This article is one in a series of studies on William Branham and legalism - you are currently on the page that is in bold:
What is legalism? Did William Branham teach a legalistic version of the Gospel? Are his followers legalistic? Are there specific rules that message believers must live by?
What is legalism?
The New Testament does not use the word “legalism” and, therefore, it is easy to throw around the term without defining it Biblically. But legalism is evil and the New Testament does indeed deal with it, even if it does not use the word.
The word “legalism” can be used in at least two senses, but both have a common root problem.
God's Word as regulations
First, legalism means treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. In other words, legalism is present whenever a person is trying to be ethical in his own strength, that is, without relying on the merciful help of God in Christ. Simply put, moral behavior that is not from faith is legalism (Rom. 14:23).
Simply put, moral behavior that is not from faith is legalism. The legalist is always a very moral person. In fact, the majority of moral people are legalists because their behaviour does not grow out of a humble, contrite reliance on the merciful enabling of God.
On the contrary, for the legalist, morality serves as an expression of self-reliance and self-assertion. The first meaning of legalism is the terrible mistake of treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. It is a danger we must guard against in our own hearts every day. And we are all prone to it.
Erecting a code of conduct beyond scripture
The second meaning of legalism is the erecting of specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for full participation in the local family of God, the church. This is where unbiblical exclusivism arises.
There is no getting around the fact that the church does not include everyone. We do exclude people from our church because we believe worship should imply commitment to the lordship of Christ, the head of the church.
But exclusion of people from the church should never be taken lightly. It is a very serious matter. Schools and clubs and societies can set up any human regulations they wish in order to keep certain people out and preserve by rule a particular atmosphere. But the church is not man’s institution. It belongs to Christ. He is the head of the body, and he alone should set the entrance requirements.
What legalism does
The impact of William Branham's legalism
The legalistic teachings of William Branham have a decidedly negative impact on believer’s spiritual development. So while there are those in the message that have experienced Christ’s redemptive work, they are weighed down by a theology that is inconsistent with Paul’s teachings regarding the grace of Christ. Paul states that such beliefs can alienate a person from the grace of God – “Those of you who try to be put right with God by obeying the Law have cut yourselves off from Christ. You are outside God’s grace.” (Gal 5:4 GNT)
A man named Simon thought that he could buy the Holy Spirit with money. Some message believers are trying to buy the Holy Spirit by public demonstrations of their own righteousness.
Paul clearly states that the ten commandments, written in tablets of stone, represented the ministry of death. Paul also was clear that Jesus did not redeem us from the curse of sin but from the curse of the law:
The problems of legalism
If you see Jesus as king who rules and prophet who speaks, but not as priest who serves, you will see Jesus as mean, as distant, as cruel, as a taskmaster. And sadly, this is the Jesus of the hardhearted, fundamentalist message. It’s the Jesus of legalism. It’s the Jesus of moralism.
It’s the Jesus who sits on a throne and yells at you, telling you what to do, but never gets off that throne to help you do it. The result of that view of Jesus is either despair or pride, but never worship because, let me explain this to you, if you see him as king who rules and prophet who speaks, telling you exactly what to do, you will try to live as he commands.
You will either fail and become devastated, sad, grieved, or you will think you’ve accomplished, and you’ll become very arrogant and say, “I’m a good person. I obey God.” Neither of which leads to the worship of Jesus. Neither of which leads to humility. Neither of which leads to Godliness. Neither of which leads to joy.
That’s the trap of the message. That’s the trap of legalism. The distant God yells at you and so you try. You try hard.
If you think you did a good job, you become arrogant and spiritually proud. You look down on denominational people as foolish virgin.
If you can't live up to the message standard, you become depressed.
Great options. The end game is depression or arrogance. You kill yourself or in self-righteousness, you kill someone else, if you don’t understand Jesus as priest. He doesn’t just tell you what to do, he comes down and he enables you to do it, he empowers you to do it, he walks with you, he gives you grace that empowers and mercy that forgives and patience that endures, and by Jesus’ strength you’re able to be obedient, which means that leads to humility. Jesus enabled me. That leads to victory. My life is changing by Jesus’ enablement. And that leads to joy. “Jesus really does love me, and he really is with me, and he really does care, and he really is helping me, and I really am glad.”
Those of you who were raised in the message, here is our fear for you: When you need him most, you’ll run from him, not to him. You’ll say, “I’m struggling, I’m tempted, I’ve sinned. Jesus will be very disappointed and he will yell at me. I must run.”
No.You must understand him as not only the king but as your high priest, and you must run to him.
Why did Jesus come? As prophet to speak to us. As priest to serve us. As king to rule over us. That’s why he came. And he’s alive and well today, and he continues these ministries. Speaking, serving, ruling.
Those in the message should ask themselves - "Where am I deficient in my understanding of the ministry of Jesus and why he came?"
And then ask him, “Jesus, I’m gonna start reading scripture. Reveal yourself to me as priest. I don’t get that. I get the king part but not the priest part.”
Pray before you read scripture, asking that Jesus would reveal himself to you through his word. And seek to grow in your understanding of all three of his offices and ministries. I assure you it will change everything. You’ll love him like you’ve never loved him, you’ll enjoy him like you’ve enjoyed him. And the times when you need him most, you’ll run to him, not from him because you will understand that he alone is able to help in your time of need, and he sympathizes. He sympathizes. And so he will receive you in love. 
Quotes of William Branham
And yet a loving, compassionate Father passing right through it. But sometimes people don't know what love is; you get love and sympathy mixed up. See? Love is obedience. God speaks; it's obedience, regardless of what sympathy or anything else is.
No wonder He said, there in the Garden of Gethsemane, His sympathy to leave His friends and everything, but said, "Thy will be done." That's right. That's love; that's real love is obedience.
I said, "Then you're not preaching the Gospel." Yeah.
God laid it out there, He said what to do. And you either do it... That's your natural, reasonable thing. What little thing... what... the little insignificant. Jesus said, "Blessed are they that would take all the little thing, do the little things." And a woman to let her hair grow, that's just a... why, it's just something she can do, and she won't even do that. She won't even do that.