Gospel Coalition Conference Pastor Warns Against 'Legalism' in the Church, 'Dishonorable Vessels'

Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and president of the Texas Southern Baptist Convention, gives remarks at The Gospel Coalition's West Coast Conference on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. | (Screenshot:

A pastor who serves as president of the Texas Southern Baptist Convention has warned evangelicals against the dangers of "legalism" in the church.

Juan Sanchez, who also serves as senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, gave a speech at The Gospel Coalition's West Coast Conference on Wednesday. When discussing 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Sanchez spoke about the temptation for church leaders to engage in legalism, tying it to the early church and how some back then demanded that new believers be circumcised.

"We look at that and we think how ridiculous that is, but in our own churches there's a temptation to say 'unless you fill-in-the-blank, you cannot be saved.' Now we don't say 'you cannot be saved,' but we have a tendency to look down on people," said Sanchez.

"Unless you vote Republican, you can't really be saved. Unless you vote Democratic, you really cannot be saved. Unless you homeschool your children, unless you private educate your children, unless you public educate your children so that your children can be missionaries, we could go at this all day, can't we?"

He added that he and his audience should "confess" that they "are all recovering legalists" who continue to be tempted by the notion.

"It's a temptation for us. Legalism imposes our standard on everyone else. And then we judge everyone else based upon that standard and they never quite measure up," he explained.

Throughout his remarks, Sanchez argued that when the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy telling him to "avoid such people" who engaged in various sinful behaviors, it was meant to be "a warning about people in the church."

"These are people in the church. These are people that are mixed in within the congregation. These people are just like the world. They're in the church, but they're just like the world," he said.

"This is one of the sad realities of pastoral ministry. One of the sad realities of pastoral ministry is that there are people who come in, they call themselves Christians, they might even believe themselves to be Christians, but they are just like the world."

Sanchez noted that within "God's House" there exists "vessels for honorable use" and "vessels for dishonorable use," whose merit can be discerned through their character.

"There are only two outcomes for these vessels in God's House: there is judgment for the unrighteous, unfaithful, dishonorable, recalcitrant, unusable vessels and there is a good reward for the righteous, faithful, honorable, usable vessels," he said.

Sanchez's remarks were part of the Gospel Coalition's West Coast Conference, held Oct.16-18 at Free EV Fullerton, located about 25 miles from Los Angeles, California.

The theme for the conference is "Enduring Faithfulness" and is centered on the New Testament book of 2 Timothy, in which they are to "consider the example of Paul, who fought the good fight and kept his faith in Jesus Christ."

"Dozens of other workshops will explore various aspects of gospel ministry, from appreciating the beauty of Christian sexual ethics to thinking creatively about faith and work,"  says a description about the conference.

"Several workshops will profile historical examples, such as Jonathan Edwards and Augustine, to instruct and challenge us to cultivate ministry that lasts a lifetime and beyond."

Ray Ortlund, senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the president of Renewal Ministries, gave an address on Tuesday centered on 2 Timothy 1:3-8.

Ortlund stressed the importance of modern day believers, arguing that their influence on other Christians will continue well after they have passed away, stating "dead fathers in the Lord still live in the courage of their spiritual sons."

"Stop thinking of your life in such a small category. You matter more than you know it. You're going to matter to people who aren't even born yet," continued Ortlund. "Your faithfulness will still be making an impact long after your expiration date."

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