Legalism is a pesky problem. We would be mistaken to simply relegate it to religious areas. Rather, we should see legalism as it really is, the perverter of every area of life. Before I explain what in the world I am talking about let us first define legalism. To me, legalism is simply the belief that by doing right one will be considered right or achieve the right ends. Speaking from the heart, legalism says, If I do this I will be accepted, it is pride. Legalism speaks to the ultimate motivations of the heart, is it based in gratitude and humility (gospel), or is it based in pride and fear (legalism).
The reason legalism is such a problem and a perversion of reality, is because God defines reality, and He doesn’t do it with legalism, but Gospel, literally: good news. Through a Gospel lens is how the world must be seen. In the beginning, man’s relationship to God did involve obedience to His law, yet the relationship was never legalistic but always of grace. That is, the ultimate definer of why Man was accepted by God, was grace, not obedience. Man was to obey God, not to earn God’s favor, but because he already had God’s favor, evidenced by his own existence and immediate relationship with God. Obedience was the proper response to the grace of God.