by Dan Doriani
Are you a legalist when you preach, teach or share the gospel?
An excellent book by Prof. Dan Doriani teaches how to "put the truth to work" and to faithfully apply Scripture in preaching (How to balance *rightly* the indicative and the imperative in preaching). In order to avoid the pitfalls of legalistic preaching, he explains four classes of legalism into which many preachers unintentionally find themselves.
The point he makes about "class-four legalists" is that they have the correct teaching, but that they make the correct teaching oppressive without the love of Christ and his fulfillment of the Law as foundational to all of their preaching. This is helpful for preachers, teachers, as well as all Christians when sharing and living the gospel with others.
Prof. Doriani writes:
"Class-one legalists are auto-soterists; they declare what one must do in order to obtain God's favor or salvation. The rich young ruler was a class-one legalist.
Class-two legalists declare what good deeds or spiritual disciplines one must perform to retain God's favor and salvation.
Class-three legalists love the law so much they create new laws, laws not found in Scripture, and require submission to them. The Pharisees, who build fences around the law, were class-three legalists.
Class-four legalists avoid these gross errors, but they so accentuate obedience to the law of God that other ideas shrivel up. They reason, 'God has redeemed us at the cost of his Son's life. Now he demands our service in return. He has given us his Spirit and a new nature and has stated his will. With these resources, we obey his law in gratitude for our redemption. This is our duty to God.' In an important way this is true, but class-four legalists dwell on the law of God until they forget the love of God. Worshiping, delighting in, communing with, and conforming to God are forgotten.
Class-four legalists can preach sermons in which every sentence is true, while the whole is oppressive. It is oppressive to proclaim Christ as the Lawgiver to whom we owe a vast debt, as if we must somehow repay him- - repay God! -- for his gifts to us.
I count myself a member of the legion of recovering class-four legalists. We slide into a 'Just Do It' mentality occasionally, dispensing commands just because they are right.
Psalm 111:1 Praise the LORD! I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. 2 The works of the LORD are great, Studied by all who have pleasure in them. 3 His work is honorable and glorious, And His righteousness endures forever. 4 He has made His wonderful works to be remembered; The LORD is gracious and full of compassion. 5 He has given food to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant. 6 He has declared to His people the power of His works, In giving them the heritage of the nations. 7 The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure. 8 They stand fast forever and ever, And are done in truth and uprightness. 9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever: Holy and awesome is His name. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.
Excerpt from Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application by Dan Doriani