Reconstructing After Legalism

Christian Life & Theology, Podcast Episodes

In light of the Amazon hit series Shiny Happy People, this week’s episode is about deconstructing legalism – and how to rebuild your faith when it all feels so messy. We look at progressive and conservative fundamentalism, why “check list” holiness is so deceitful and how to find true freedom on the other side.

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Welcome to Verity podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer. I’m here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here and I hope you’ll join me on this journey because every woman is a theologian.

Hello, listeners. Welcome back to Verity podcast. I am so excited to be recording this episode with an actual voice. [laughs] If you’ve listened to the last two weeks, you know that I was on the struggle bus when it came to my voice. But thanks to a round of antibiotics and steroids, I am finally able to breathe again and I’m doing so much better after 35 days of being sick. So, thank you for praying for me, thank you for listening to the podcast, and a big shout out to Joseph, my editor, who had to edit through all of the coughing on those last two episodes. So, hopefully this one is a much better experience. This week we’re talking about something that is so near and dear to my heart. We’re talking about reconstructing after legalism. And if you’ve followed me for a little bit, you might not know this, but for the last 10 years, one of my passions has been talking about rebuilding a Christian faith after legalism or coming out of legalism into a truly free Christian life.

Now, I didn’t grow up in a super legalistic environment, we’ll talk about this in a second, but I did grow up adjacent to it and I did adopt a lot of legalistic tendencies growing up around and sort of inside purity culture, which was just pervasive in the Christian world when I was a teenager. And so, I was affected by legalism to some degree although there are people who have walked through a much greater depth of it. But because of the freedom that I found in walking away from legalism and the beauty and joy and goodness of following a God who doesn’t operate by lists of rules, but operates in a state of healthy holiness and love and grace, I can’t help but talk about this topic at every opportunity. I have multiple episodes of Verity that talk about legalism, but I realized I didn’t have one specifically on what to do when you are coming out of it, how to recognize the patterns of legalism, how to heal from them and where to go from here.

We’re going to break this down, but before I do, I want to give us a working definition of what legalism is. Because today, people will throw around the term legalistic or legalist without defining it, and they’ll often misdefine it. They won’t define it the way the Bible would or the way Christ would. So, what is legalism? Well, the word legal obviously has to do with law. It’s a law orientation. It’s building your spiritual life, your worldview around the law, supposedly of God. Okay? So, the assumption is it’s the Law of God. I’m operating in His law. The problem is that legalism actually takes God’s law and it builds on it and builds away from it. It adds extra fences, extra regulations that God actually didn’t give and credits them to Christ as if He did give them. So, for example, God says, “Be holy as I am holy. Honor your sexuality.” There’s an example. This is all through scripture to abstain from sexual immorality. Well, maybe somebody sees that law and they think, “Well, I need to build a lot of fences in order to make sure I obey that.” So, I’m not going to kiss anybody when I’m dating, or maybe I always have to have a chaperone when I’m dating, or maybe I will never be alone with somebody of the opposite sex. And maybe those boundaries were really good for them.

Like those were good choices. They were convictions that the Holy Spirit gave that person. It becomes legalism when we take those personal convictions and we say, “God said that everybody who kisses before marriage is in sin.” God said that “If you don’t have somebody chaperoning you, you are in sexual sin.” God said that, “You could never be alone with somebody of the opposite sex. Anytime you take those extra regulations that you were personally convicted about and you apply them at large and you credit them to God when God didn’t give them, that’s legalism. Another way of putting this would be legalism is man’s shortcut to God’s holiness. So, God says, “Be holy.” Over and over in the Old Testament, in the law, in the New Testament, in the books of Peter, in 1 Corinthians, we see God say, through the apostles, through Jesus, “Be holy, follow this good and gracious law I’ve given you for how you live your life. But the crazy thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t actually get into the minutiae of what that should look like. In fact, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for obsessing over the minutiae of tithes, for example, instead of giving from a generous and hospitable heart, they had missed the point of the law, which was generosity, and instead were fighting about whether they should tithe their herbs and their spices down to the exact amount. 

