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Not resourcing the devout: raising the dead

Luther Preaching

Let me try out a couple of statements on you:

Church is God's mission strategy for the world.

Agree? Sure you do. Ok, what about this one - straight out of Romans 10:

Preaching is God's normal means for converting the lost.

Cool with that? Good!

So then, let's put these truths together, and let's say:

The Sunday sermon is absolutely central to our evangelistic task.

In other words, if we want to help our churches be evangelistic, the pulpit should be at the forefront of our thinking and practice.

I suggest that, often, this isn't the case because we think of Sunday preaching as "resourcing the devout" rather than "raising the dead." In this situation preaching is aimed squarely at "the saints" with the emphasis on saints (and not sinners). Preaching here easily becomes an explanation of our requisite beliefs and duties as Christians (plus some motivational prompts, perhaps). In other words our preaching is law.

Result? The congregation feels burdened, the Christians feel like church has nothing to say to their friends and if non-Christians find their way in they feel like it's not for them. Perhaps even deeper than all this, the Christians go away feeling that the good news aint so good, that they need to try harder at this Christian caper and that therefore they're not free to go out into the world because maybe this week their real job is to maintain their position on the holiness perch. All of this is deadly to evangelism - whether or not non-Christians are present on a Sunday!

How should we react to this? Well evangelism must spring from a deep love and appreciation for the evangel. So let's think more deeply about the  gospel - we'll go back to basics:

We are born in Adam according to the flesh.

We are born again in Christ by the Spirit.

Until Christ's return we have Adam's flesh and Christ's Spirit.

We are in Adam by nature and in Christ by grace.

We know our Adamic reality by sight and our Christian identity by faith.

These are the realities behind the truth that we are simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

 These twin realities remain with us until Christ's return - we will live with these tensions all our lives.

Certainly we must proclaim that Christ is stronger than Adam; the Spirit is stronger than the flesh; our righteousness determines us not our sin; grace triumphs over nature; we walk by faith not sight; etc; etc.

But even though God's grace in Christ far exceeds our sinful nature in Adam, the tension is not obliterated in this age.

Therefore I can still be called a sinner, I still have flesh, I'm still an offspring of Adam.

My Christian identity comes to me while I remain in Adam.

All of this upholds the vital truth that God's justifies the wicked. (Romans 4:5)

As Luther says:

– Martin Luther (Luther, WA, 1.183ff).

Since this is so, here's what follows...

God's grace meets us in our sinful natures.

God addresses us as sinners in Adam even as He calls us righteous in Christ.

In ourselves we have sin, only in Christ do we have righteousness.

We are called, therefore, to live not by possession but by gift.

That gift comes to us by the Spirit in the Word.

Therefore...

Preaching means addressing sinners and proclaiming the grace of God to them in Jesus.

This does not minimize the "how much more" of God's abundant grace, it is precisely the context for it.

Preaching is not resourcing the devout but raising the dead.

This is not simply about "evangelistic preaching" at the "revival meeting." It is the true nature of all preaching.

If this is true...

The job of the preacher is not to top up the spirituality of Christians who have righteousness in their grasp and need to beef it up a bit.

The job of the preacher is to address people sunk in sin and failure and to tell them of a Saviour who is beyond them.

Crucially therefore the audience for the sermon is "the children of Adam."

All of which means...

The Sunday preacher does not have to choose between two very different kinds of hearer for their message.

The congregation is not split between those who have made a one-off decision for Jesus and those who are yet to choose for Christ.

The Christian needs to hear of their sin and Christ's salvation. The non-Christian needs to hear of their sin and Christ's salvation.

The same gospel is for Christian and non-Christian alike.

If preachers actually believed this and actually preached like this I believe our churches would be transformed.

Christians would be saved from the hypocrisy Luther spoke of above.

Christians would know their sin and the grace of a gospel that meets them where they really are instead of their prettied-up Sunday best.

Christians would experience the grace of God more powerfully through a gospel that doesn't merely strengthen their resolve but saves their souls.

