Guest Writers

From Self-Righteousness and Legalism to Christ’s Righteousness and Freedom

I grew up in a faithful Seventh Day Adventist home. Our family attended church every Saturday and I enjoyed being involved in church activities from a young age. I was educated in Seventh Day Adventist schools from the age of 4 to 18. As an Adventist, I was taught that I was a part of God’s one true church. I believed that Jesus was our example of how we could perfectly keep the law and that He died for our sins but he is still in the process of judging whether or not I would be worthy to make it into heaven based on my obedience to keeping the Sabbath and other religious rules. Growing up, I never knew if I was truly saved but I hoped that if I kept the commandments perfectly, I could be with Jesus in heaven one day when He returned. On the outside, I was a good girl by moral standards and had the approval of parents, teachers and leaders around me, but on the inside, my heart was filled with pride and self-righteousness. My pride and self-righteousness led to living a life of performance before God and striving for my salvation by being careful to obey all of the beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventism. Beneath the pride in my heart, was a fear that I would not be good enough to make it into heaven. And when I inevitably sinned, I would ask God for forgiveness, but I was filled with deep guilt and shame that led me to do more good deeds in order to feel like I was in right standing with God. In all of my attempts to be good, I never felt good enough. 

In 2015, I graduated from my Seventh-Day Adventist high school and I continued my education at a public university. For the first time, I was around new friends who had different beliefs and worldviews from mine. I remember having a conversation with a friend who practiced a different religion. We were just getting to know each other at the time, and she asked me about my faith. I told her, “ I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist”. She replied, “So what do you believe?” I responded with a short list of some of the rules we followed. But I remember walking away from that particular conversation feeling disappointed and dissatisfied because I failed to talk about Jesus or salvation, which I knew was important but I couldn’t explain why. It was conversations like these that made me realize I didn’t know what I believed. 

I wanted to figure out the truth. So I turned to the Bible for myself and began to pursue a relationship with God for the first time. One morning before class, I read Psalm 103.  Verse 8-14 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

I heard this passage many times before, but for the first time I marveled at the psalmist’s description of who God was – Gracious, Compassionate, One who is able to completely forgive sins. The words of this Psalm gripped my heart and echoed in my mind as I sat in class that morning. I was in awe but I felt resistance. I thought to myself, is this really who God is? 

As I continued to read the Scriptures over the next two years, the Lord slowly transformed my heart and revealed Himself to me. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The word of God cut through my pride and discerned the self-righteous thoughts and intentions of my heart. These years of devoting time to praying humbly and studying God’s word, lead to a moment where I saw myself clearly for the first time. I saw that I was not good, that I was born sinful. I had sin and I was trying to cover it with good behavior, but there was no amount of works that I could do or have done that would ever save me. ‭At this time in my life, I was still very involved in Seventh-Day Adventism but I would spend personal time learning more about Christianity through online ministries. On Tuesday nights, I would tune into a Young Adult ministry called The Porch. One night, the pastor was speaking on John 4, focusing on the story of the woman at the well. I had heard this passage countless times before but hearing it this time was different. Though my life experiences did not resemble the experiences of the Samaritan woman Jesus spoke to, I was just as sinful and broken. I was trying to find satisfaction, peace and acceptance from God through my good works and obedience to the law. I was in desperate need of a true Savior who could deal with my sin, because I couldn’t. Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well in John 4 verses 13-14 says “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” At the end of the message, the pastor shared the gospel and prayed. As he spoke, I prayed to God in full surrender, repenting of my sin and of believing in my own works to save me. 

By Gods grace, I continued to prioritize studying the scriptures in my life. In God’s word, I saw Jesus Christ and the hope that He offered to a broken and sinful person like me. Jesus, the only One who is righteous, suffered for me, completely unrighteous. And it is by believing in Him and the gift of his finished work on the cross alone I am saved and redeemed from the curse of the law I failed to keep.  

Through reading God’s word, hearing the good news of the gospel and believing in Jesus Christ I was changed. I was filled with peace and joy. I felt true satisfaction that I had always longed for, a genuine hunger for God that I had never experienced before and  freedom to obey God because of His love for me through Jesus. And I felt relieved, because I could fully rest in Jesus’ finished work on the cross for my sin.  

 As I continued to grow in my relationship with God, I struggled to reconcile the gospel of Jesus Christ with the beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventism. I had to count the cost of my new found faith. Leaving Adventism meant being misunderstood, rejected and losing the approval of many close to me. But I took comfort in the voice of my Lord, Jesus who said to his disciples in Matthew 16:24-26 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

As I prayed through my decision to leave, God gave me peace that I could fully trust Him and know that if He was faithful to reveal himself to me and save me, He would be faithful to lead me wherever He wants me to be.  “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” Philippians 3:7-9.

When I look to Jesus and the gift he has given me, the difficulty of the cost pales in comparison to the joy and security I have now in Christ. I have been adopted into God’s family. So today I live in confidence that doesn’t come from my own works – what I do or don’t do – but in the reality of my identity in Christ – His endless love for me displayed in his death on the cross. And when I fall short, I know that I don’t have to hide or attempt to cover my sin with works but that I can go boldly to my Heavenly Father and He will meet me with grace and mercy. I no longer live in fear but with peace in this life because of what He has done as I await the ultimate satisfaction that will come when Jesus returns.

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