Basically, they miss the forest for the trees and that’s what legalism does. So how do you know that you are in legalism? Well, I want to be clear that legalism is not holiness. God calls us to be holy. There’s no question of that. And if you grew up in an oppressively legalistic environment, it’s really easy to kind of ride the pendulum to this opposite extreme where you just let yourself do whatever and that’s called hedonism. It’s when you’re just living for pleasure and living for whatever you want because you want to be free. It’s a reaction to that oppressive, man based, fear-based environment you are in. But scripture and Christ challenge that too. And if you love Jesus and you claim to follow Jesus, you have to reckon with His words on this. He said, “You are to be holy.” As well, He challenged the norms of the Gentiles, the non-Jews of his day, who were totally hedonistic, who got drunk and who celebrated in wild partying and who had sex with whoever they wanted. He challenged them just as much as He challenged the Pharisees who were excruciatingly breaking down the law. So, Jesus, [chuckles] He was not somebody who could be manipulated or pushed around into either one of these extremes. And that gives us a place to push toward. It gives us some direction that when we’re following Jesus, He’s going to lead us into what I call holy moderation. Not just a random middle place that we feel comfortable in, but a Holy Spirit led moderation and that’s what we’ll talk about here.

So, before we get into how to reconstruct after legalism, I want you to just think about your own past, your own experiences. Have you grown up in a church environment or a family environment that was extremely works based, where you were measured by your performance or where God was measuring you and checking on you? or maybe it was hell centric like, you only follow God because you are terrified of going to hell or maybe you always questioned your salvation because if you sinned in some way, whatever it may be, you were in danger of suddenly losing your salvation and ending up in hell. Or maybe you were taught if you thought you couldn’t lose your salvation, but maybe you grew up in more of a reformed environment where there was some health centric teaching and you questioned whether you were actually elected by God and chosen by God or if you were one of the depraved. People come from all different backgrounds denominationally and they can wrestle with legalism in any one of these.

Now, the reason I’m talking about this is because we are in week two of my newsletter series on the documentary Shiny Happy People. This is a secularly made documentary about the Duggar family and the teachings of Bill Gothard, Advanced Training Institute and the IBLP, or the Institute of Bible Life Principles. So, this movement was especially popular among Southern Baptist churches and Southern Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. It grew in the 80s and the 90s and it taught a lot of moral principles and keys to moral living, all constructed by Bill Gothard. And the Duggars were a famous family who had the show 19 Kids and Counting, who kind of popularized that movement or made it known to the larger society. I grew up homeschooled and Christian, but my parents were not fans of this kind of teaching. They were very averse to anything that looked like control or misinterpretation of scripture or moralism. In fact, my parents actually detested VeggieTales [laughs] because they saw it as moralistic and divorced from the entire arc of the redemption story. So, there wasn’t like a big picture story of the gospel. It was just like this moral story and so they didn’t like it.

Now, of course, back then in the 90s was like, “Why am I the only uncool Christian who can’t watch VeggieTales?” Now I understand why? [laughs] And I kind of talked about this in the newsletter. But because of that, we were removed from this fundamentalist movement even though we were homeschooling. And so, I was adjacent to it and watched it, but was still touched by it and influenced by that legalism just by being around it. And then, of course, being involved in purity culture, which I’ve talked about on my sexuality episodes. All this to say, Josh and I are watching Shiny Happy People, each week I’m sending out a newsletter to my email list talking about an episode. And I wanted to do this episode of the podcast because as I’m watching this documentary, I’m realizing that so many people who come out of these oppressive, spiritually abusive, even sexually abusive environments have so much that they have to reconstruct. And when we talk about deconstruction and reconstruction, I think there’s an immediate red flag. There’re people who feel triggered by that word, who are afraid of what it means, but the reality is that there are healthy and unhealthy forms of deconstruction.

Jesus was actually a master at healthy deconstruction. Here’s what I mean, He would take concepts, pieces of the law as a rabbi, and He would break them down to their parts. If you look at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, this is a great example of healthy biblical deconstruction of a concept. He would say, “You have heard that it was said, do not commit adultery.” But I say to you, if you look at someone with lust in your heart, you have already committed adultery. He’s breaking down the concept, the thing that was being said about God, and he’s taking it into its parts, down to its essence, and he’s saying, “This is what God is asking of you.” Stop performing on the outside and deal with the inside. That’s healthy deconstruction. Unhealthy deconstruction happens when we trade one fundamentalism for another. And here’s what I mean by that. It’s really easy if you’re coming out of legalism to swing from one cohesive narrative to another. So, you go from listening to one set of voices that you trust and we’re told we’re okay, to swinging to this entire other set of voices and lists of authors who are understanding to your experience and all saying the exact same thing. So instead of ending up as a critical thinker, who is discerning through those voices and checking them against scripture and what scripture actually teaches, the way Jesus was teaching us to deconstruct.

