Concerning Christianity and the Bible, a legalist is someone who believes that their works will save them. On the one hand, a legalist may believe that he needs absolutely no grace from God and rests entirely in his own righteousness. On the other hand, a legalist may believe that he needs some added grace to complete his salvation; that could be like a 90/10 grace to works, or 10/90 grace to works, but either works, grace plus works equal salvation.
Collin, this sounds bad. Are you a legalist?
Well, yes and no. Theologically, I am not a legalist. Paul is clear in Gal. 2:16, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
Paul says to those who add works of any kind to grace, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
That is some serious language, but if works are necessary for salvation, then Jesus did not need to come a die. But He did come and die, and His death is sufficient for our salvation. To add works is to say He and His cross are not enough for us. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).
While I am not theologically a legalist, practically I still remain one. I am an actual sinner. As a current, actual sinner, everyday I live with a flesh that still believes it can save itself. It believes if it wants to be righteous, it has all the resources it needs: itself. My sinful flesh does not believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. Like Paul “…I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:23).
This is why I have to pray like the father in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” God has made me alive by His Spirit and given me faith in Jesus, but everyday I feel the flesh so close, doubting His grace; a nagging sense is always close at hand, “Is Jesus really enough? Surely you can do it! You can pull it off!”
So I am a legalist, to my shame. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25). “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13).
In Christ and because of Christ I am counted perfectly righteous and totally forgiven. All glory be to God.