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The Rules

May 20, 2010

I believed for years that God loved me more than He loved other people.

Of course I didn’t say so.

But I thought He cared about me more because

I wore the right clothes

I listened to the right music

I read the right books

I talked to the right people

I even ate the right food.

Surely He must be pleased.

What I didn’t realize was that my view of what was “right” was skewed. Horribly skewed.

I wore the clothes someone else–not God–said were right.

I listened to the music someone else-not God–said I should listen to.

I lived a life dictated by what someone else–not God–said to do.

I didn’t know I was in this bondage. It was all came from a heart that simply wanted to do right.

Besides, it all looked so godly.

But in my zeal, I followed God the quick and easy way… by living someone else’s set of rules.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been involved with the groups that taught me such severe formulas as the way to God. I’ve been crawling out of a pit of legalism for a while.

But I didn’t realize just how many of those harmful thought patterns I’ve still carried with me.

Last weekend, I spent a few days with women who were nothing like the former version of me. In fact, the formula life was a completely foreign idea to them.

They loved the Lord. They walk closely with Him. They know His heart.

The former version of me would have looked down my nose at these women. Because they don’t even know about the rules.

Instead, the new version of me was refreshed, encouraged, restored.

Because these are the women who have discovered the simplicity of the heart of God. And the new me wants to find that beautiful, trusting spirit.

I wish I’d never learned all the rules.

Because the truth?

Jesus doesn’t give a complicated, rule-filled formula for knowing Him.

And unlearning the formula is much harder than finding and following it.

Jesus loves me

This I know,

For the Bible

tells me so…

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  1. alece says:

    my heart so resonates with this. i grew up with a very judgmental, rule-based form of faith… and it’s been an amazing journey over the past decade+ as God’s shattered all that to show me His scandalous grace.


    Ashleigh Reply:

    “Scandalous grace”

    Mmm… yes. I love that the Truth of God is shocking… scandalous.


    May 20th, 2010 at 1:14 am

  2. Katie says:

    I can so relate to this, Ashleigh….very well said! The legalistic thought patterns (mixed with a little OCD) in there are truly a battle!! However, God’s grace is sufficient in reminding me the simplicity of the Gospel and His love for me. Love this post. Think I’ll book mark it. I pray you are doing well! I pray for your hubby’s safety and well-being! Thank you for being such a special wife, mama, friend, blogger, and servant of the Lord that you are (not in that order…the words were just coming off of my fingertips here)… :-)

    Love from the midWest,


    Ashleigh Reply:

    Thank you for your prayers! We appreciate them! :)


    May 20th, 2010 at 4:33 am

  3. Christy says:

    I could have written this. My family spent nearly 10 years in a legalistic church when I was growing up. I followed all of the rules to a T, thinking that I in my put on holiness was somehow pleasing to God in my dirt flesh. The truly bad part was when I began to judge other’s walk with God in my own self righteousness. I’m ashamed to say that I once thought that a woman who wore pants was astranged from God. I judged and critisized with the others and I became a very ugly person. I’m so thankful that God showed me His abundant grace, and allowed me to learn to share that grace with others.


    Ashleigh Reply:

    The pants thing? YES. Been there. In a big way. Sigh…


    May 20th, 2010 at 6:08 am

  4. Becky K. says:

    I was there too. It was how I was raised. But, thank God, for His grace and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives always revealing more about Him and His will for us.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Becky K.


    May 20th, 2010 at 7:04 am

  5. Rebecca says:

    I can SO relate. Thank you so much for writing about this. I think you are completely right about calling following the rules the “quick and easy” way. I think it’s easy to assume that there are rules rather then trusting our own discernment. The rules are so much more tangible and the fences are so clearly defined. It is easier isn’t it? :) But, less rewarding, maybe? :)


    Ashleigh Reply:

    Absolutely less rewarding. To walk with God means knowing Him closely, so closely that we gaze into His eyes. But following rules means we can have an appearance of “godliness” without the fullness of that relationship.


    May 20th, 2010 at 7:17 am

  6. alison says:

    Jesus loves me, dirty, broken and in jeans and a tshirt.


    Ashleigh Reply:



    May 20th, 2010 at 7:20 am

  7. sargecharlie says:

    when you are talking to Jesus, throw in a good word for the Old Sarge, I am about to have part of my lung removed.


    Ashleigh Reply:

    Oh, friend! Definitely praying for you!!


