The desire to follow the Bible, word for word, neither adding nor taking away from it, is not an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness. Jesus said, “he that does the will of my Father in heaven” will have salvation, Mt 7:21ff. And he said as a final charge to the Apostles to make disciples, baptizing them, and “teaching them to observe all that I commanded.” So Christians strive to do all that Jesus commanded and they consider adding or taking away from His word to be anathema.
To do God’s Word to be seen by men and receive their praise IS seeking one’s own righteousness, Mt 6:1ff. Making rules for men to follow that promise to help men walk in God’s law is establishing one’s own righteousness: this righteousness is rooted in man pleasing man by following man’s teaching, Mt 15:2. When the work is done to be declared righteous by men it is Pharisaism. When the work that is done is man’s doctrine and not God’s, that is Pharisaism, Mt 15:7-9. To nullify God’s Word and replace it with man’s teaching and then assuring everyone it is right, that is Pharisaism.
Devotion to Jesus’ words is not legalism, not Pharisaism, and so why is the church of Christ accused of being such? Because the accusation is coming from those who assert the rightness of their teachings and they don’t get an Amen from the church. They assert,
“You can play musical instruments in worship because adding to the worship is truth as long as it is done in the right spirit. You can divorce and remarry as many times as it takes to get it right without consequence. And women can lead in worship as long as the authority appears to be delegated by men.”
When they confidently assert these things and don’t get an Amen from the church of Christ, it infuriates them. And so they tack right with the charge of legalism. They are wrong. To do God’s will with the right spirit of faith in Him could never be wrong.
To read God’s Word and strive to do “all which Jesus commanded” is very good when one’s faith is not in the works but is in the saving grace of God. Stop and look at Jesus. Focus on Him and be thankful for His grace. Do you see His example? Imitate it. Do you hear the remarkable teaching from His lips? Do them? This is what people of faith who love Jesus Christ do. To call such people “Pharisees” or “Legalists” is the tactic of the father of lies.