Summary: Been slinging the L card about? Be sure you know what it means.
Heard a preacher today say that the only ones who use the term legalist are the ones under conviction. No, he was not a fighting Fundie. He was a non-denom. I had that handle laid on me many times over the years by people who did not know what it really meant. I had just hit on a problem they had even though I did not know it at the time. When you preach on every sin but theirs you are bold and taking a stand. When you hit them then you are a legalist.
In fact, legalist is like the race card. Whenever you are losing a theological debate or cannot justify your actions you just drop the L card and the person is supposed to realize their ignorance and spiritual bigotry and shut up no matter how many verses or facts they have amassed. They obviously lack love and grace and should be snubbed as the Pharisee they are though that is not very fair, you see.
Paul would be a legalist by today’s use of the Word as he would tick off a whole bevy of TV and radio preachers with these words.
1 Tim 6:3-6
3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. KJV
Yet. Peter backs Paul up and says what is going on with those who discount or disrespect Paul’s teachings.
14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. KJV
Here is a description of a real legalist according to the Word.
15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. KJV
Trying to mix grace with Law or making anything but faith and faith alone the Gospel is the legalism Paul fought against in his epistles. It was not standards or the lack of them. It was making works a part of your salvation be it by adding the law of Moses or some ritual or doctrine of man. THAT hammers and labels a lot of groups and preachers.
While standards are a good thing and needful to a degree, especially in the early development of a Christian, they do not save nor even sanctify as a Christian is sanctified when he/she is saved by faith in the work of Christ. You will never be more sanctified than the day you are saved. You mature in your faith and learn to discern good from evil, which sound doctrine aids, but you are once for all saved and sanctified no matter if you mature or stay a child in the faith. That is because it is all of Christ did about our sin, not about what we do about our sins. Rewards and fellowship are lost depending on our actions but the gifts and callings of God are without repentance in that once He gives He does not change His mind about what He says are eternal issues. Blessings are temporal and can be given and withdrawn if we do not seek to walk in His will. We can even be called home early if we choose to stay in willful rebellion, but we will go home. In disgrace, yes. Why? Because of His grace and work which can never be disgraced.