To understand the second type of legalism, we must remember that the New Testament distinguishes between the letter of the law (its external form) and the spirit of the law. The second type of legalism distinguishes between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Obey the letter, but balance the mind. There is a subtle distinction between this type of legalism and the one mentioned above. Basically, legalism involves taking God`s law out of its original context. Some people worry about following a Christian life based on obedience to rules and regulations, and see Christianity as a set of “doing this” and “not doing that,” that is, a set of cold and deadly moral principles. It is a form of legalism in which one only cares about upholding God`s law, as if that were the only purpose. The Bible condemns both the legalism of the Pharisees and the Judaizers. During His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus condemned the legalism of the Pharisees by saying that they placed such heavy burdens on people`s shoulders that even they could not carry them (Matthew 23:4). Legalism is a position that encourages laws to be applied literally without regard to additional circumstances. The concept also alludes to the legal formality that hinders the effective operation or development of something.
Jesus and the Bible tell us one thing perfectly clear: righteous obedience to God`s law is not legalism. After conversion, the Christian acquires a much better understanding of the purpose and spirit of God`s law. He understands the importance of believing in Jesus` sacrifice and gains a greater knowledge of why obedience is necessary, but it is up to the person to decide whether to obey or not. This is not legalism. The gospel calls people to repentance, holiness, and devotion. For this reason, the world views the gospel as offensive. But woe betide us when we unnecessarily contribute to what is offensive by distorting the true nature of Christianity by combining it with legalism. Since Christianity is about morality, justice, and ethics, we can easily take a subtle step out of a passionate concern for divine morality and fall into a legalistic type. Therefore, legalism has nothing to do with sanctification. As strict as religious legalism may be, it can never create a true relationship and fellowship with the Lord or buy His favor. This chapter refers to the legalistic approach of religious authorities who accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath commandment.
What does the term legalism mean? The dictionary definition tells us that it is an “exaggerated respect for the letter of the laws” (Diccionario de uso del español). It can be said that legalism is based exclusively on theory, which often conflicts with reality and practical measures. Even sometimes there are contradictions between the written rules, which creates a problem for legalism. Legalism doesn`t work because it directs my gaze to myself when I have to look at Jesus. But it is also possible that legalism will end up distorting the law itself, distorting its true purpose, and creating non-existent foundations from personal interpretations of the law or amendments to the law. And this is exactly how the Bible speaks negatively of religious legalism. Antinomianism is often seen as the opposite of legalism, with situational ethics as the third possible position.  A very popular interpretation, especially in religious circles, tells us that legalism is any form of obedience to God`s law and should therefore be avoided. This word is used pejoratively, especially against certain practices, including keeping the Sabbath or any other law given in the Old Testament. However, it is not correct to use the word in this way.
According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, legalism is defined as follows: Christian obedience should never be considered as a mechanism for obtaining divine favor through meritorious works. Therefore, legalism is a hostile behavior of God`s grace. If we believe that by obeying any law we can become believers in salvation, we are guilty of legalism. Strictly obeying the exact letter of the law while seeking how to set aside the purpose and spirit of the law is legalism. As a Christian, have you ever been accused of being a legalist? This word is often misused in the Christian subculture. For example, some people might call John a legalist because they consider him narrow-minded. But the term legalism has nothing to do with closed mentalities. In reality, legalism manifests itself in many subtle ways.
Jesus then pointed out that the Pharisees, with their legalism, did not care about the glory of God, but only wanted human recognition. At this point, it is easy to see that Jesus showed that legalism and hypocrisy are intimately linked. And when it comes to eternal salvation or damnation, this question of legalism takes on a much bigger stake. How can one obey the letter of the law and violate the spirit of the law? Suppose a man drives his car at the minimum required speed, regardless of the conditions in which he drives. If you are on a main road and the minimum speed is sixty kilometers per hour, drive at that speed, not a kilometer less. It does so even in torrential rains, when driving at this minimum speed endangers other people, because they have the common sense to reduce the speed to about thirty kilometers per hour so as not to skate on wet asphalt. The man who insists on driving sixty kilometers per hour in such conditions drives his car to have fun. Although he seems to carefully observe and obey his civic duties, his obedience is only outward, he does not care what the law itself is. The second type of legalism obeys outwardly, while your heart is far from the desire to honor God, the intention of His law or Christ. In the Christian religious context, I would define legalism as consciously or unconsciously considering that norms or forms are the most important thing in the spiritual life, apart from things of equal or greater relevance.
Many people believe that the essence of Christianity is to follow the right rules, even extra-biblical, to the letter. For example, the Bible doesn`t say we can`t play cards or drink a glass of wine at dinner. We cannot make these questions the external test of authentic Christianity. This would be a fatal violation of the gospel because it would replace the real fruits of the Spirit with human customs.