By LESLIE LUDY
Legalism is just about as common in the Body of Christ today as worldliness is. Christians who are disturbed by the compromise that is so prevalent in the modern church often try to solve the problem by relying on legalism and self-effort to keep them from the pitfalls of worldliness. Consequently, if today’s churches aren’t filled with carnal, compromising believers, they are often filled with prideful, self-righteous ones.
And because we have seen so many legalistic attempts to become “separate from this world”, many of us have a distorted view of what it really means to be set-apart for Christ. When we contemplate “coming away from the world” we often worry that we’ll become a stiff, somber, “holier-than-thou” type of woman who is far too concerned about following a set of rules to ever relax or enjoy life.
But legalism and true set-apartness are two very different things. Legalism oppresses, but true set-apartness liberates. Legalism chokes life, but true set-apartness gives life. Legalism is based upon self-effort, but true set-apartness is based upon the supernatural enabling grace of God. Legalism is based upon rules, but true set-apartness is based upon a relationship with the King of all kings.
I once heard a true story about two young women in China who were turned out of their homes and disowned by their families because of their faith in Christ. They had no money, no protection, and nowhere to go, but they began walking from village to village, sharing the hope of the Gospel with everyone they encountered.
The girls knew that if they talked openly about their faith, their lives could be in danger. Yet they were so passionate about Jesus Christ that they couldn’t help but speak of Him everywhere they went. As they talked bout Him, their faces glowed with a Heavenly radiance. And even though they had nothing – not even a place to sleep – they were joyful and content. More than once, strangers came up to them and asked, “Why are your faces so shiny and radiant? What do you have that makes you so happy? Whatever it is – I need it in my life too!”
There was something so beautifully different about these two young women. People couldn’t help but be drawn to the joy, fulfillment, purity, and radiance that flowed from their lives. They were set apart for Christ. They had given up everything to follow Him. They loved Him so deeply that they gladly and willingly put Him above all else in their lives, even though it had cost them everything and put their very lives at stake.
This is true set-apartness. It has nothing to do with adopting a set of rules in order to become more righteous. When you truly encounter Jesus Christ in a personal and life-changing way, He transforms you from the inside out. He gently cleanses away sin and worldliness from your soul, and causes you to love light and hate darkness. Your decision to come away from the world and become consecrated to Jesus Christ is an outflow of your overwhelming love and gratitude for Him. He has given everything for you. And in light of this glorious, astounding, unfathomable reality, the cry of your soul becomes, “Lord, may I give everything to You in return!” Like Mary of Bethany who willingly and reverently poured out her most precious possession upon the feet of Jesus, true set-apartness causes us to follow her example in every area of our lives; to joyfully lay everything we have and everything we are at His feet without hesitation, because He is worthy.
When you are truly set apart for Christ, people don’t look at your life and see a set of stodgy rules to follow. Rather, they look at your life and see Jesus – His life, His purity, and His holiness, His joy, His selflessness, and His love. When you are truly set apart, you don’t inwardly groan and complain about missing out on all the shallow, sinful pleasures of this world, or constantly look for subtle ways to compromise. That’s because you have discovered a far deeper, greater, infinitely more satisfying source of fulfillment than anything this world could ever offer. Your heart sincerely echoes the words of the Psalmist when he declared, “In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11) and “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10).
When you are truly set apart, you don’t need to rely on self-imposed rules in order to live a life that is consecrated to God. Rather, it becomes the greatest joy and delight of your heart to offer your life to Him and allow His Spirit to mold you into a pure and holy vessel, set apart for His purposes. When you are truly set apart, you will lose your desire for worldly things and simply desire more of Him. As the old hymn so beautiful says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”