The term legalism or being legalistic is an often used phrase in Christianity but seldom defined. It is the deadly error of teaching salvation or justification by mans works or keeping the Law to be declared righteous. We must let the Bible define legalism Acts 15:1-10; Galatians 2:16, 21; Romans 3:20. The reason is there is the danger of going to the other extreme which is lawlessness. Modernistic hatred of Biblical absolutes, authority, and holiness causes liberal believers to use the label “legalist” as a cover for their lawlessness (or to claim a liberty but use it as a cloak of maliciousness or to hide bad behavior). As a label “legalism” has one thing in common with liberalism; it is a convenient handle to bash anything one does not like.
Teaching the restraints, or the do’s and don’ts of Scripture, is not legalism. There are do’s and don’ts under grace Titus 2:10, 11. Teaching sensitivity to your brothers’ weakness, and teaching restraint of one’s’ liberty out of love for others is not legalism. A person who seeks to obey the Bible is not a legalist but a Biblical Christian. Believing in obedience is not legalism and grace is not a cover for disobedience. So legalism cannot be understood as obedience and then grace being understood as being freedom for disobedience. Grace cannot be a hiding place for our sins or rebellion Romans 6:14-18.
Often when we contend for the faith (stand for the fundamental truths of the Christian faith), we are called legalistic.
LEGALISM IS NOT:
- Earnestly contending for the faith.
- Making a plea for Biblical authority and truth.
- An effort to be obedient.
- Being careful in following Scripture (walking circumspectly).
- Striving to obey God’s commands, principles, and laws.
- The very existence of the Law or rules, codes, and principles of conduct (if it was, God Himself would be guilty).
- The mere existence of a standard or requirement (having to do something cannot be legalism or once again, God would be legalistic because He requires us to do things)
- Regularity or regular spiritual disciplines (if this was legalism, then everyone who eats three meals a day regularly would be legalistic).
- Depending upon one’s works to merit salvation or adding any of man’s work to God’s grace.
- Trying to keep the Law to be saved or to be justified (or being declared righteous) in God’s sight.
- Making laws where God made none.
- Disregard for the authority of God’s Word & the Bible as a sufficient guide for faith and practice.
- Adding to the Word of God one’s own rules and imposing it on another’s conscience.
- The wrong attitude toward the Law, code, or a principle of conduct for the purpose of exalting oneself and judging others as less.
- The wrong attitude toward a standard or a requirement for the purpose of exalting oneself and judging others as less.
- The wrong attitude toward regularity or regular spiritual disciplines for the purpose of exalting oneself and judging others as less.