The law of God should not be central in your open-air preaching or in your one-to-one communication of the gospel.
The phrase and evangelistic philosophy of “90% law and 10% grace” is widely attributed to John Wesley. The thought behind this sentiment and philosophy is well-intended. People will not understand the good news of the gospel, they will not understand their need for a savior, until they come to terms with the reality that they have sinned against God–that they have broken His holy law. Therefore, Christians should communicate the law of God and the consequences of breaking His law until such time the person comes to the knowledge of their sin. After all, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
The “90% law; 10% grace” philosophy that has dominated open-air preaching for more than a decade was, at first, an understandable, well-intended course correction for an American Evangelicalism that sinfully turned to preaching “90% self-help; 10% grace.” But the gospel is not a 10% grace message. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is not a bright, red cherry atop a dark chocolate law cake. Sadly, this is what much of open-air preaching has become.
As we so often do as Christians, we have a tendency to over-correct–to swing the pendulum too far the other way when we see it swing too far to one side or the other. I believe many open-air preachers have done this with the law. In response to the Antinomianism and cheap grace that was and is so prevalent in American Evangelicalism, lost-loving and gospel-loving Christians swung the pendulum as far and as hard as they could in the opposite direction. In doing so, some have lost balance in their proclamation of the gospel. They have blurred the Bible’s clear lines between law and grace, between law and gospel. In fact, (and this is tragic) it’s this “90% law; 10% grace” philosophy that has led to the creation and growth of the “turn and burn” open-air agitators crowd (they’re not preachers). Some now preach “90 % law; 10% self-righteousness,” which is no gospel at all.
With over a decade of street preaching under my belt, I have seen people time and time again, through the use of the law, humbled when brought to the realization that their sin is exceedingly sinful to the God before whom they will stand to give an account for their lives. At the same time, I have also seen how a “90 % law; 10% grace” law and gospel presentation can leave people emotionally shredded, angry, without hope, and not a step closer to Christ than they were before the conversation or open-air interaction began. I have also seen how proud and arrogant an open-air preacher can not only sound, but actually be when evangelistically presenting a “90% law; 10% grace.”
“Who are you talking about, Tony? Give us names!”
Okay. I’ll give you one name–the name of one man who has made the before-mentioned mistakes. Tony Miano.
Without intending to, as I began my ministerial life as an open-air preacher, the law of God quickly became central in my gospel preaching. I thought I was making much of Christ, but I was making more of man’s sin than the remedy for his sin. I preached the gospel, but I was not lifting the name of Jesus anywhere near as high as I should.
Over the last few years, as I have sought to grow in my craft and my character, in my orthopraxy and my orthodoxy, there came a point when I realized that the “90% law; 10% grace” evangelistic philosophy and practice simply did not square with what I saw in the Word of God. While Scripture gives ample support for the use of the law in evangelism, I could not find a single verse to support the notion that Christians, when engaged in evangelistic endeavors, should spend 90% of our time in any conversation or during any open-air sermon, preaching the law of God and 10% of our time preaching the grace of God through the cross of Christ.
Yes, Christian, warn the lost sinner that the wrath of God abides on him because He has sinned against God and lives in wanton rebellion against his King–Jesus Christ. Yes, warn the lost sinner that his love of self and love of sin puts him at enmity with God, and that the just consequences for his sin against God is eternity in hell. But preach Christ and Him crucified!
No one has ever been saved because they felt conviction for sin. At the same time, everyone who has been saved is convicted in his own heart and mind about the sinfulness of his sin. Every human being knows he has sinned against God because God has given him a conscience. Conviction of sin, like repentance, is a gift from God. However, it is the cross of Christ that saves. It is the grace, mercy, and love of God that saves. It is by grace any of us have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
I believe it’s time for another course correction, another pendulum swing, if you will. It’s time to preach Christ and Him crucified without neglecting the proper use of the law in evangelism. It’s time for the evangelistic pendulum’s bob to come to a balanced place of rest between law and gospel. It’s important to note, here that I am not saying Christians should move from 90/10 law/grace to 50/50 law/grace. I am not suggesting that 50/50 law/grace constitutes balance. In fact, I don’t think we should affix arbitrary, ultimately man-derived percentages to either side of the law/grace coin.
