Thou shalt PLEASE the Lord thy God ...

I was not born with emotional dependency; it was learned behavior. I was church taught, home taught, and self-taught. For reasons I will try to explain, though I was brought up to serve the Lord, my early years were cradled in a shame-based religious system.

As a child and teenage girl, I was involved in two churches—a larger denominational church in town and a country mission-sponsored church, where my dad kept the coal heater burning in the winter, my mom was the Sunday school superintendent, and I played the piano for church services. I am grateful that, in both churches, I embraced the opportunity to follow Christ, grow in the Word and get God’s Word into my heart through memorizing scripture.

Yet, within these two churches, and in many evangelical Gospel-preaching churches today, there were and still are spiritually-abusive situations and pastors and teachers who create dangerous pitfalls, spawned by excessive emphasis on legalistic living.

Legalism is pursuing good works with the intention of earning God’s favor. The point is in one way or another to save one’s self. It is trusting our works to make us more pleasing to God without believing that God justifies us by faith alone.

In these churches, we hear of grace but live out legalism, actually embracing the falsehood of the Christian experience as life under the Old Covenant rather than the new. The way I understood it, grace was only a beautiful name for a lady or a prayer a family said before a meal. Also, we sang some songs about grace.

As a child, I memorized this verse in Sunday school and vacation Bible school:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart . . . “ (Mark 12:30-32 KJV).

In real life, something was curiously changed in the translation. Lived out in my church and in my home, i interpreted the verses to say:

“Thou shalt PLEASE the Lord thy God with all thy heart . . . .”

When we get into trying to please God in exchange for His love, the cycle never ends. Somehow, we believe grace has a part in our salvation— “For by grace are you saved through faith . . .” — then, we seem to be left to fend for ourselves, to obey the dos and don’ts in our own strength. We may not understand, but now I know, that the work of Jesus on the Cross was truly “finished.” He paid it all, and we cannot add to it. When we follow Jesus, we actually exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness, our unholiness for His holiness, and our weakness for His strength.

I was reading in Isaiah 28 one day, when I came upon this. Though it was written to one of the tribes of Israel, you would think it was written to address my church situation in those early days:

“Very well, then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest,’ and ‘This is the place of repose,’ but they would not listen. So then, the Word of the Lord to them will become, ‘Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there—so that as they go, they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured” (Isaiah 28:12-13).

In my early years, even while in high school and college, I did, indeed, “fall backward” emotionally and spiritually. I was eventually captured by the unrelenting sin of codependency, expressing itself in relational idolatry. Believing that when I didn’t keep the dos and did the don’ts, God didn’t love me as much, I finally gave up and gave in to the trap of trying to please others. Building walls of fear and doubt, I stuffed all the imaginations and wrong doings and sins deep inside for decades. I was imprisoned in the enemy’s clutches.

Since the death of my husband seven years ago, I have found God’s mercy and grace and discovered the unconditional love He had for me all along. Leaving shame-based religion, I now enjoy a grace-based relationship with God. I have entered into His rest and abide there!

Can you relate to any of these thoughts? If so, please leave a comment below.

Mary Lehman1 Comment