“What is Legalism?
In its most basic sense legalism believes that we can earn or keep God’s favor by what we do.
1. Legalism Promotes unbiblical standards (self-authority)
Legalism may take things that have been biblically true but not biblically applicable and attempt to make them binding.
The clear teaching here in Colossians is that you are complete in Jesus Christ. To elevate any other standard outside the work of Jesus Christ is to promote an unbiblical standard; it is to make a law that is not binding.
So it may be what you eat or drink, what you do on Sundays, or it may be what you wear for clothes, what kind of music you listen to, or whether you have piercings or tattoos, wear a suit or don’t on Sundays, or home school or not, or whatever.
It is to take something that cannot bring or keep your favor with God and make it binding on yourself and others. This is so dangerous, but it is so prevalent.
2. Legalism Promotes performance (self-righteousness)
In addition to promoting unbiblical standards it promotes personal performance.
Legalism says, “I do or do not do.” Gospel says, “I can’t do, but Jesus did.” There is a big difference.
Legalism promotes the earning and keeping of God’s pleasure based upon what I do or do not do. When legalistic thinking is prevalent you are always trying to cut a deal with God or your conscience. You may feel guilty about what you have done and instead of running to Christ you run to Sinai, the Law, and look for something to do.
Legalism is a relentless task master that promotes your personal performance as your continuing personal atonement.”