Please explain the difference between legalism and obeying the commandments of God and his will?
The commands of God are found in the Old and New Testaments. There are many of them. Some are directed to individuals, groups and at times some are for everyone. They include general commands that are true for all time and some that are no longer applicable. Some commands are included in the Mosaic Law which are no longer applicable to Christians today such as attending church on Saturday, observing the sacrifices, Jewish feasts, and having priests and a temple. For example, God commanded Abraham to leave his hometown and travel to the land of Canaan. That command is not for us.
Will of God
God’s will is a subset of all of the commands of God. Some are directed to individuals and some to every Christian. An example of God’s will for an individual, consider the time when God commanded Abraham to leave his hometown and travel to the land of Canaan. That was God’s will for a single person, Abraham, but it does not apply to me or you.
We are told in Ephesians 5:17 that it is God’s will that every Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit. The New Testament has some verses that explicitly state God’s will for everyone such as in 1 Thess. 4:3; Eph. 5:17-18; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 Thess. 5:18; 1 Peter 2:13-15).
God’s will also includes our salvation (1 John 3:23). God’s will can also be unique for each individual Christian. For example, God has already determined whom each Christian man and woman should marry. It is up to each person to find that marriage partner. Also, each individual Christian must determine which career God wants to them pursue. For some it may be a pastor-teacher, an engineer a social worker or an airplane mechanic, for example.
There are two definitions of legalism: the Pharisaical legalism and the modern usage of the term legalism.
Pharisaical legalism refers to man-made religious rules that are supposed to grant a person favor with God and allow them to get into heaven. The Pharisees created unbiblical rules and imposed them on others.
The modern day usage of the term legalism refers to the imposition of a set of biblical and unbiblical rules that people are to keep in order to be a good Christian. Those who impose them expect others to keep them as a sign of being a “good Christian.” Usually, the rule keeping is not supposed to give the person salvation.
Every Christian should desire to obey and know God. Legalism is to be avoided. We encourage you to listen to an MP3 audio titled, “Are You Spiritually Mature?” Out of a heart of love,we should all be willing to obey and do what God wishes as revealed in the Bible. The motive for our behavior should always be to honor God. It should not be controlled by fear of disapproval but by our love for Him.