Christians would hear a gospel that applies to the children of Adam and not just to the religious - i.e. a gospel that's relevant to their Monday to Saturday existence.

Christians would get more of a vision for their vocation out in the world, realising that the Scriptures teach us how to live not just how to function as a Christian.

This will equip us for how we can address our friends with the same gospel. Because it really is the same gospel that answers our friends' problems.

It might even inspire us to think "So and so needs to come and hear about this, we were talking about anger management (or whatever) just the other day."

At the end of the service we might just "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" with gusto - not trying to top up our functional righteousness with a few more churchy practices.

Therefore, we might actually feel free to get out into the world, love our neighbours and maybe even befriend them!

And we could then feel that church is a place we could invite our friends - and maybe even do it.

Those are ten benefits of gospel preaching every Sunday and I haven't even mentioned the fact that non-Christians will very likely be present and may just get converted!

So how about it? Tim Keller gives it a go and he does alright, don't you reckon? So can we have a go too? Can we address the whole congregation as the children of Adam - every one of them needing Jesus desperately? Can we see the Scriptures as addressing the problems of life not just the difficulties of Christian piety? Can we do more than resource the devout - can we, by the Spirit's almighty power, raise the dead through the gospel word? If we don't aim for that I'm not sure we have the right to call ourselves gospel people.

18 thoughts on “Not resourcing the devout: raising the dead

  1. Si

    But how do you get people to evangelise if you don't spend a term's worth of sermons on how?

    I would be joking, but my church has just tried (and failed to make any headway) a second time and getting the 'teaching team' (yes, teaching not preaching, sadly) to understand that they can't assume the gospel other than occasional weeks where there's something special.

    Its not that the material being taught was wrong, or bad, or anything like that. It was just how, with not what or why. I fell I got more out of sitting in creche playing with toddlers last Sunday than the couple of weeks where I was with the adults not the kids.

  2. James Robertson

    Excellent! Sinners don't need to hear how wonderful we are. We need to hear how God saves sinners. We then need to hear, "What is the word of God saying to you? And how then shall you live?"

  3. Emily

    Brilliant post, Glen, I'm so glad you wrote this! It sounds like you've written it with fellow preachers in mind - as in Sunday service, stand up in front of the congregation-type people. How would you address the same topic for those who don't preach a Sunday sermon, but listen to one? What if you're hungry for this sort of preaching but don't always hear it?

  4. Glen

    Thanks James.

    Si and Emily - I hear you on difficulties with churches that don't preach this way. Maybe this post has some thoughts that help...

    https://christthetruth.net/2013/07/18/when-being-right-is-oh-so-wrong/

    Bottom line for me is that Jesus knows how to feed His sheep - no matter who is the under-shepherd. Pray that He will speak to you each Sunday (sometimes it'll come in spite of the thrust of the sermon), but Jesus still knows how to meet us in His Word and among His people.

    God bless

  5. Brian Midmore

    'Preaching here easily becomes an explanation of our requisite beliefs and duties as Christians (plus some motivational prompts, perhaps)'....and this includes evangelism. Evangelism as law has often been a stumbling block of much of evangelicalism. How can you preach grace when you jolly well should preach it or else.

  6. Brian Midmore

    In other words the gospel is not just about getting in the club but it is the power of God to salvation in every area of life, corporate, individual, civic etc. The gospel needs to be heard by all. But in many churches 'gospel' has come to mean the message by which those outside become on the inside. This is true if we see the gospel as essentially justification by faith alone which is seen as the good news since we dont have to do the law but only have to believe. What we do then (i.e the rest of our lives) can be seen as an irrelevance. The gospel has nothing to do with what we do and is only about what we believe and since we now believe it is not relevant anymore (except for those who dont yet believe). In other words the gospel is for unbelievers and not believers. Its about getting to heaven when we die and not for Monday morning at work.

