Greta & Nina's Story
What does isolation feel like? It feels like being in a room full of people and feeling completely alone. Not just alone, but hated. That’s what growing up in a legalistic Christian system was like. It's not a pleasant experience and one I would rather forget, but maybe God wants me to deal with it.
I was raised in a legalistic church with cult-like tendencies. The ongoing narrative was that this church “gathers the way God intends Christians to meet.” This was referenced as “the doctrine of the one place.” Other churches were criticized openly and regularly. It was a system that worshiped itself and its rules, not Jesus. I lived with a pseudo sense of community but in isolation from authentic Christian fellowship.
Legalism breeds isolation. It trains minds to be critical of others. It sets a standard that is unachievable. At its foundation, legalism is righteousness by works, not faith in and through the work of Jesus Christ.
I knew the gospel in theory but never experienced the power that it had to change my life. Change was always superficial because I worshiped my own self-righteousness in place of God. Legalism is a pendulum that swings between shame to pride and self-righteousness. It’s a vicious cycle that you experience in isolation because if you hint that you are struggling or share your sin you risk being ostracized and “put out of fellowship.”
The worst part of growing up in a church like this and being completely isolated is that it teaches a false narrative of God’s character and his ways.
The God of legalism is austere and so is his church. My relationship with God was transactional and lacked authentic worship. If I was good then he would bless me. When anything went wrong in my life, the pendulum would swing to shame because I must have done something wrong.
It was performance-based Christianity and I never performed the way they wanted me to so I wasn’t worthy of their time or love. When I perceived others as sinful or “missing the mark,” my self-righteousness swelled. I would try and I always failed. I would get physically sick before going to Church and even though I was desperate for truth and had questions, I couldn’t ask them because I would be treated like I was stupid or not spiritual enough. Isolation in a group of supposed Christians led to deep despair and a fear that God was always looking to punish me.
I knew something wasn’t right but didn’t know what. Why wasn’t I experiencing peace? The Bible promises a peace that passes all understanding so why was I not experiencing it. Why did I feel so isolated?
Through a series of events, God delivered me from this church. Over the first two years after I left I experienced an all-time low; I experienced a faith crisis. Although I was attending church, I didn’t know how to function in a normal church. My righteousness was attached to my association with that legal church and my performance. I felt so much shame for leaving. I was more isolated than I was before. I was depressed and anxious as I realized my Christianity was phony. I had been working to earn my salvation not resting in the finished work of Christ.
By God’s grace I’m being set free from the indoctrination of legalism and learning who God really is.
We are made in the image of a relational God who calls us to live in authentic community with his people. I don't need to be isolated anymore. We need to be known and to know others. Being part of a healthy church has been an integral part of my healing. This is freedom from isolation — to know others and be known.