As a recovering perfectionist, I try to avoid legalism. Legalism is defined as an excessive adherence to the law, or dependence on the law rather than faith. Growing up trying to "earn" love, "earn" forgiveness and "earn" acceptance, has forced me to really work (no pun intended) to realize that MY work isn't what saves me. The work Jesus did on the cross is all it takes.
Recently I was in a Bible study, and the week's "homework" was to set several alarms on your phone, and pray when the alarm went off. This smacked of legalism to me - praying at a certain time, versus as the spirit leads. When I shared my thoughts in class, the leader gave a different perspective.
"Are there any TV shows you watch regularly?" - the leader asked. Of course there are. She asked if I found it "legalistic" that I set aside a certain time each week to watch that particular show. Of course I hadn't. Somehow saying "Every Thursday at 9 I'm going to watch Person of Interest" was okay. But saying, "Every day at 11 I'm going to pray" was legalistic.
Now I realize that there is a difference between training and legalism. Setting aside a regular time to have Bible study or prayer isn't legalistic. I set aside time to make dinner, watch TV, play with my kids - all the things that I want or need to do. Even if I don't "feel" like it - I still make dinner. The same principals can be applied to being faithful in Bible study and prayer!
I still need to watch myself that I don't just "check off" my prayer and study time as things on the to-do list. I need to apply them through out my day. I need to live out my studies and prayers.
I understand that these things don't "save" me. It's not my works, but the sacrifice made by Jesus. But I can still train myself to spend time in the word and prayer - without being legalistic. After all, if I make time for a TV show, I can certainly make time for Jesus. Can't you?
Kelly Combs is a Christian wife, mom, writer and speaker. You can learn about Kelly by visiting her website at www.kellycombs.com