I hear the word used in Christian circles often. Usually it is referring to what rule or guideline one person sees acceptable and another does not; therefore the one with the stricter rule is deemed legalistic. Rarely do I hear legalism used as the Scripture defines it: a set of rules one must follow to earn their salvation. The rules in Scripture have not changed. Now then, if you look at the rules as, I must keep them so God will be pleased with me, you would be legalistic. If you look at them, as I want to obey them because I love God, then you are not legalistic.
Salvation is of course, a free gift, yet with any gift, it comes with responsibility. The responsibility accompanied with salvation is that of a child to a father: While in my house or domain, you will obey my rules. Therefore, to obey the rules and guidelines in Scripture is not to earn favor with God, but to honor Him and who He is; thus it is not legalistic, but is being a faithful child of God.
The rules do not change, yet our attitude to them must. I am often called legalistic because I say we are to obey God’s Word period: no and’s, if’s, or but’s. God says obey our governing authorities, unless they tell us to sin, thus, I proclaim something as simple as we are not to speed. By doing so, I am labeled legalistic, but according to God, am I? I do not, not speed, to earn my place before God. I do it because I love God and want to be the best testimony for Christ I am able to be. Therefore, I am not legalistic; I am striving with God’s grace and power to be an obedient son.
I, in fact, do have speeding tickets on my recent record, one because I was careless and not paying attention and another because I choose to disobey. Will I go to hell because of either? No. Was Christ’s testimony damaged because of my carelessness and willfulness? Yes. Both my testimony before man was damaged because they know Christians proclaim obedience to authorities and my testimony in the heavens was damaged. Satan and his clan are watching us too. They can bring claim against us just as Satan accused God that Job only obeyed because God was blessing him.
You may wonder why I bring up such a small issue. Does not Scripture teach us what we do faithfully with little, we will do with much? Yes, it does. I have found, it’s easier to train myself on the smaller things of life than on the larger. Paul says we are to train ourselves unto godliness. Therefore, I attempt to be ever mindful of both the large and the small opportunities in life.