Legalism, we all want to avoid it. It is the trap waiting to ensnare Christians concerned to change. We, rightly, want to avoid legalism. But here's my worry, in shouting loudly about the danger of legalism I wonder if it is leading us to confuse legalism with godliness or holiness. We don't want to be legalists, we do, or we ought, to want to be holy. Sometimes we can find ourselves wary of do's and don'ts in case we are being legalists. And yet Jesus calls people to leave certain lifestyles and habits, as do Peter, Paul, James, John and so on.
I worry that wanting to avoid legalism means we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water or more accurately throwing out the deliberate putting off of certain things with the bath water of legalism. Key to differentiating between the two is the audience the prompts the putting off, or ripping out or killing of sin. When I am doing it so that others think well of me, or look up to me as godly, or respect me, or so that I feel better about myself or feel more godly then legalism is a real problem. But when I am fighting sin because I want to be more like my Saviour who loves me and calls me to glorify him then legalism is not the issue. Legalism is concerned for an audience of my peers, godliness for an audience of one, God.
We need to avoid legalism, but we must also fight sin, hate sin, repent of it and become more like our Saviour.