2 main types of legalism. Both stem from performance and external-ism and produce either pride or self hatred.
Type#1 Self Degradation – Deconstructing ones self worth by attaching their personal value to their failed life experiences and sin patterns. This type of Legalism keeps the believer bound in a unhealthy state of Mind. The thought process here is that they are never good enough and have to earn the favor of God through ritualistic practices, often distorting the exhortations of Jesus, Paul and the other biblical authors into a “to do” list that earns them favor, love and acceptance from God. Some of the ritualistic practices can be biblical (prayer, fasting, reading the word) While some practices can be created by the individual through personal belief (spiritual probation or timeout). It is nearly impossible for this type of believer to live as salt or light, because their lens of Christianity does not produce a sense of confidence before God. With a lack of confidence (Hebrews 4:16) in Gods love for them, it is impossible for them to see other humans as God does. Their lack of self love, strips them of the ability to love other humans and see them as redeemable.
Type#1 Self Righteous – Believing ones works have the power to earn love and favor from God. This type of believer evaluates their life based on what they believe they are doing correctly before God and Men and by their evaluation they believe they are hitting all the marks (Matthew 6:3). This produces the wrong type of confidence and a damaging pride. It’s success by external-ism. This type of behavior also creates an attitude based in arrogance that crushes other believers under the weight of failure. It lacks mercy, compassion and humility and disregards the meaning of poor in spirit. The type of “help” that is offered to believers in bondage is to modify external behavior until it models a form of biblical living.
For instance the Sermon on the Mount is achieved and measured through effort instead of first commandment love (Matthew 22:37-38). The sermon on the Mount and other biblical exhortations become a measurement system instead of a helpful guide. A guide where Jesus is leading our hearts. Jesus says some extremely challenging things, but the lens in which we interpret Jesus teachings makes all the difference. We can view Jesus teachings a long list of issues that we need to correct in our lives through self effort. Or Jesus is giving us the information that we need to overcome in the deepest recesses of our hearts, and to live in the fullness of the first commandment. John 17:23. A proper understanding of Jesus teaching must be filtered in a healthy way. If he exhorts us in an area of a weakness he is committed to be with us and help us in the process. It’s when we obey his exhortation’s without asking for his help that we fall into un-biblical striving. The reason it’s un-biblical is because it skips the relational side of the equation and achieves its goals on its own strength.