It's funny that many of those who denounce legalism are often guilty of it themselves. Of course, they do not know it is legalism, because legalism is always something that other people do. It is very easy to see legalism in one who makes rules forbidding attendance at movies or the wearing of makeup. That's easy to spot. What is harder is to see our own legalism.
But before we get to that, we ought to define what legalism is. In a Christian context, legalism can mean two things. One kind of legalism has to do with one's eternal salvation. It is thinking that any kind of good works are necessary for salvation. Wars have literally been fought over this issue, and we must admit it is of supreme importance.
The other form of legalism is one that Protestants are more prone to. It consists of extra-biblical rules of behavior that are supposedly necessary to please God. I gave a couple of obvious examples above.
Another example of this kind of legalism is when one makes certain rules about witnessing for the Lord. Some have made the rule that one must witness at every opportunity and basically shove it down everyone's throat. They feel it is their duty to do this even if it is highly inappropriate. This is another obvious form of legalism.
Now for the more subtle variety. It goes in the opposite direction. It is seeking to prevent any Christian from 'public displays of faith' that seems to them to be inappropriate. A current example of this is the discussion over Tim Tebow and his public displays of faith. When interviewed he thanks his "Lord Jesus Christ". On the sidelines he noticeably prays.
Some don't like this. I do not mean some atheist nut who objects to anything but a completely private faith; I mean many who are sincere evangelical Christians. (I am not criticizing those who simply do not like it, but those who actively object.) They say that he should not do this and that nobody should.
To me, this is making a new law that binds Christians to a standard of behavior nowhere put forth in the Bible. I call it the new legalism, though it has been around for a while. In other words, it is just as legalistic to say that someone cannot express their faith in a certain way publicly as it is to say that one must do so.
In either case, we are making extra-biblical rules that all Christians must follow. But what does the Bible say? "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." (Galatians 5:18) This means that we should not be making a lot of rules for others to follow. Maybe God is leading Tim Tebow to do what he is doing. If that is the case, then to criticize what he is doing is to criticize God. (I have found that this is not a wise thing to do.)
If you don't like the way that someone witnesses or expresses their faith, then pray for them. Don't criticize. "Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it." (James 4:11) It is not for us to judge our brother.
We need to give our brothers and sisters in Christ the freedom to be led by the Spirit, even if they miss the mark sometimes. God knows who He wants to use in particular ways. It is not for us to judge these things. For all our talk about how we all have different gifts and callings, it is amazing how rigid in our thinking that we can be. We still think that things can only be done in certain ways.
Let's loosen up a bit. If someone 'steps in it' then then help with the cleanup and quite criticizing and start praying, teaching and encouraging one another.
Let's stop this new legalism before it spreads out of control.