  7. Howard Nowlan

    Isn't it (evangelism) about knowing what makes heaven entirely desirable to a wretch who would, under normal circumstances, never even consider their miserable plight? Surely, the focus of attention is not just the joyous news of acquittal (and it is truly joyous), but the fact that we have this because of Him who is our advocate, sent to us benighted rogues by the Father because of an overwhelming unwarranted love. Isn't evangelism really about facilitating a moment when we beggarly things truly see glimpse the allure of His nature and undeserved ardor for us? That what defines and identifies everything that matters is the heights and depths of that Grace? That certainly sounds a good plumb-line for what we do on Sundays, and thereby, what savor we can then carry into the rest of the week.

  8. Brian Midmore

    Evangelism is the royal proclamation that Jesus is Lord of the Cosmos. 'Sun moon and stars in heaven cry Jesus is Lord'. The church is to be the demonstation of this fact. The Paul's gospel is often contrasted with the gospel in the gospels. Some have even asked 'did Jesus preach Paul's gospel?' But Paul's gospel is essentially the same as the Jesus's - 'the kingdom of God is at hand'. Jesus is the king so he is the heart of the gospel. The distinguishing aspect of Paul's gospel was not sola fide but that Gentiles need not become Jews to be the people of God. Sola fide then formed part of Paul's argument to prove that Gentiles were in on the basis of faith and not on the basis of ethnic origin or obedience to cultic religion. 'Or is He the God of the Jews only' Rom 3.29

  9. Howard Nowlan

    Isn't the distinguishing aspect of the Gospel that no one is part of the people of God because of ethnicity, or 'obedience to cultic religion', but because they have confidence in the steadfast love and promises of God? Isn't that the essence of Justification?

  10. Brian Midmore

    Howard. I was arguing that Paul was not saying 'Once you needed to work your way to heaven by obeying the law but now it is by faith (and easier!?)' but rather 'the Gentiles are in the covenant on the same basis as the Jews, i.e. faith'. This emphasis on the equaltity between jews and gentiles is I believe what Paul means by 'my gospel'. Thus Paul's gospel is not some radical departure from that found in gospels. It is at its heart 'Jesus is Lord' (who has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Greek).

  11. Howard Nowlan

    I understand what you're saying, Brian - I'd want to say there's clearly more to unpack there, hence Paul's own clarification/distinction (Romans 3:21, 8:3), but I'd agree about your point of equality between all believers. Surely, the most telling way we proclaim the Lordship of Christ in this current impoverished world, to that world, is by truly 'lifting' Him as the only Saviour of men, and, in doing so, we clearly convey our need for such a mercy.

  12. Brian Midmore

    For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might BECOME the righteousness of God in Him.

    We are not only to have a righteous status before God but we are to BECOME His righteousness. In the OT God's righteousness is always about his covenant faithfulness. Thus we as the church are to BECOME a living breathing demonstration of the covenant faithfulness of God. This can only happen in the Messiah Jesus.

  13. Howard Nowlan

    "In him" - In his blood is a means of propitiation by which the righteousness of God becomes the righteousness of man (1 Corinthians 1:30). In Christ, and in Him alone, God becomes Jehovah-Tsidkenu. Hence, when this verse speaks of our our being made the righteousness of God in Him, it is referring to all that is made ours IN Him, not in us, hence. "it is what he bestows on them, and imputes unto them for their justification; it is a righteousness, and it is the only one which justifies in the sight of God (Gill's Exposition). Put slightly differently, "He is "made of God unto us righteousness." As our sin is made over to Him, so His righteousness to us (in His having fulfilled all the righteousness of the law for us all, as our representative, Jer 23:6; 1Co 1:30)" (Jamieson - Fausset - Brown).

  14. Brian Midmore

    OK, double imputation. Not how I read it however. In my reading we become the righteousness of God not for ourselves but for others. All I am saying is that Christianity is not only about gaining the righteousness of God it is about becoming the righteousness of God. It effects everything we are and do for the good.

  15. Howard Nowlan

    "Our sins, when laid upon Christ, were yet personally ours, not his; so his righteousness, when put upon us, is yet personally his, not ours.” – John Bunyan.

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