Legalism is a pejorative, largely used to spurn those whose standards of conduct are higher than one’s own, but attempts to live a godly life can lead in some strange directions, directions marked by Procrustean standards and scrupulosity. ‘Procrustean’ is derived from Procrustes, a mythical lunatic from ancient Greece. He owned an iron bed and when weary travellers needed a place to sleep he would offer it to them. Hospitality was an extremely important virtue in ancient Greece. But if the visitor was shorter than the bed, then Procrustes would stretch them out on a rack until they fit. If they were too tall, he’d start cutting. A Procrustean standard is one that is arbitrarily selected, but strenuously enforced. Scrupulosity is a religious form of OCD. It is an obsession over details, procedures, and conduct marked with great fear and guilt if one were to omit anything or leave something undone. It is important to recognize these for what they are, but it is also important to recognize that the accusation of legalism and the antipathy towards works that has become so common in our generation is something that flies in the face of scripture.
The Bible teaches:
We are created to do good works(Ephesians 2:10).
We are to be zealous of good works(Titus 2:14).
We are awarded according to our works(Matthew 16:27).
Our works reveal our relationship with the Lord (Titus 1:16).
If the Bible tells us to do, or to not do, something, then far from being a work, rather it is the very least can do:
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
Luke 17: 7-10
There is a part of us that naturally disdains holiness, but that is the flesh and not the liberty of Christ’s grace. We love Him because He first loved us, 1 John 4:19, but if we love him, then we will obey His commandments:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:2-3
His commandments are not burdens and His expectations are not more than we can bear:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it
1 Corinthians 10:13
In all this we have an example in Christ, our Redeemer and our Role Model:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.