who was not a Christian, told me he figured I was a Christian because I didn’t drink. Ugh! The weird thing was my abstinence from alcohol was one of the things that made me feel confident I was a Christian. It was a self-made rule I picked up somewhere, nothing more.
I decided from that day on I wanted to be recognized as a Christian because I was Christ-like, not because I kept arbitrary religious rules that had nothing to do with true holiness. After all, is that the message Christians want to send to the unchurched, that being a Jesus-follower means keeping a bunch of self-made rules? If the kingdom of God does not consist in eating and drinking (Rom. 14:17), neither does it consist in not eating and drinking.
That’s my confession. Hope it helps you on your journey. GS