Legalism I would say would be this —- someone else telling you what to do. Without being allowed to ask questions. Or punished or rejected when you do.
Liberal living would be — you telling You what to do.
True liberty though is this. God telling you what to do. Through the Bible and through the still small voice you hear from abiding close to Jesus and his word.
Sometimes others are pushing conformity to Christ on you. Often, they are pushing conformity merely to the church. If everyone wears blue ties at your church, and you come in with a red one, they will pressure you to conform. Even if they don’t say a word. They aren’t secure enough with their blue ties, and they don’t know exactly why they have to wear blue ones.
We are to obey authority. God doesn’t want a bunch of rebels. But when I look back at Christianity, the ones God used in a great way beat to a different drum. They obeyed the still small voice of God. They were strong in their convictions but they were content to obey that voice no matter the obstacles. Circumstances didn’t make sense often. Only they can hear that small voice so it is easier for most of us to listen to the loud critics than to listen to that voice. We need to fast and pray to cultivate an environment that can hear what God is saying.
Godly authority will encourage you to do that. Cults tell you to do things contrary. You should be able to obey your leaders without squashing the inner voice. That is the balance. And if we are all tuned into the voice of God then we will all be individuals serving God with our unique talents and hard-wiring.
And some of us just may end up wearing a polka dot tie by the time we are done.