on Law, Legalism, and Life

I began a new series of sermons last week. Our subject is prompted by a paper by David Hesselgrave, available on Bob Bixby’s site, Pensees. Hesselgrave’s article, “CONVERSING WITH GEN-XERS AND MILLENIALS CONCERNING LAW AND GRACE, LEGALISM AND LIBERTY” was prompted by the queries of two young people concerning the imposition of a ‘code of conduct’ by Christian colleges.

The article is excellent, though of course I have a few small quibbles at a couple of points. I decided to use it as an outline for a series of sermons on the subject of Christians and establishing codes of conduct, especially by local churches.

The first message came last week, 6/17/07, Christian Standards: an historical appreciation. The main idea of this message is that Bible believing Christians from the very first ages of the church until now have always maintained a stance of aggressive separation from the world. The notion that you can be an orthodox Christian while lowering your standards of conduct to match the standards of the world is an innovation. I advanced this proposition as the direction churches ought to take in their pursuit of a pure Christian testimony: ‘Christian churches stand against the tide of advancing evil by emphasizing personal purity as a mark of faithful Christianity.’

Our second message in the series was yesterday, 6/24/07, The Gospel of Grace: do Christian standards rob the Gospel of grace?. One of the accusations of modern antinomians is that those who promote Christian standards actually rob the gospel of grace, making Christianity works-oriented and man-centered. I pointed out that both salvation and sanctification involve God’s grace. I used Hesselgrave’s definitions of various forms of legalism, including something he suggests as a kind of ‘positive’ legalism. The categories are ‘salvation-by-works’ legalism, ‘excessive-conformity’ legalism (basically Pharisaism), and something Hesselgrave calls ‘reactive nomism’, i.e., a positive response to God and God’s laws because of gratitude for God’s grace. I call this third category ‘personal devotion’ to get to a less awkward and more descriptive term. The point of this message is: ‘My reaction to the gospel involves devotion to the grace God has given me for my personal sanctification.’

I hope to continue to develop these messages through the next few weeks. Next Sunday we will be expanding on God’s viewpoint of the three types of responses to God’s law.

Our afternoon services continue to feature the preaching of my 19 year old preacher boy. Rory is working on a series on the Love of God from 1 John. On 6/17/07, he preached ‘Responsive Love’ on the idea that we should respond to God’s love since God first loved us. Yesterday, he preached ‘Directed Love’ on the idea that our love for God is only seen when it is directed towards others. Rory is working hard on these messages and is developing into a fine preacher.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


  1. Andy Efting says:


    This looks to be a good series. If you haven’t read it, you ought to check out George Whitefield’s sermon, “The Folly and Danger of Being Not Righteous Enough.” Let’s just say that that one wouldn’t go over very well in some segments today.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Thanks for the tip, Andy. I’ll follow that up. I just received my first copy of Sword and Trowel in the mail yesterday also. In it Peter Masters has two articles on Romans 6-8 that look like they will be applicable as well. I think I’ll blog on that in the near future.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3