    May 20th, 2010 at 7:42 am

  8. Heidi S says:

    WOW!! Beautiful post, Ashleigh!
    I am in that exact same place and I am so grateful that you expressed it in words! I am realizing that all the rules I lived by meant nothing to Jesus…and yes, I always had this hidden belief inside me that He loved me a bit more than others. My heart was always motivated out of a desire to serve Him and please Him but now that I know that what everyone else was telling me about the rules ISNT what God was telling me, I have been finding much more grace and freedom in my relationship with Jesus.
    However, it can be a little scarier with no pre-set rules. It was a bit “easier” with all the boundaries of “can” and “cannot.” I have to keep my heart in check now and make sure none of my actions or activities or whatever, are drawing me from the Lord. But it’s been (still is) a great season of discovery of what Jesus’ heart is truly like. I have a lot to learn but I am grateful for this season!

    Thanks again, Ashleigh!


    Ashleigh Reply:

    It IS scary. So scary. There’s comfort and familiarity in the rules. It’s hard to balance, and so much easier to fall, hard, into a certain “camp.” But Jesus’ burden is easy and light, because truly loving, simply loving, isn’t hard when we allow Him to flow through us, unhindered by the false guides we put in place.


    May 20th, 2010 at 8:17 am

  9. jAne says:

    sweet amens. :o)


    May 20th, 2010 at 9:28 am

  10. Sarah@EmergingMummy says:

    A beautiful and honest post. From the other side, it’s interesting to me. My parents were first generation Christians that came from rough backgrounds. My mum grew up as a dirty little kid, the child of alcoholics, always looked down on by the kids that had it all together. She was so passionate about Jesus when she got to know him (I was about 8 or 9) that she just welcomed every dirty and stinky and rejected person in the world in. It was hilarious and a little uncomfortable to me then but now, I’m so thankful. They weren’t perfect parents but the fact remains that they always kept a tremendous amount of humility even when we were in churches or circles that tried to do this same thing you mention. It’s an addictive thing, to feel better than people and I am so thankful that the Church is releasing much of this now. You are beautiful and true, Ashleigh. xo


    Ashleigh Reply:

    I’m so glad you didn’t face some of this, because it seems there is a freedom I can only hope to know in people who didn’t spend their formative years in The Crazy.


    May 20th, 2010 at 9:36 am

  11. Melissa Multitasking Mama says:

    Beautifully said and so true!


    May 20th, 2010 at 9:39 am

  12. Tweets that mention Heart & Home » The Rules -- says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Styles Bessey and Ashleigh Baker, Ashleigh Baker. Ashleigh Baker said: Do you know the rules for being a good Christian? [...]

    May 20th, 2010 at 9:58 am

  13. To Think Is To Create says:

    You are so right. There is a difference between holiness and legalism. Humans have twisted holiness and made it about “rules” and forgotten that it’s individual and that there are things that we as believers do when God convicts and prompts us, not that we do just because a pastor or a church said so.

    We are not all the same, and when we are at different places in our lives we will feel differently about things. The judgment takes it away from God and places it in the hands of a dirty and fallen world — a world that I don’t want judging me.

    I know there are things God pressed on me to do, or let go of, or change, and while it’s not laid out in a specific verse, I know it’s what God wants from me. Does that mean it’s what everyone should do or believe? Not at all. And I would never place my own God breezes on others.

    As you said, it really all comes down to love. Love God. Love each other. If we truly did those two things first, so much of what Christians struggle with would be gone…


    Ashleigh Reply:

    Love. We miss the most basic aspect of Christianity, don’t we? We toss out love in favor of a pride that comes from feeling superior because of what we do. I love your heart, Ari. <3


    May 20th, 2010 at 10:20 am

  14. Tiffany Day says:

    Hi Ashliegh,

    Great post – great truth! I too lived that way for so long – that by following the rules it made me better and gave me more favor with God – so not true! God knows our hearts – he hear us – and our walk with God is different to everyone else’s as it should be. We all have to do what is in our hearts to do – its between us and God – not the other person and God.

    I so love that you posted this! I found your blog through Lisa Leonard and have been hooked for about 5 months. I so resonate with some of your struggles and your sweet heart for the Lord and your boys and my heart goes out to you during this time your husband is deployed. I pray for strength for you.



    Ashleigh Reply:

    Aw, Lisa’s the best. Love her.

    Thank so much for praying for us! We’re so surrounded by love… it’s humbling.


