It seems as though I've been hearing a lot about legalism as Christians lately. And it started me thinking about it.
What actually is legalism?
How does it differ from obedience?
Growing up in the church, I've heard people talk about legalism before. I've talked about it. I've judged people who I thought were being legalistic. And I've been legalistic at times.
In many ways, legalism makes things easy. It tells us what to do and how to do it and when to do it. Basically, it tells us that 1 + 1 = 2.
I guess the most basic definition of legalism I've heard is thinking that something must be done in order to somehow earn salvation. It can come in terms of thinking if we get up early enough every morning to read our Bibles and pray before we do anything else, we'll earn God's approval of us. Or, if we just attend church regularly and go to enough Bible studies, we'll be saved.
But, most often the things that we can become legalistic about aren't things that are necessarily bad things or things we shouldn't be doing. Reading our Bibles, praying, going to church and Bible studies . . . these are good things. These are things that help us to grow in our relationship with God.
But, they don't save us. And when we start to make them or how we do them a means of being saved or keeping God happy, we've strayed into legalism. That's a mistake we can't afford to make.