Legalism is a controlling theology linked with manipulative techniques of criticizing and judging anyone not conforming to a set of interpretative standards of morality.
It forces conformity to man-made spirituality, targeting superficial and external behaviors. It fosters a critical divisive spirit among followers of Christ.
The command in Colossians 2:16 is to “let no one judge you”—that is, do not let it bother you. Christ has redeemed the believer from any guilt of the law, which had been a barrier between the sinner and God. Therefore, the believer should not let anyone intimidate him by making him feel guilty (as the Pharisees condemned Jesus’s followers for not washing their hands in Matt 15:2).
Paul wrote that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4), so it is a fruitless and wasted effort to attempt to become more righteous or acceptable by any legalistic system. In fact, “it was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).
Anytime someone says, “It is not enough to merely have Christ as Savior. You must obey all these man-made laws to be acceptable,” you can be sure that such people are legalists seeking to obligate (enslave) everyone to obey their version of Christianity.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). The dietary laws have been annulled, as well as the formerly mandatory festivals and Sabbath days. This is not a freedom to sin, but a focus on pleasing Christ in stead of the “Pharisees.”
All the Old Testament laws were but a “shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:17). He alone was the perfect substitute sacrifice for all man’s sins. The shadows of the Old Testament are no longer God’s plan; rather, they pointed toward a real object, or “substance,” that cast the shadows, which was Jesus.
Now that the real sacrifice has appeared, putting your faith in the “substance” of Christ as God’s sacrificial offering for our forgiveness is now the only means of acceptance before God.
Now the focus of obedience to His word is to please the Savior and to demonstrate that you take His word seriously. Which of these attitudes most motivates you: gratitude for His grace, fear of rejection by God and others, or an ambition to appear more spiritual to others?
“Lord Jesus, You provided us a perfect example to live by. Help me today to obey Your commands without fear of what others may think, but also please keep me from pretending to be more spiritual by imposing my convictions on others.”