It is easy, as a Christian, to become over zealous and fall into legalism. If we are truly saved, we want to do good, that is part of our wanting to please the Lord. We are not saved by works. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:Not of works, lest any man should boast."
So, what is legalism? It is the strict adherence to the law, that is the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. The Jews were required to follow the law and to strictly adhere to it, but now we have Jesus Christ and he died in our place and became our priest. The former in the Old Testament was just a shadow of what was to come. Now salvation is for everyone who accepts and it is free, we don't have to work to get it. As Christians we no longer follow the ceremonies and judicial law laid out in the Torah, rather we follow the moral law as a guide. If we love the Lord we will do it willingly, we do it to grow more like God and we do it through Christ. The moral law doesn't save, it sanctifies. The moral law is our guidance, as what to aspire to and the main point is to worship God as creator.
Exodus 20:3 'Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.'
The moral law requires obedience, but does not give strength. It shows the standard we are to live by. (not to take the Lord's name in vain, commit adultery, and murder, e.t.c.)
Galations 3:24 'Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.'
Regarding justification, or being justified, the moral law is abolished. We are only saved through Christ's righteousness. We are free from the curse and condemnatory power of the moral law. We are not under the condemning now, rather the commanding
Gal 3:13'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.'
That doesn't give us free licence to do whatever we like though.
Romans 3:31 'Do we not make void the law through faith'.
Legalism is when we overstep that line and think that somehow it counts towards our salvation, or we insist on following the old ceremonial and judicial traditions we are stepping into a cult like situation. Any religion that bases salvation on works, is a cult, but it can also be considered cult like if we try to insist on certain other things, or to be contentious.
Colosians 2:16 'Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.'
We are now permitted to eat pork and do not hold to the Jewish customs and practices. Acts 11:7' And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. 8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.'
Some people may think they are better Christians because they follow this law and maybe they don't have TV, or they don't listen to a certain music.We need to be extremely careful that our faith is not overtaken by a religious formalism, having an unhealthy fear and being robbed of our joy. It doesn't stop there, as once it has overtaken us we start to judge others, maybe on their dress, what commands they obey e.t.c. this is what the Bible means when it says to judge not. We are to recognise false teachings and try people's statements against scripture, but not to judge in a critical selfish way.
Let us not be robbed of our joy and follow the Lord with joy and remember Titus 3:7 'That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.'
Jenny is a Christian home educating Mum of 9 blessings, living in the flat plains of England's green and pleasant land. She blogs at Be Fruitful.