Legalists come in all sorts of flavours, but the common thread is that they look at the Bible as primarily a set of rules.

There are two kinds of legalists. Some try to justify themselves by obedience to the rules (religious legalists). There’s a lot of these in churches.

Others seek to justify themselves by rejecting the rules as too hard or modifying/interpreting to a more comfortable fit (liberal legalists). But both display a misunderstanding of grace, because both are still trying to justify themselves.

You can tell either type by the way they view those who don’t measure up. Religious legalists will be judgemental towards those who don’t follow the rules closely enough.

Liberal legalists, on the other hand, will be judgemental towards those they think are bigoted and intolerant.

Both consider themselves better than the people they judge, and they justify themselves by their own actions and enlightened attitudes.

The person who understands grace does not deny or change the rules. They acknowledge the claim the rules make on their lives; they don’t try to change the them to fit, but embrace their failure and trust in Jesus as their justifier. Remember the tax collector? “God, be merciful to me a sinner”. And he went home justified.