What Is Legalism?
There are people throughout history who have always had a desire to be free from the laws of a higher authority. They want to be free to do whatever they want to do. Those who are promoting self-indulgence and freedom from restrictions are guilty of destroying the moral fabric of the United States and other nations. Faithful Christians who are attempting to follow what the Bible teaches are called "legalistic." Are they really? What is legalism exactly?
This term is not found in the Bible, yet the concept is there. Is "legalism" to be equated with too much concern for obedience? Absolutely not.
Legalism is not keeping God's commandments. If legalism is keeping God's commandments, then Jesus was the perfect legalist because He always kept the Father's commandments (John 6:36; 8:29). Practicing righteousness according to Psalm 119:172 means to keep the Lord's commandments (1 John 3:7).
Legalism is not teaching others that they must keep God's commandments. If legalism was that, then the apostles and prophets were guilty of being legalists because they commanded others to keep God's commandments (1 Corinthians 14:34; in fact, anyone who preaches God's word would be considered legalistic under this false definition, 2 Timothy 4:2).
Legalism, according to the Scriptures, is a system of arrogant binding in which one depends on his/her ability to keep the law rather than depending upon God. Legalism is not merely law-keeping, but pride and arrogance in one's accomplishments either under the established law (depending on the law that he is under, which is now the law of Christ - Galatians 6:2) or the law(s) he/she has created. It is a prideful and haughty attitude. This type of mindset leads people to think they deserve eternal life. They think they deserve praise from God. Some of the Pharisees were legalists and felt that God owed them special praise.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus gave the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Ask yourself these questions and keep in mind that the Pharisee and the tax collector were living under the old covenant, not the new covenant:
"Is there anything wrong with giving tithes?" No.
"Is there anything wrong with fasting?" No.
"Is it wrong to teach to others that they should tithe or fast?" No.
What then was the problem? The problem was man's haughty and prideful attitude. He proudly imagined that God owed him salvation because of his dependence upon his own accomplishments.
In the Bible, we are instructed by Jesus to keep every single commandment that God gave, but we are also instructed to keep a humble attitude and remember that we are undeserving of God's grace (Luke 17:7-10). Furthermore, we are commanded not to bind laws where God has not bound (Matthew 23:4; Revelation 22:18).
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