We trade the fundamentalism of conservatism for the fundamentalism of progressivism. And what happens when we do that is we go from sex is evil, rock and rolls of the devil, you are going to go to hell if you cause somebody to stumble, all of this stuff. In conservative fundamentalism, we go over to the other side where people are saying, like, “If you have a problem with alcohol, you’re a legalist. If you don’t vote this way or get this vaccine or you don’t care about this particular movement, you’re not a Christian.” It’s the exact same thing. It’s just a new creed. It’s just a new fundamentalism. It’s a new checklist. It’s a new little list of things to move down and say, look, “I’m a moral person.” Look, “I’m a true Christian, because I check these boxes.” The difference is that the conservative fundamentalist movement, its greatest weakness of many is that it was heavy on judgment, heavy on guilt consciousness, and so progressive fundamentalism is super attractive to people coming out of that movement because they have been wounded. They need compassion. They need love and that is what progressive fundamentalism seems to offer. But it is deceitful because underneath that perceived compassion is an entirely new checklist of behavioral rules that you have to follow to be part of the new cult. And I know that’s really strong language, but it’s true. And I’ve watched it happen over and over and over again as people swing wildly from one to another. It even happens on the opposite end where people swing out of progressivism or New Age Christianity and they swing wildly into an extreme and conservatism that promises the opposite of their experience. And they think they’re going towards freedom, but they’re actually going towards a new form of bondage.

So how do you fix it? How do we fix the pendulum swing? The answer is a Holy Spirit led and scripture founded critically thinking faith. And this is why I love the Wesleyan Quadrilateral so much. If you’ve never heard me talk about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, it’s the idea that there are four components to a truly enriched and strong and mentally aware, critically thinking Christian life. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is scripture so it’s at the top. And scripture is then filtered through three things, reason, your mind, the critical thinking, the logic, the sifting, the comparison of narratives. Experience your intimacy with God and the Holy Spirit, your time with Him in prayer, your understanding of His love for you, and then the fourth is tradition. And what this simply means is the legacy of faith that you have in the history of the church. So, what has the church taught historically on this across all denominations? What has the global church taught on this? What legacy, what family globally are you born into? So, scripture, reason, tradition, experience. That’s the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. And I believe that this offers us the balance that we need in between these two extremes that swing back and forth between each other and gives us a chance to actually reckon with legalism and reconstruct our past into something, a faith that is beautiful and free and good. So how do you actually do that? How do you actually reconstruct something like this? 

I have five steps for this reconstruction process. And of course, this means that you’re kind of already beginning on the deconstruction process. The process of dismantling what you were taught, questioning it, looking at it, picking it up and saying, “Is this what the Bible says?” Again, I want to reiterate, deconstruction can be done in a healthy way or an unhealthy way. We can deconstruct into new fundamentalism, progressive or conservative, or we can reconstruct the away Jesus modeled where He took the idea. That’s being said, He compared it to the Law of God, He compared it to the logic, He compared it to the legacy, and He said, “No, actually, adultery alone isn’t the issue. It’s what’s going on inside you.” And how do we heal that? How do we fix that? And of course, scripture tells us that when the law is written on our hearts, that’s when we have transformation. But we’ll get to that in a second. So, what do we do first? Well, first. Number one, to reconstruct after legalism, you have to reject the lies that you’ve learned, reject the lies that you’ve learned. And there are a lot of different lies you’ve probably been fed, whether they were mistakenly fed to you or intentionally fed to you. And based on my own experience in legalism and working with people coming out of it, the specific areas where lies fester the most are in regard to God and His nature. Sin, what it is, how you see it in relation to yourself. identity, who you are and aren’t and sex. God, sin, identity, and sex are where a lot of the lies of legalism revolve.

Some examples of lies you might believe God is only a judge. He’s distance. He’s not interested in me. He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t approve of me or like me. Everything I do is to earn His approval. Regarding sin, sin is insurmountable. There’s no overcoming it. I will always be a sinner. There is no chance of ever coming to a place of victory and confidence and peace. I am just one sin away from being separated from God my life is one long defeat. Identity, my identity is in what I do or what I don’t do. I will be a good person if I do good things. If I fail, then I am measured by my failure. I am what I perform. Sex, sex is bad or off limits. I’m bad if I think about it. if I have failed sexually, if I’ve transgressed the Law of God when it comes to sexuality and I have a past, then I am unlovable, there is no redemption for me, I’ve gone too far. These are just some examples of lies that people believe about God themselves and their actions. And I want to talk about each of them a little bit before we get into how to actually reprogram our minds around truth. 