In your open-air preaching, or in your one-to-one gospel conversations, make much of Christ, not of the law. Use the law lawfully, as it was intended. Use it to bring the lost person to the knowledge of his sin in the sense of self-admission–not the knowledge of his sin in the sense he had no prior idea he was a sinner. (Again, God has given every person a conscience.) But, more than anything else, more than anyone else, Preach Christ and Him crucified! The law of God should not be central in your preaching.
I know what I’ve said thus far in this article goes against some of the conventional and prevailing wisdom in biblical evangelism circles. It goes against long standing practices and, dare I say, traditions. I know what I’ve said might even make some people angry. I anticipate receiving comments, messages, and emails that will say, “But Tony, so-and-so says…..” And I anticipate some folks contacting me or commenting here with words like, “But Tony, you taught me…..” However, I simply cannot reconcile what the Word of God says I am to preach to lost sinners with the notion that we should preach/present “90% law and 10% grace.”
Some people, for their own reasons, really don’t like it when I publicly correct myself. Because I do and say so much publicly, in my own little corner of the world, integrity demands that I publicly make it known when I change my mind about something I have publicly taught others.
I am trying everyday to preach more about Christ than anything or anyone else. I want Christ to be central in every aspect of my life, which includes my proclamation of the gospel. The law of God is not the power of God for salvation to all who believe. The gospel is (Romans 1:16). The word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), and not the Ten Commandments, is both foolishness to those who are perishing, and the power of God to those who are being saved. Therefore, the law of God should not be central in my preaching. And neither should it be in yours.
Daniel Rowland (1711-1790) was one of the lesser-known, but great preachers of the 18th century. He was a contemporary of George Whitefield and a leader of the Welsh revivals of that era. J.C. Ryle, almost a century after Rowland went home to the Lord, said of Rowland, “Never, perhaps, did any preacher exalt Christ more . . . No British preacher of the 18th century kept together in one district such enormous congregations of souls for fifty years as Rowland did.”
Rowland was not only an outstanding shepherd of God’s flocks, he also went out to the highways and hedgerows to compel lost souls to come to Christ. Daniel Rowland was an open-air preacher.
This great man of God, however, was not always known for compassion and tenderness in his preaching. When he started his public ministry, he focused heavily (too heavily) on preaching the law of God. Thanks be to God that Rowland had godly men in his life–men of wisdom, discernment, and spiritual maturity–to help Rowland find balance in his preaching. In his outstanding biography, Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales, revival historian Eifion Evans recounts the moment when Rowland’s preaching of the gospel took a turn for the better.
“As Rowland was now busy at Llangeitho, his journeys to Llanddowror would have been less frequent. For fellowship and counsel he would have turned, inevitably, to Philip Pugh, who was more accessible than Jones, and of similar evangelical principles and zeal. He was also a man of compassion and wisdom. Pugh had observed the alarm and despair which was common among many of the people under Rowland’s ministry, and felt that the full offer of God’s grace should be made to them. Morgan recounts the excellent advice which Pugh offered to Rowland in the light of this:
‘Preach the Gospel to the people, dear Sir, and apply the Balm of Gilead, the blood of Christ, to their spiritual wounds, and show the necessity of faith in the crucified Savior.’ I am afraid,” said Rowland, ‘that I have not that faith myself in its vigour and full exercise.’ ‘Preach on it,’ said Pugh, ’till you feel it in that way; no doubt it will come. If you go on preaching the law in this manner, you will kill half the people in the country, for you thunder out the curses of the law, and preach in such a terrific manner, that no-one can stand before you.'”
Yes, the biography of Daniel Rowland–reading about how his preaching matured from something similar to “90% law; 10% grace” to a balance of law and grace, with the greater emphasis being on Christ and Him crucified–has been instrumental in changing my thinking about what is the biblical place of the law in my preaching and in my need to make much more of Christ.
As Pugh was to Rowland, I hope I might be to some of you who are reading this. Stop making the law central in your preaching and in your evangelistic conversations, if you are doing so. Instead make more of Christ. Make much about Christ. Preach Christ.
Some have asked for an example of the kind of preaching I am suggesting in my article. This video is not a “how to.” I am not saying, “Preach like me!” I simply hope this video serves to express both my heart and mind on the subject I’ve addressed.
In this open-air sermon from yesterday morning, which I preached at the North Hollywood Metro Station, provides what I hope is an example of what I tried to articulate in my article. In this open-air sermon, which is 42 minutes long, I devote about six minutes explaining the law of God and the consequences of sin. The rest of the time I spend lifting up the name and work of Christ, preaching the gospel, and calling the lost to repent and believe.