A Prayer for Legalists in Recovery
“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Cor. 9:23-27
Dear Lord Jesus, this is one of those passages I used to avoid as a recovering legalist. Once I came to rest in your righteousness alone for my salvation, it was Scriptures like this one that confused me—at times, resurrecting that foolish part of me that still assumes I can widen your smile by my striving and make you love me more by my doing. Perish the thought.
So I praise you for the ongoing teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. I praise you for showing me more about what it means to live “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). I praise you for all the freedoms you have won for us—including the freedom to obey you from our hearts.
Indeed, the gospel sets us free from working for wages, but not from wanting to honor you; it has permanently set us free from any notion of meriting your favor, but not from using a little muscle in your service. We now run for crowns to throw at your feet, not to stack up and balance on our heads. Our obedience earns nothing, but it does show that we love you (John 14:15).
And, as Paul says, the gospel sets us free from “running aimlessly and beating the air”; for you’ve written us into your big story of redemption and restoration. All of history is bound up with your commitment to redeem your people from the nations and to make all things new. We praise you for freeing us from a boring narrative of self-fulfillment, for a fulfilling life of kingdom advancement. We now discipline ourselves by grace and train ourselves for godliness.
Only the gospel qualifies us to “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12); so we don’t fear losing our salvation, but do let us greatly grieve the ways we can misrepresent you. Show us how to do all things for the sake of the gospel, since you’ve given us all things by the riches of the gospel. So very Amen we pray, in your loving and freeing name.