First, God as a judge. We know in scripture that God does judge sin. That’s true. But here’s the deal you guys, the lies you receive in legalism will never be obvious, because if they were, you wouldn’t buy them. Lies always have to be half-truths. There has to be a truth to it. And scripture says that, “God is a judge.” Jesus is going to actually come back and judge those who are living and dead. God is a judge, but He is a loving and fair Father. And those who are in Christ are no longer condemned. If you need more clarity on this, go back and listen to the episode on consequences versus condemnation. Those in Christ are no longer condemned. They can’t be separated. There is no separation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So, any discipline you receive for choices you make is given within the bounds of grace. There isn’t going to be a judgment that is like what the world receives because you are in Christ, you are guaranteed God’s affection. You are favored by Him. So, this idea that God is always on the verge of judging you is not true if you are in Christ.

Secondly, sin. There is a tendency in some of these circles to overemphasize sin. Now, hear what I’m saying, not what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that sin should be downplayed. I’m not saying that sin doesn’t matter. I’m not saying we should change the standard of God’s law. Go back and listen to any episode I’ve done and I think you’ll see that I talk at length about what the Bible says about sin, how to truly find freedom. But in some circles, we talk about sin as if it’s just this undeniable, unalterable fact of the Christian life that you can never escape or get victory over. And it leads to fatalism, it leads to apathy. Like, how can I ever get over this sin? I might as well just not even try. I’ll just give up. I was just watching an Instagram reel by Pastor Jonathan Pokluda. I might be mispronouncing his last name. He goes by JP. And in this particular reel, it was a clip of his sermon where he was saying, there’s this lie when it comes to sin. And here’s what it sounds like, “I’m going to do this one last time, just one last time.” I have a right to watch porn one last time, all right? To just drink this alcohol one last time. It’ll be my last time. And he said something that’s so profound. He said, “You don’t ever need closure with sin.” And what he means is you don’t need to go back and have one last DTR with sin. You can be done with it, and you can move on, and you can have victory. And as someone who walked through an erotica pornography addiction, I can tell you this is true. The one last time lie is a lie, and all it does is strengthen your desire for the things that Christ came to set you free from. So, when sin tells you, “You can’t defeat me,” you can look to the cross and say, “You’re already defeated.”

A few episodes ago, I told you about a new podcast I’ve been enjoying. It’s called Compelled and uses gripping immersive storytelling to bring Christian testimonies to life. One of their stories that is especially relevant is episode 37, with Laura Perry. Laura, grew up in the church and was active in various ministries, but she secretly felt that the church was stifling. She only had a works-based approach to Christianity and no real relationship with Christ. By high school, she was living promiscuously and doing everything she could to reject God. She was incredibly unhappy and hated the body that God had given her and began to fantasize about being a man. Eventually, she had numerous hormone injections and extensive surgeries, removing every female organ on her body and transgendered herself into a man for 10 years. But after every surgery, she discovered, to her horror, that she was just as miserable as before. Could anything or anyone fill the void in her heart? And if Jesus actually was real, would He even want someone like her? Listen to Laura Perry tell her complete story on Compelled, episode 37 titled Transgender to Transformed. Every story on Compelled, is true, vivid, and told by the person who lived it and saw God working through it. Search for Compelled on your favorite podcast app or visit again, that’s

Identity, in legalism, your identity is completely bound to what you do or don’t do. To go back to this idea of conservative and progressive fundamentalism, in both cases, you have to check the box. You have to do the right things, say the right words, hang out with the right people, read the right Bible version, read the right authors, listen to the right podcasts, and if you don’t, your character is called into question. In both progressive and conservative fundamentalism, legalism, you end up with a list to check off that tells you if you are a good Christian. When in scripture we have a measure of what it means to be a true Christian, what does Jesus say? He says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God.” This is in Mark 10. So, if He says no one is good but God, where is our goodness coming from? It’s not from the checklist, it’s from Christ. Your identity isn’t in what you do. Your identity is in the fact that you were loved enough to be saved by God regardless of what you do. And when you really embrace the fact that He loves you without you performing the grace of that motivates true holiness.

