Legalism and License: A Biblical Definition!

Definitions are crucial or no-one knows what you’re talking about. Humpty-Dumpty said that a word meant what he chose it to mean, neither more nor less, and his philosophy has increasingly caught on. So when it comes to teaching God’s Word it’s vital that we carefully define our terms in order to make crystal clear what we mean by the words we use. So I am going to periodically do some posts by way of defining, in biblical terms, various words and phrases that are used regarding the content of scripture and the Christian life. So let’s start with the terms legalism and license:

Legalism is when Christians require more of each other than the Bible does!

License is when Christians don’t require as much of each other as the Bible does!

Many believers are roundly in one camp or the other, but even those of us who try to get the balance right by staying out of both camps will tend to vacillate between the two. It is quite possible to be legalistic about some things whilst being licentious regarding others, so we must be careful not to let our guard down on this.

I therefore leave you with a couple of examples, after which you can run with the ball yourself:

  1. Any assertion that Christians must follow a particular diet regarding food and drink, or that it is wrong to watch Star Trek, would be examples of legalism.
  2. Any assertion that women can teach and/or be elders in a church, or that if believers’ marriages fail they are free to just go and find someone else to marry, are examples of license.

Wow! That was easy! More biblical definitions to come to come in due course!


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