Pastors: Here’s How to Stop Preaching Legalism
While reading Timothy Keller’s new book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, I ran across a quote that, I believe, is wildly telling. In this passage, Keller is talking about legalism (dependence on morality to save us) and antinomianism (the belief that God’s grace doesn’t mean we have to live holy lives).
“Here is where the issue affects your preaching. If you think legalism is simply too much emphasis on the law, then you will think the antidote is to talk less about obedience and more about acceptance and forgiveness. If you think that antinomianism is simply too loose an attitude toward morality and law, you will assume the remedy is to talk less about mercy and acceptance and more about God righteousness and holy commands. In short, you will try to cure one with a dose of the other. This will be a disaster, because both of them have the same root cause. Both come from the belief that God does not really love us or will our joy, and from a failure to see that ‘both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.”
I like that last line: “both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.” Usually, as preachers, we find ourselves in one camp or the other. Some are scared to talk much about mercy because they feel like it will give their congregants an excuse to sin. Others won’t talk about obedience because they believe it will be seen as legalism.
What Keller says, essentially, is that we shouldn’t go back and forth on the seesaw every other week, we need a whole new piece of equipment entirely. When we preach about Jesus and the gospel in every passage of God’s Word, it allows us to rest in His grace while compelling our hearts to honor God with our lives.
When we fully grasp what Jesus has done, it changes the way we look at both grace and mercy. God’s grace forgives us. Following the law—being obedient to the Bible—can help us live up to our potential in Christ. Both grace and the law are good things!
Okay, let’s stop and evaluate what that looks like on a weekly basis:
- When you preach about obeying God, answer the “why” question. Why should we follow the Bible? If your answer is, “Because you’ll go to hell if you don’t,” you might be falling into legalism.
- Ask yourself how every text relates to Jesus. On the Emmaus Road, Jesus explained to a group of his disciples how the Old Testament related to his ministry: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). When you preach the story of Jesus from the entire Bible, even the Old Testament, it will help you to properly communicate the relationship between law and grace.
- Track all of the sermons that you’ve preached in the last year. Do they tend to only talk about one topic? Where do you need balance?
- Create a preaching plan. At Ministry Pass, we want to help pastors plan out their preaching calendars. Why? Because every church needs a healthy dose of God’s Word. Do you intentionally plan out our sermon schedule? How do you ensure you’re teaching the Bible properly?
How do you plan out your yearly calendars? Here are our annual guides.