Last but not least, sex. There’s so much twisted sexuality and legalism, whether on the conservative end it’s hidden and repressed and not dealt with and not talked about. So, people go to other answers or pornography to get their solutions, to find out about it. Or on the progressive end, maybe sex is whatever hedonistic thing you want to do. There are no boundaries, there is no honor for the marriage bed. On both ends you end up with a sexuality that is not biblical. I want to talk about this a little bit because I’ve written extensively about this on my blog and in my book Christian Cosmo, because this was my passion for so many years, talking to women, coming out of conservative environments specifically, but also coming out of sexual addictions, talking to them about how God sees them and how His freedom is so good. And here’s something I wrote on this, “When God tells us to reserve sex for marriage, He’s not telling us to deny the existence of our desires or be ashamed that they exist. He, the designer of sex, is revealing to us the blueprint for the most fulfilling sexual relationship we could have.” But God’s design for sex is based on real God defined love. It is good to desire that kind of love, but when our desire for love is reduced to a desire for physical closeness alone, we have missed the point entirely. 

Sexual sensations are a product of sex, but they aren’t the purpose. The purpose of sex is unity, Mark 10:8., service of one another, 1 Corinthians 7, and pure faithful love Hebrews 13:4. And so, the enjoyment of it is by God’s design. He didn’t have to make it that way, but He did. And now in today’s world, through all ages of society, we have perverted God’s design to worship the sensation instead of keeping the sensation in perspective. That it’s just an echo, a shadow of the intimacy that sex is for. Lust, on the other hand, objectifies. It twists God’s plan; it satisfies itself first and it usurps God’s authority and this is why lust, which so often conservative legalism is trying to stop with all of its rules, actually grows even bigger under conservative legalism. Because when you overly focus on what you are against sexually, you end up objectifying people and objectifying the sexual act. Once you do that, you end up twisting God’s plan and moving away from the spiritual intimacy that leads to healthy sexual intimacy. And if you’ve moved away from true intimacy with God and with others, you’re only interested in yourself and satisfying your secret and twisted desires that are now hidden away where no one can see them, because you can’t be transparent and vulnerable in a conservative legalistic environment. And ultimately, once you remain in that place, that lustful urge will cause you to usurp God’s authority, create your own moral standard and act sexually however you want to act. This is the progression of sexual deviance and lust in conservative legalism, and without the ability to be transparent and vulnerable and say, “I need help.” When you’re at the beginning of that stage, when it’s objectifying you and others, you end up heading down this path further and further until you get to cases of abuse and sexual promiscuity that then leave us wondering, what do we do.

In progressive fundamentalism or progressive legalism, the same thing happens, but it’s framed completely differently. It’s framed as a freedom. In conservative legalism, there’s a lot of shame that keeps it hidden. In progressive legalism, sexual deviation will be elevated as freedom and seen as a moral value, as something that should be upheld as a good thing. In both cases, it usurps God’s authority and twists the moral standard. We can take our desire for sex and we can use it as a testament to God’s grace. So, this means we don’t stuff it in a bottle, we don’t shelve it until it explodes, we don’t prance around the church parking lot advertising virginity, and we don’t allow the enemy to hold us captive by past sexual failures. We don’t believe the lie. Instead, we allow our desire for sex to be the good and wonderful thing God designed it to be, neither worshipping it nor ignoring its existence. I want to read this quote by Paula Rinehart in Sex and the Soul of a Woman. She says, “The second path, holding on to hope and purity is hard, but it leads to a place worth going. And this makes all the difference. To live in the rarer air of the in between, neither shutting down desire nor demanding it be fulfilled in a particular way, is your own heart’s journey and what it means to trust God with your life.” 

So, this first section in reconstruction is all about rejecting those lies, about God, sin, identity, sex, yourself, your view of yourself. But the second step is to reprogram with the truth. If you’ve acknowledged the lie, you now have to take that half-truth and you have to recognize when it comes in your mind, when you are programmed to think a certain way and learn to catch that thought and replace it with the truth of scripture. So, let’s go through these four. Let’s start with God as a judge. If you are just going about your life and suddenly you have this overwhelming sensation of God is judging you, He’s angry at you, where do you go? How do you think through it? The temptation might be to get into a spiral or run away from it or disassociate, but we can go to scripture and we can give ourselves truth. 1 Timothy 2:9, He has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. Do you know what this means? This means that before the beginning of time, God knew what you would do. He knew where you would fail or feel you’re failed. And He knew He would send Himself through Christ to the cross, to make a way for you to be reconciled. He saved you and called you to a holy life, not because you met all the requirements, but because of His own purpose and grace. 

This is truth my friend. So, when the lie comes that God hates you and doesn’t approve of you or favor you, ask yourself this question why would He send His Son to die on the cross eternally for you, but not presently, not personally, not in any way that actually matters today. Why would He do it eternally but have it have no impact on you right where you stand right now? It doesn’t make sense. Legalism doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t even align with what the Bible actually says. If Christ died on the cross for your eternity, He must have died for you presently to actually rest in His approval and His love for you. Let that be true. Let it be true. Embrace it and sit with it. Ask for help to believe it. 

