What is Legalism?

Some Christians judge a person’s spirituality by their associations (e.g., what church they attend, to what political party they belong, or who they hold as close friends), their practices (e.g., their devotional habits, the way they dress, the entertainment they enjoy), or their passions (e.g., whether they share our concern for certain ministries or messages). Such judgments brush dangerously close to a legalism that runs contrary to the spirit of the gospel. Legalism takes one’s own associations, practices, and passions—perhaps true applications or expressions of biblical morality—and makes them normative for everyone else in the body of Christ. Life in the Spirit, on the other hand, places an emphasis both on clear biblical commands as well as on biblical principles and seeks to live out a broad-based morality revealed in Scripture under the leadership and power of the Holy Spirit.

George Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 293.

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