In general, legalism is used by evangelical Christians as a doctrine that focuses on a system of rules that makes salvation possible. Legalists believe that these regulations must be adhered to literally and strictly. But Luther opposed a legalistic conception of salvation: “The question here is: How can we be justified and receive eternal life? We answer with Paul that we are declared righteous only by faith in Christ, not by our own efforts. “Legalism exists when people try to ensure justice in God`s eyes with good works. Legalists believe that they deserve or can earn God`s approval by following the requirements of the law,” said Thomas R. Schreiner. 3º The legalist fights against sin with false motives. While the Christian who has understood the Gospel fights against sin because he loves God with all his heart and does not want to displease him, he does not want to grieve the Spirit who dwells in him and because the grace of Christ in his name teaches him to renounce all ungodliness; The legalist fights against sin, to protect his religious reputation or his public image, to have a clear conscience with himself, to give a semblance of piety, in short, to please the human eye. Basically, legalism means taking God`s law out of its original context.
Some people worry about following a Christian life based on obedience to rules and regulations, and see Christianity as a series of “do this” and “don`t do that,” that is, a set of cold, deadly moral principles. It is a form of legalism where you only care about keeping God`s law as if it were the only purpose. Legalism arises “when it is simply a matter of maintaining God`s law as an end in itself.” Sproul points out that legalism is separate from obedience to God`s love and redemption. “The legalist focuses solely on obedience to bare rules and destroying the larger context of God`s love and salvation in which He gave His law in the first place.” The religious legalism of the Judaizers was also vigorously opposed by the apostle Paul. Like the legalistic Pharisees of Jesus` day, the Judaizers taught a kind of salvation by works. In his process of sanctification, however, a person never progresses, for his whole experience is only carnal, external and vain. The Pharisees, an overly strict branch of Judaism, whose interpretations dominated popular thought in Jesus` day, were legalistic. They added so many rules of their invention to God`s commandments, resulting in them being misrepresented and misinterpreted. In fact, the Pharisees were so legalistic in this regard that they added human rules and traditions about God`s law. 6º The legalist uses the biblical text to support his personal ideas.
He goes to Scripture with a position that must be proven and defended at all costs. However, the Bible teaches that our ideas must submit to God`s Word, not the other way around. The chief error of the legalist is that he does not interpret Scripture, that is, he only exposes what the biblical text says in its original context and submits to what it teaches us today, but adds his particular standards of how this text should be followed today, adding his point of view to the text and presenting all these human standards as divine or as part of the gospel itself. However, a person becomes legalistic when his life begins to revolve around an interpretation and application of God`s Word in a carnal and outward way, and not a spiritual interpretation that transforms the inner man. Jesus accused the legalistic Pharisees of closing the kingdom of God to mankind with their human traditions, which, instead of bringing freedom, brought terrible slavery (Matthew 23:5-13). Dear reader, take seriously the sharp criticism that the Son of God made of the legalists: “hypocrites,” “whitewashed graves,” “fools,” “snakes,” “race of vipers.” He, who called himself “meek and humble of heart,” did not hesitate to express such reservations against the legalists. Undoubtedly, legalism is a grave sin that directly violates the gospel of grace. As in any relationship, the foundation is love, which leads us to honor and respect the other person. This is why the whole law is reduced to “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind” (Mt 22:37).
Properly obeying God`s laws is not legalism. To be a legalist in the religious sense is to apply God`s laws in a way He never intended. No one has the right to create restrictions that God has not restricted. Whoever does this is playing with being “God.” Many people believe that the essence of Christianity is to follow the right rules to the letter, even extra-biblical rules. For example, the Bible doesn`t say we can`t play cards or drink a glass of wine at dinner. We cannot make these things the external test of authentic Christianity. This would be a fatal violation of the Gospel, because it would replace the real fruits of the Spirit with human habits. We come dangerously close to blasphemy when we misinterpret Christ in this way. Where God has given freedom, we should not enslave people with man-made rules. We must be attentive and careful and fight against this kind of legalism. 2º The legalist fights sin by means of prohibitions such as: “Do not touch this”, “Do not eat this”, “Do not taste this”, “Do not use this other”.
He tries to win God`s favor through his human effort. Instead, the Christian who has understood the gospel struggles against sin, which is not guided by the laws but by the Spirit. His weapons are the Word of God, faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the helmet of redemption, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-17). One of the considerations of being a legalistic person is the tendency to forget that it is not only right to blindly obey the law and be extremist when actions are accompanied by a dual intention, such as one who provides help and wants to be publicly recognized as a very generous being. The legalist feels secure in his state that he may come to exclude others by giving his own interpretation of the laws, by taking parts of them for his own benefit, by giving them the meaning he wants; Believing that stopping or avoiding things is no guarantee of salvation or making mistakes in life. Three types of legalists can be mentioned, one who uses the law to obtain salvation, the other who tries to maintain it because he already has it, and one who uses it to despise others for his state of salvation.