Secondly, sin being insurmountable. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I clung to this verse when I was struggling with erotica. I trusted this verse as if it was the rope, I hung my entire life on. And it was. I really believed what it said, and I did that over and over and over and over I confessed my sin, trusting He was forgiving me and cleansing me until I was free. And I am free. Today, I’m free and I’ve been free for years. It’s possible to be free from the thing that’s holding you. He offers it right here. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come.” The new has come for you. You are in Christ. You are a new creation. If you don’t think that you’re a new creation because of what’s happened, maybe you are doubting that you’re truly saved because the legalism that was fed to you for so long messed up Christianity for you. You can come to Christ right now and say, “I want to be a new creation. I don’t want the fake Christianity I was taught. Right now, God I want a real saving faith. I want to be new.” You can pray that right now as you listen to this, and it can be true for you. And if you do that, I hope you’ll email me and you’ll tell me, because it would bring me so much joy to see that you came to a true faith in Christ without the burden of the law.

What about performance and identity? 1 Peter 2:9 says, “You are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Let me tell you something, people who don’t understand their identity don’t want to talk about God. People who are still in darkness, they don’t feel like they’re a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. But people who embrace that truth, who reject the lie, who have given their allegiance to Christ and truly know His freedom, you can’t shut them up about His excellencies because they know the darkness and they’ve left it behind. If you are in Christ, it’s not about your checklist or what you do. You are chosen and royal and holy, a people for His own possession. John 1:12 says, “To all who did receive Him who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” If you received Him, that’s you. You’re a child of God. Your identity is not in what you do or didn’t do, or who saw you reading what, or who saw you at the movie theater, or how long your skirt was, or what Bible translation you read, or whether you associated with this particular friend. Whatever it is that people are putting on you. God offers you a better way, He says, “Become a new creation. Look at who you can be in me. I am calling you out of darkness into my marvelous light.”

What about the fourth lie about sexuality? This one’s interesting. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” And I thought about this, which truth could confront the lie? Obviously, there’s still 1 John 1:9 that if you have confessed your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you. That’s true. But I think there’s another element here in Hebrews 13, when you truly hold marriage in honor and by association sexuality, which is designed for a covenant marriage between a man and a woman. If you hold marriage in honor, that means that God, who loves marriage, is holding sexuality and honor. He’s holding your sexuality and honor. God does not see your sexuality as gross. He doesn’t see it as bad, disgusting, perverse, something to be avoided. He sees it as something holy and sacred and worthy of honor. And that’s why He wants to heal it. It’s why He wants to give you a right view of it. It’s why if you’re single, He can teach you to celebrate it and see it as something holy, not as something that’s a liability or something to be managed. It’s a way to worship God. And you might say, “Okay, I get that in marriage, but in marriage and in singleness or sexuality is something we have to steward.” In marriage it’s not like, “Oh, you can have sex whenever you want.” That’s lust. That’s manipulation. You can absolutely lust after your spouse. If you see your spouse as a person who is just there to fill your sexual needs whenever you want, that’s lust. That’s not love or intimacy. So how do you view sex?

Well, it means you have to have a constant conversation with your spouse. You have to be tending to your intimacy, your spiritual and emotional intimacy to have sexual intimacy. You have to be patient. Maybe you don’t want to have a baby, so you’re abstaining from sex. Maybe somebody’s on bed rest and they can’t have sex. I think singles and marrieds forget that there’s actually a lot more in common between them when it comes to sexuality and the patience and the stewardship, and the communication and the waiting that it takes and the honor that God has for the marriage bed and for your individual sexuality. Allow the truth of scripture to reprogram your mind in regard to this. God does not see your sexuality as a liability. He sees it as something to honor. And that is why there is a good and holy law regarding it. So, reprogram your mind. When these lies and half-truths from your past come in, you take them and you go to the truth of scripture. This is why you need to be in the Word of God. But if you come out of a legalistic environment that abused the Word of God, it can be really hard to do that because you’re triggered by certain verses. I would actually suggest reading in a different version than the one that was used when you are in that church. This may help you to break some of the patterns and associations that you have with that. You might try a Christian standard or a New Living Translation or something that is different than what was used. And I would also suggest starting in areas of the Bible that are less triggering for you. There’s nothing wrong with doing that for a period of time or taking a break from certain passages that were used as a hammer. Now, they’re no less inspired. They’re still a part of the Bible. But you might need some time to circle back to those. Reprogram your mind with the truth. 

