If the word 'legalism' makes you cringe a little, chances are you are on the side of the religious fence which believes your salvation has a direct connect to something you 'do'. Many of you know of a personal journey that I went on a few years ago to study the legalistic side of my own brand of religion. The end result was, I discovered that for me to 'do' anything with regard to my salvation, other than enact my faith, was detracting from the greatest work of time and eternity...the cross of Christ.
Upon my exodus from a religious framework I found a host of people who God had led along the very same pathway. My religious past insisted on upholding specific, non-scriptural codes as tests of fellowship in the brotherhood, and more importantly, as a test to see if one was saved or not. Being taught these things from a child, they were deeply embedded within my thinking. Still, there was considerable internal stress of having to preach what the religion expected and finding more and more discrepancy with the scripture.
Grace is a powerful thing! Salvation is a gift! The Holy Spirit is a gift. Somehow religion, for their own control purposes, have abused the Word of God to manipulate people away from Grace and into their own rule-book. Depending on the religion, they can tell you everything from what food to eat, to what day to worship, to what to wear, to who you can date, and the list is endless! In my opinion, these stiff rules are enticing to those who, by personality, need a strong leader and someone to tell them what to do, etc. On the other hand, it pushes away so many people who may be genuinely hungry for the Lord but are unwilling to yield their intellect to the whims of men when they can plainly read the Word for themselves.
Legalism infiltrates every arm of religion. There will forever be the conservative and the liberal, no matter which branch of the tree you choose to travel. In Adventism, there are those who are liberal enough to eat chicken occasionally, and are scorned by those who are strict vegetarian. In the Amish community, there are those who refuse any and all modern conveniences and these hold a level of chagrin for the liberals who allow for a light in their milk barn, or wear a hat with a ribbon on it. In Holiness churches there are those who preach hot and heavy concerning ladies cutting their hair or wearing slacks. The liberal is willing to concede some of these, especially on vacation etc.
From a distance, it all looks the same, only the issue is different. They all have their Old Testament verses...they all harp on a particular view of them....they all have camps.....they all speak one thing in public and a different thing around the table of their peers....they all have secret questions....and most will not buck the system b/c it infringes upon the safety of their status, their income, or both.
So what then is important. I firmly believe God's Word is true, is pure and is powerful. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the primary factors of salvation. When a man places his faith in the salvific work of the cross, the Word of God boldly and plainly declares his salvation is made sure. We are not saved by works (Eph2:8) lest any man should boast. Circumcision will not save you! Worship on Saturday will not save you! Baptism will not save you! Communion will not save you! Holiness standards will not save you! Only the blood of Jesus can wash away your sins.
No wonder Paul said, "I'm glad I didn't baptize any of you." No wonder he further declared, "I only want to know among you Jesus Christ and Him crucified." It is a simple gospel that becomes complex in the hands of the legalist.