Legalism can lead to self-deception and destruction. It’s better to understand the spirit behind the laws of God instead of strictly adhering to the letter.

Legalism is defined as 1) strict adherence to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit. 2) The doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.

Examples of legalism

1. You must wear fringes.

Wearing fringes was a law given to help Israel remember God’s laws and obey them (Numbers 15:38-40). Now that the law is written in our hearts (Hebrews 10:16) and we have access to a personal Bible, fringes are unnecessary.

2. You must keep the Sabbath.

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). While the Sabbath is on Saturday, we may not be able to rest on that day due to job restrictions. In this case, any other day is fine. If we don’t take the Sabbath, we’re only hurting ourselves, but it’s not going to get us thrown into hell.

3. Drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin.

Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11), so drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages isn’t a sin. However, God has a problem with drunkards; he says they will not inherit his kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:10).

4. Vulgarity or “cursing” is a sin.

Words are amoral and cannot be sinful. God is more concerned with the spirit behind our speech with one another. He doesn’t want us lying, gossiping, and deeming each other with our words. See Can Christians Curse for more.

5. Eating pork is a sin.

No one should make ham their diet because of its toxic nature. However, if there’s nothing else to eat, the Spirit may direct the person to eat pork. The spirit behind the law is to avoid making toxic animals a part of our diet. This can also include healthy foods that have been tampered with by man.

6. You must attend a local church.

After a close study of Hebrews 10:25, it encourages saints not to allow life’s distractions to pull them away from consistent local fellowship. This passage doesn’t mean we must always remain in an assembly, especially if it doesn’t please God. Learn more about living without a local church fellowship.

7. You must not get tattoos or shave your beard.

Lev 19:26-28; 21:4-6; Deu 14:1 all refer to witchcraft practices including cutting the hair, beard, and body. God didn’t want his people participating in those sinful things. Finally, 2 Samuel 19:24 says that Saul’s son refrained from washing his feet, clothes, and trimming his beard for a time. The scripture implies that ancient Israelite men trimmed and fashioned their beards from time to time. Additionally, to purposely wear no beard was most likely frowned upon and seen as effeminate back then, but it’s not a sin for a man to have a bear face.

8. Women must cover their heads, and refrain from makeup, braided hair, jewelry, and wearing pants.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 talks about head coverings. Verse 15 says, “And isn’t long hair a woman’s pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:15 NLT). 1 Timothy 2:9 says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” The key here is modesty, not that a woman can’t braid her hair or wear jewelry.

9. You must study the King James Bible version only.

While there are some bad Bible translations out there, and the KJV may be more accurate, having the Holy Spirit help you understand any Bible is most important of all. It doesn’t matter the version, just that you understand and obey it. See our article about King James Only movement.

10. You must use God and his son’s proper names.

God knows who you’re talking to and the names translated in various Bible versions are acceptable to him. God is more concerned with obedience rather than using the so-called true pronunciation of his name. See “What is the proper name of Jesus?

It’s easy to fall into legalism.

Legalism appeals to our flesh’s desire for self-glorification and justification. It gives us room to boast and boost our pride. Usually, these practices, while requiring discipline, are easy to do and don’t require the power of the Holy Spirit. However, obeying God in the Spirit is much harder because it requires submission to him and acknowledging our weakness without his power. In the end, our flesh can’t boast when God does the work through us.

Legalism leads to sin and destruction.

  1. You become arrogant and condemn others for not knowing things you do and living the way you live.
  2. You can fall into bondage and self-condemnation for not meeting the often high standards you’ve placed yourself under.
  3. You deceive yourself into believing you’re right with God when you’re not.

How to overcome legalism

Understand the spirit behind the law and be led by the Holy Spirit. Humble yourself and yield to God’s power to please him rather than your own ego.


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