The third step for reconstructing is to recognize your need for healing. And I talked to a couple of friends who were Christian therapists, Christians who are also licensed professional counselors/therapists about this because they wanted to suggest specific types of therapists who may be helpful for somebody who is healing from legalism and spiritual abuse. One thing to be looking for is a trauma-informed therapist. And if you are coming out of a church with spiritual abuse, I really highly recommend seeing a trauma-informed Christian therapist. And this is something that you can look up in your area. You can actually filter on Psychology Today under their search engine by location and religious affiliation and find therapists that way. But if you’re wondering what’s a trauma-informed therapist? Why a Christian counselor? I found a really great summary on Cornerstone Christian Counseling, which has an entire section on trauma therapy and why it matters for Christian counseling. And they say this, “Trauma-informed therapists help you explore your past in a safe space, even if the trauma itself is not as seemingly overt. Through therapy, you may find that some things you thought were normal were actually rooted in trauma.” Many clients find themselves saying it’s just how it is or that’s the way I’ve always been, when in fact they develop that habit because of a reaction to past trauma. Healing from trauma is a process that leads to freedom enough refreshed outlook on life. Trauma-informed therapists are highly trained in this entire process of addressing trauma and how it has shaped you today.

But the next section is why is a Christian counselor helpful for trauma? “Why did God let this happen? Where was God in this experience? How can a good God allow bad things to happen? As Christians ourselves, we understand the ache of these questions. When you’ve experienced pain and trauma, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the situation and God’s role in it. We believe that a Christian trauma-informed therapist can help you navigate both your relationship with God and also healing from past trauma. Our goal is to be both clinically excellent and biblically sound. Many of our counselors also hold degrees in theology, and all are comfortable praying with you, talking with you about your faith, and answering hard questions” So again, this is Cornerstone Christian Counseling and I’m not giving them a full-fledged endorsement. They have an online therapy option if you want to look into that. BetterHelp, is another one that I have looked into, and they had trauma-informed counselors on their staff as well. And of course, look locally if this is something that you are considering. But I want to give you your third point, which is recognize your need for healing and allow God to redefine Himself. Allow God to redefine Himself to you. And in order to do that, I think a trauma-informed counselor may be helpful, a Christian counselor may be helpful because as you’re working through what happened to you, varying levels of legalism, if it was abuse, legalism is not always abusive, but it often leads to abuse.

When you’ve worked through that, you’re going to have theological questions as well that a non-Christian counselor is just not equipped to answer. They don’t share your worldview. They don’t have the outlook. They don’t know how to help you look at God through the lens of truth. The way that Jesus taught reconstruction. When He taught how to deconstruct and reconstruct, He’s saying, “You say this about God, but I say this about God.” This is who He really is. An unbelieving person can’t do that for you. But a Christian person, Christian-educated therapist should be able to help you do that. Of course, they’re not all created equal, you might have to interview a few. And when I was talking to my friend who is an LPC, she said, when you meet with them, ask them some questions. How long have you been doing trauma-informed therapy? Do you usually work with clients who have a history with things like this just to get an idea of where they’re coming from? You can actually interview multiple therapists before you settle on one that’s a good fit for you. So, recognize your need for healing and allow God to redefine Himself through His Word, through Godly community, and maybe through a therapist.

The next step is to reconstruct your faith on this new foundation. You have to dismantle the old foundation on which you built your life, reprogram with truth, recognize the need for healing, and start pursuing that and begin to reconstruct and it’s a lot of work, you guys. It takes time. It’s not easy. It’s not fast, it’s not tidy. It’s probably messy. There will be things that you realize that you go, I can’t believe I went through that. I had a moment a couple of years ago when I was writing The Flirtation Experiment, which is a book about 30 ways that I did a secret experiment on my husband where I flirted with him in different ways for 30 days to see what it would do for our relationship. Anyway, if you want to read about that, it’s in the book [laughs] The Flirtation Experiment. But when I was writing that book, I started thinking about why have I struggled so much with the idea of flirtation? And a lot of it came from legalistic messages that I learned about flirtation in purity culture. And one situation in which I was put in an uncomfortable situation with a young man who very innocently flirted with me. It was seen by some other people in that community and I was required to make a public confession to 15 to 20 of my peers, teenage girls, about what I had done, what I had sinfully done in encouraging this guy to flirt with me. And I had kind of repressed this story. It was just something that was in my past. And I remembered now, I realized just how humiliated I felt and how embarrassed and ashamed I felt to have to confess to flirting. 