    May 20th, 2010 at 10:56 am

  15. jolie n says:

    I was there too Ashleigh…a long time ago. What you said is so true…


    Ashleigh Reply:

    Isn’t it crazy, this journey? And who’da thunk we’d be connected here, now, so many years after so much crazy… and that we’d be in the same lifestage with our little ones, even though you have a daughter who was my friend? And that we’d have SO much in common? Love, love, love it.


    May 20th, 2010 at 11:04 am

  16. cdaisy113 says:

    I’m trying to unravel subtler forms of legalism in my past and still figure out what it means to walk in holiness and submit my life to Christ’s lordship. It sure is easier to swing to one extreme or the other (legalism or license)! One of the fruits of legalism I’ve noticed is to elevate some Scriptural principles over others (I’m sure you know what I mean), instead of being open to God bringing ALL of his Word alive in my heart and life. It really brings balance when I equally let all of his Words into my heart…and freedom…and a greater calling than the small box I would have put my life in before. It forces me to press in to the Holy Spirit…life isn’t one size fits all anymore.



    Ashleigh Reply:

    Oh, so good, so true. The balance of completeness in Christ…


    May 20th, 2010 at 11:53 am

  17. Charity says:

    I have no words to describe how deeply this post resonated with my heart – I grew up in that environment. An environment, and a church, that says if you do not belong to their circles, their beliefs, you are not a Christian. Or if you are, you aren’t as good of a Christian as they are.
    I was only 12 when my life was forever changed – and I found out just how bad things were – and were going to be. And so I had no idea…
    but God isn’t limited to that sort of stuff. Like Carolyn said… life isn’t one size fits all anymore.
    Grace – is for sinners.

    I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32… straight from Jesus. And there you have it – if you think that you are so strong, so Christian that you don’t need Him, His grace, His love to tear down your walls – you are truly lost. And you need prayer …
    and Him.



    May 20th, 2010 at 7:14 pm

  18. Jenny says:

    so true… the most dead i’ve ever felt inside was the season back in 2001 when I was trying SO hard to follow the rules instead of following Jesus. The more I followed them, the less I felt like He was accepting me. It took me breaking all of the rules to find out how much He really loved me… and i’ve never looked back :)


    May 21st, 2010 at 11:18 am

  19. Samantha R says:

    I can relate in so many ways.
    If I wasn’t legalistic in how I dressed (which I really wasn’t…) I was legalistic in how I saw others.
    And in fact, deep down inside, I wanted to be like them. Cause they were perfect, right?
    I had so much to learn. Like how God put me where I was for a reason. And it was okay to be me. Oh and God loved me for who I was and not more for trying to be like them

    I remember almost feeling shameful when we’d have candid family pictures taken and I was wearing pants. Almost ALL of my friends had skirts on. And I love skirts. But it just was how I was raised. It wasn’t practical to wear skirts 24/7 when you had animals to take care of and you were down on the ground, getting dirty or helping Dad outside.

    I am so thankful for God’s grace as He taught me who He was and ultimately who I am in Him.


    May 21st, 2010 at 12:15 pm

  20. The New Favorite | says:

    [...] Post all Christians should read::: The Rules [...]

    May 21st, 2010 at 7:36 pm

  21. Linda says:

    A great post. And so, so true!


    May 21st, 2010 at 8:15 pm

  22. Christine says:

    Wow Ashleigh. So.well.said.

    You said…
    “crawling out of the pit of legalism for a while”

    Such different emotions. I’m so sad to say that every single word you wrote to explain living in legalism rings true for me too. But, I’m so happy and FREE to experience God pulling me from that pit. It’s deep. It’s deadly. I’ve been hurt by legalistic better-than-thou thinking and I know I’ve most likely hurt others too. I am incredibly thankful for the freedom found in Christ!!!

    You said…
    “I didn’t know I was in this bondage.”
    “I wish I’d never learned all the rules.”

    Bondage. As I think of all the rules that have been set before me at times and mentally picture somebody in bondage, the two are synonomous. Alyssa posted on this recenty and quoted somebody saying…”it felt safe”. It did to a degree! Not until God took us from that situation did we see how much of a cult that church had become. We were scared to leave, but once we did, what joy!

    During the “thick” of “THE CRAZY”, my sister and I went to a different church for a special event. The pastors wife did a very short talk on how much Jesus loves you. By the time we got home, Amy and I ran to my mom’s room ~ tears streaming down our faces and could barely get out the words…”Mom, Jesus REALLY loves US!!!” We had truly forgotten what God was all about.

    I praise Him for rescueing us from the pit and pray that all of us who are still fighting free from the bondage will know FULL JoY!


