Legalism was a big religious word in the 60s and 70s. I remember the expression, “Don’t drink or chew or go with the girls who do.” Fortunately, there is no legalism today, or is there? Legalism is a system of trying to please God based on man’s system of works rather than trusting in the grace of God. And example would be “women who wear pants are condemned” or “men who play cards fall short of God’s grace.” Neither of those standards are found in Scripture, so they would be considered legalism.
Paul warned that there is one solution to legalism – knowing and living under the rulership of Jesus Christ, because He made us alive with Him having wiped out the requirements against us (Col. 2:11-15). So Paul continues don’t let someone cheat you from your reward by imposing commandments and doctrines of men on you (Col. 2:16-23). Therefore live by dependency on Christ, not man-made legalisms.
Do you understand the Laws of Liberty, Love, Sacrifice and Accommodation? Did you understand how they are related to the Law of Christ? And how they are not legalism? These are important to understand, because you can almost get the idea that “law” is a bad word. Law is a very good word, and context is the key to understanding all principles of Scripture.
Legalism is not a word found in Scripture, just like “trinity.” Legalism refers to any addition, subtraction, twisting, or distorting of Scripture established by man that focuses a person on an action rather than his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Any Christian can fall into legalism when he trusts in his own works to please God, rather than the finished work of the Lord Jesus. It comes from pride and self-righteousness. It comes from thinking that works and human standards can come close to pleasing the holiness of God. Can you think of ways that people might be legalistic today?