You guys, I know some of you are just aghast. And now, looking back, I’m like, I cannot even imagine my daughters being put through this. My mom is still upset about it to this day. But being in that situation, I was so humiliated, so embarrassed and ashamed that I just put it out of my mind and never thought about it again until I was married eight years and writing this book and thinking, why do I have such a struggle with initiating affection or initiating flirtation with my husband, why? And when I pressed into it was this experience. This experience of being not just shamed, but, like, absolutely vilified and burned at the stake for this childish teenage normal thing. That yes, maybe I shouldn’t have batted my eyelashes at this person or drawn attention to myself the way that I did. But I was 16 years old, and I thought he was handsome. And so, working through that and filtering through that and going, “Okay, I have Christian people who are associated with this story who were well intended.” I have God and his actual law, which doesn’t condemn batting your eyelashes at somebody in a way that’s innocent and like, I like you, [laughs] who doesn’t condemn getting kissed on the cheek, which was my crime, by the way. How do I filter through who God is and who the church is in light of this experience? I could walk away from the church. I could say, the church is stupid. Like, how dare it treat me this way as a teenager, I could become bitter at these people who are involved in this story. But what the Lord has equipped me to do through deconstruction of that experience and healthy reconstruction in scripture is to say, “Okay, this was wrong. It was mishandled, it was not good.” 

But there’s a truth here. And the truth is that God’s way of holiness and honor, for sexuality and relationships, it’s a lot more freedom than what I experienced. I don’t have to repeat that experience. I can learn from it. And I can also have compassion on the people involved in knowing that they thought they were doing the right thing and they were mistaken, but their intent was probably good. And I’m going to give them over to the Lord and His work and His hand, His justice, and I’m going to just let God heal me of this and move forward. And in the future, when I’m talking to my daughters about this, I’m going to teach them differently. But this way, I’m not beholden to getting justice for myself. I can heal from the experience. I can move forward in the freedom that God gives about relationships, and I can heal my view of affection and flirtation in my marriage and not let it bind me to the past. There have been things that I have been angry and bitter about, but what I’ve found is that when I’ve rested in that bitterness and anger and tried to get justice for myself, I actually don’t find freedom. I don’t find peace, because I’m still trying desperately to get the justice that I feel I deserve. And maybe I do deserve it, but that’s Jesus’ responsibility, not mine. So, part of reconstructing your faith is doing that sifting of these experiences and comparing them to scripture, finding the freedom and walking into it and then not necessarily letting people back into your life, not letting abusers back into your life. And of course, having healthy boundaries, teaching things differently to your kids, parenting differently than maybe you were parented. But you’re reconstructing something new, not based on a quest for justice or bitterness or anger. You’re reconstructing something on a new foundation of healing and truth and freedom, and it leads to actual holiness, not a facade. This new foundation will give you a stable rock to build on instead of the shifting sands of people’s opinions.

The very last step is to renew your mind and your community. Renew your mind. In Romans, it says that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Well, if you need to be transformed after legalism, which you most likely do to be transformed, you have to renew your mind. What’s that mean? It means your mind needs to be literally changed from how it was functioning before to function according to the mind of Christ, to think the way He thinks. And that means you have to be in the Word of God. You need to be in prayer, intimacy with Him, and in healthy godly community to begin that renewal process, to be completely renewed in how you think and how you live, and how you navigate situations. And the more you practice this, my friend, the more you practice the rejecting of lies, the reprogramming with truth, the healing, the reconstructing, the more renewed you will be. And legalism will have less and less of a hold on. You have to be careful to recognize when you’re trying to jump from one list of things to another. And it feels risky at first to let the Spirit of God, the voice of God Himself, be your guide. Which is why you need the Word of God. Because the Spirit of God will never lead you contrary to the Word. But the Word itself is freedom and it speaks very broadly. Listen to this, anytime the motivation in your heart is fear of people, fear of judgment, fear of what could happen, that’s your trigger to stop and to say, “God, I’m going back to the checklist. I’m making decisions in fear. I’m looking at you through a lens of fear. Show me how to look at you through the lens of your love for me. Show me how to look at you believing I am already approved. Help me make this decision, not based on the checklist or what people might think of me, but based on your specific leading. And I won’t take a step until you do.” Give it time, take the time to cultivate that relationship with Him, and I think you will see just how sweet the freedom is on the other side of legalism.

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity and about Every Woman a Theologian, as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into God’s Word and the heart of Jesus Christ.

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