    May 21st, 2010 at 8:18 pm

  23. Kim says:

    I have recently experienced a retreat at
    and it was incredible how the message is the same. Our incredible father is our counselor and he will keep our focus in the right direction.

    If you want to watch some real encouraging you tube videos from some folks at our church {not that you need to be encouraged any more than you already are} but try:

    What God has done in these peoples lives, in the absence of our christian “rules” is AMAZING :)


    May 22nd, 2010 at 7:17 am

  24. christine says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts I hope your doing ok raising your two boys and may God be with you im struggling with alcoholism ive just celebrated my birthday 2 months ago i tried legalism for so long its the worst kind of prison i come from an african bacround where fire and broomstone is preached everyday ive read and and listened to what ive thought to be the right kind of books and music just not to anger God ill get there sometime but thank you for being so open. be blessed.


    May 23rd, 2010 at 5:04 pm

  25. Heart & Home » Fettered says:

    [...] The Rules [...]

    May 24th, 2010 at 12:46 am

  26. Erin says:

    This is so true.
    I didn’t grow up like this, but went through a period where I was struggling with everything and started to search for something to make me feel safe in my faith.
    I had forgotten that I didn’t need anything else, that Jesus was enough.
    So I followed all the girls who seemed so secure in their faith, I did what they did.

    It took me a long time to realise that my security of salvation didn’t depend on how long my skirts were, how many pious journal entries I wrote, how many religious books I read or how soon I got married.
    All God cares about is my heart.


    May 24th, 2010 at 5:27 am

  27. Bethanyrb says:

    Very well said, Ashleigh.
    I grew up with a lot of rules. Still have them in my home, actually. But as I’ve gotten older, more mature, and have taken time to study more on my own and branch out a bit – I have learned more about the RELATIONSHIP part and think less about the rules.
    I am member of Reformers Unanimous. It’s an addictions program but also a discipleship program. They have some excellent material. I’m reading “Tall Law” right now and it’s GREAT! It deals with “When trying to do your best isn’t good enough.”
    Oh that we would see people the way GOD sees them, and not whether they’re abiding by “rules.”
    Thank you for the post.


    May 24th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

  28. Adventures In Babywearing says:

    I know this very well. It has been so strange still for us since we left a very legalistic church home that was our LIFE and still includes one side of the family. But we knew we had to get out, and now are on the “other side”. It’s not only about the outward things for us, often we have to ask ourselves, now do I believe this because the Bible says so or because we have been made to believe it by false teaching? So far it’s going on 3 years for us and has been LIBERATING- like, all that time we definitely loved God and served him, but it’s like we were on the ground level and all along there were a hundred more floors to the building and fancy rooms to explore!



    May 24th, 2010 at 7:50 pm

  29. Amy says:

    Wow, thanks for posting this Ashley! The legalism that is in some churches is craziness for sure! It puts the focus on how you appear to others instead of loving Jesus and being close to Him – which is what Christianity is all about! We spent 7 years in that craziness… Now being out from under that bondage for 5 years, there’s such freedom! :) But, there’s still a lot of un-learning to do…


    May 27th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

  30. Kimberly says:

    I can say that I do not believe that Christian Biblical standards are or should be called legalism or bondage. The Bible clearly states that we are to come “out from the world” and “that men are to not wear what pertains to a women and women to men.” The problem becomes we want to be a part of the world, but but still call ourselves Christians, with no outward change in our apperance. We want to take parts of the Bible and make them fit our wants and desires, but God forbid we give Him the honor and grace He DESERVES. We want to say the Bible doesn’t apply to us today and that God must not have know what it would be like to be a Christian woman in the year 2010. The Bible is TIMELESS and its blessings and commands are too. Does wearing a skirt or dress all the time make myself or my daughter any more, but I know that is what the Bible teaches. So should I give it up because everyone else is wearing the world’s fashions?..NO. Shame on anyone for looking down on anyone for still learning what God would have for them. But the Bible does warn about “knowing the truth and then turning from it.” I would be very careful with condemning (even if we didn’t mean it that way) those who follow the will of the Lord and dress according to His purpose. 1 Cor. 10:31 Some how I don’t see the Lord saying..”you were way too cautious in your dress and standards, shame on you.”


    June 7th, 2010 at 11:38 am

  31. Heart & Home » Falling. says:

    [...] I think I know. Because I think of what it was before this pit. [...]

    July 19th, 2010 at 10:25 am

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