Distinctly Christian Preaching

Sound Words graphicHow many sermons have you preached or heard that were not distinctly Christian? If we answer honestly, many sermons (on virtues, parenting, responsibilities, sins, etc.) might be well-received in a synagogue, mosque, Kingdom Hall, or Mormon church because these messages aren’t distinctly Christian. They offer people morality rather than Christianity, setting them up for frustration and failure.

I’m not suggesting we allegorize Scripture or find a type of Christ behind every bush. Absolutely not! While we must always take a normal, grammatical, historical approach to interpreting each passage, we must also consider the implications of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Like the writers of the New Testament, we must demonstrate that Old Testament prohibitions of sin demonstrate the need of a Savior, that Old Testament sacrifices point to Christ, that failures of the best Old Testament characters highlight the need for a perfect Prophet, Priest and King. We must show that biblical commands call for submission to the Lordship of Christ, and that we are only able to obey them because of Christ’s finished work. Whether in our preaching, teaching, or personal Bible study, we must demonstrate that the heart of the Scriptures is the Lord Jesus—that the Scriptures all “testify of Him” (John 5:39).

Why don’t we preach Christ this way? For one thing, we mistakenly think of the gospel as good news about the start of the Christian life rather than the basis for all of the Christian life. The entire New Testament focuses on the gospel, even though the vast majority of it was written for those who were born again! The cross work of Christ is as central to progressive sanctification (Rom 6) as to justification (Rom 4–5)! Paul’s practice was to preach gospel truth (e.g., Rom 1–11, Eph 1–3), then apply it to everyday life (as in Romans 12–16 and Ephesians 4–6). He explained every detail of Christian living in the shadow of the cross.

Often we forget that “context” is more than just the words, sentences and paragraphs surrounding a particular text. The larger context for every passage and message is Christianity. We must preach a distinctly Christian message about every issue, determining, like Paul, to preach nothing but “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 2:1–2). Every message will not necessarily have evangelism as the primary objective, nor will we be perpetually dispensing spiritual “milk.” (After all, the “meat” to which Hebrews 5 alludes is about Christ!) Rather, every message must apply “Christ crucified” to the sermon’s particular text and to everyday life. How does the gospel affect our parenting? Our struggles with temptation? Our entertainment? Our careers?

We dare not get over the gospel, whether in our preaching or in our daily lives. Only preaching that understands and applies Scripture in light of Christ’s work is distinctly Christian preaching.

August 2007

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