John Reisinger on Legalistic Preaching

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Everyone claims to be against legalism. I’ve never met anyone who said it was a good thing. And yet, I’ve also found that many Christians who say they reject legalism and works salvation, nevertheless, end up with legalistic preaching.

Why is that?

It’s often due to a severe misuse of the law of God. Paul said:

For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1).

In this verse, Paul is not talking about freedom from sin but freedom from the law. Christ died under the law to make us free men and women. But you wouldn’t know that judging by the messages coming from many pulpits. As John Reisinger recognized:

“Much Reformed preaching, especially by some Reformed Baptists, is designed to bring the law down on the conscience in a way that cannot avoid legalism and fear. Preachers vehemently deny that they are setting men under the law in order to be saved. However, when these same preachers consistently appeal to fear as the primary motive essential to produce holy living, the end result is experientially the same as it effects the conscience before God” (Reisinger, Abraham’s Four Seeds, p. 106).

Reisinger, himself a Calvinistic Baptist, is exactly right. In the wider Evangelical world (I wouldn’t limit this to the Reformed only), many teachers who affirm salvation sola fide—who “vehemently deny that they are setting men under the law in order to be saved”—nevertheless produce the same “end result” of leaving their people with the experience of a works salvation gospel.

Have you ever experienced that?

You might have even experienced it in Free Grace circles. The same kind of legalism you thought you escaped from Lordship Salvation can end up being present in teaching about discipline, rewards, or sanctification. There can be a consistent appeal to fear, to law, and to performance that can be just as devastating as in Lordship Salvation. (In a future blog I'll explore a more gracious way to teach rewards.)

When faced with that kind of preaching, remember what Christ came to do—He came to set you free from the law. Preachers can threaten you with it all they want, but “don’t submit.”

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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