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This is the fourth in a series on LEGALISM. To see the whole document please visit www.rv85.net.


The word legalism is not in the Bible, so I asked others on a Facebook list to define the word. One definition that was given was 2 Corinthians 3:6. Three translations of the passage are given: a) who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (ESV), b) Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (KJV), c) He has qualified even me as a minister of the new covenant, which is not a written but a spiritual covenant. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (Williams).

Note that the word legalism is not in the passage (or context).

Otherwise, from the Facebook entries, here is what I received: strict adherence, conformity, a list of do’s and don’ts, trying to be justified by the law (Galatians 5:4). Some have included putting one’s trust in one’s performance of the law, trusting in works to save you (or earning salvation), adding one’s own righteousness to what Jesus did.


Here is how one website defined it: (http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-Christian-legalism.html).

  • It is a term Christians use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth.
  • Again, from the same source, “Legalists may appear to be righteous and spiritual, but legalism ultimately fails to accomplish God’s purposes because it is an outward performance instead of an inward change.

Legalism is a system of thinking that is “essentially opposed to grace.” Grace is understood as that way of thinking that is tolerant of people who are of a different persuasion/thinking on varying doctrinal issues.

  • There is a qualification, however; “A word of caution is necessary here. While we need to be gracious to one another and tolerant of disagreement over disputable matters, we cannot accept heresy. We are exhorted to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).

As I synthesize the above, legalism is an attitude of thinking that speaks to a person outwardly obeying commands, but inwardly having no heart for those commands.

Another website says: (http://www.christinyou.net/pages/legalism.html)

  • Legalism, “Legalism – social or self-acceptance of the observance of law, and conformity to the requirements thereof, as the basis of…Theological determination of spiritual condition or destiny, Sociological/religious control of human behavior”

This website has a large outline that is full of commentary on what meets his definition of legalism and what a legalist does and thinks. In his commentary, he made this remark: “Christianity is not a legal, judicial, law-based religion

I am sure he did not intend what the ramifications of this remark conveys.

  • Is Christianity not a “legal” religion? Is not God king, the legal authority to establish His will for man? Matthew 28:18-20
  • Is Christianity not a judicial religion? Will not the words of Jesus, as spoken in John 12:48, judge us in the last day?
  • Is Christianity not a law-based religion? Do we not have a law of liberty, as expressed by James in James 1:25?

In a strict dictionary definition of the word it means to adhere or conform to the standard of law.

The English dictionary puts no value judgment on this word. There were many on Facebook who did give an interpretative evaluation as they defined the word. Since the Bible does not use the word and, thus, offers no value judgment to it (obviously!), those who did offer a value judgment did so based on a theologically prejudiced approach. One man said that legalism in his mind is a rigid list of do’s and don’ts wherein complete law keeping is neither possible nor necessary.