The legalist organization in my past talked a great deal about protecting our hearts. They referred to Proverbs 4:23,
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
I suppose that isn’t bad advice, if we understand it correctly. The passage does tell us to protect our hearts because that’s where our lives take place. So, be careful.
But legalism is a deceitful creature. Who are the people who come into legalism? What kinds of people get involved in legalistic organizations? In my experience, there are three kinds of people found in legalistic churches or groups.
First, there are those who have been raised in the system. Their hearts are already dysfunctional. They don’t know who to trust or how to love. In their lives, almost everything is tied into the system of shame and comparisons and frustration.
Second, there are those who came into legalism because of fear. As they started to raise their children or began to learn about the evil of the world, they looked for a place to hide. They searched for rules and guarantees and promises. Their hearts were already vulnerable because of their fear and they were willing to give control over to those who promised protection.
Finally, there are those who have messed up their lives and want to find a way to make up for their sins. They became pregnant before being married or did drugs or lived a promiscuous life or something. They found it hard to live with the guilt and shame and believed the lie that said they could atone for their sins by legalism. Their hearts were already broken because of the pain of what they did and they were willing to endure almost anything for the opportunity to feel better about themselves.
All of these people had heart issues. Those raised in the system didn’t know any better. Those who came in from the outside were lured by the false promises of hope. Seeking to protect their hearts, these poor people opened themselves to a different group of abusers. The rules and regulations, the comparisons, the shame and condemnation—these things do nothing to protect the heart. They just bring more bondage and pain.
I really should add a fourth group to the above list. The fourth group consists of the abusers. The rules don’t apply to them. They live apart from the requirements of the system because they are the ones using it to manipulate those look for help. They take the money, the popularity, the praise—and they feed on it. They live on the trust of others without giving anything of value back.
Looking to legalism to protect your heart is like looking to the strange man who offers you a ride in his car to keep you safe from the people on the street. It is right to want to protect your heart, but there are those who will use your vulnerability against you.
So how do you protect your heart? Tomorrow…