3 Dangerous of Assuming the Gospel

Assumptions are dangerous. It is eternally so when it comes to the Gospel. Having grown up in a Bible belt culture I have heard far to many Christians, Sunday School teachers, and even pastors assume the Gospel when they are talking about the Christian faith to others. They assume that those who are listening to them understand the heart of Christianity – the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The danger of this is that the Christian speaking thinks they are communicating Christian teaching, yet they leave out the most central aspect – Jesus himself. Christian teaching without the Gospel is not Christian teaching. As pastors get up to the pulpit on a Sunday morning or at a funeral and fail to make the Gospel explicit they not only fail to preach the Gospel they preach an anti-Gospel. Although we think we may be preaching Christianity we actually are communicating a completely different religion when we fail to make Jesus explicit. Here are three false Gospels we mistakenly teach when we fail to make the Gospel explicit in all we say and do.

1. A False Gospel of Sentimentalism

This happens most often at funerals and times of loss. In my life I’ve hear a lot of bad preaching, and most of it at funerals. We can begin talking about heaven, golden streets, and God’s wonderful love. Although all of these things can be wonderful and true, it is only made true for us through faith in Jesus. We can talk about all the benefits of the Gospel without ever talking about the Gospel. When we do so, the message of Christianity gets boiled down to warm fuzzy feelings and Christianity simply becomes a therapeutic blanket to provide warmth from the cold realities of this life. When we fail to realize the Jesus is the only way to the Father and the only hope in death, we move from preaching the true Gospel to a false gospel of sentimentalism. When we fail to make explicit what Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection we can mistakenly preach this false Gospel of sentimentalism.

2. A False Gospel of Moralism

A false gospel of moralism is when we preach holiness without preaching Christ. I’ve mentioned this false Gospel in a previous post, but it is so prevalent and dangerous it needs to be mentioned again. When we emphasize Jesus’ commands for righteousness without explicitly emphasizing Christ’s imputed righteousness to us, we get a false Gospel of moralism. Many out lookers who do not know Jesus simply hear from Christians “Be Good and try harder”. Preaching holiness without Christ is preaching legalism and a works based salvation. We must make it explicit that our standing before God has nothing to do with our behavior or performance but everything to do with God’s gracious gift of his son. If we don’t ground deeply any call to holy obedience in Christ’s finished work we will mistakenly preach this false Gospel of moralism.

3. A False Gospel of Universalism

This is similar to the false Gospel of sentimentalism, but with much deadlier twist. Often we can speak of heaven and the love of God without ever making explicit the need for repentance and faith in Jesus. Sometimes Christians sound just like universalists when they talk about salvation. We must make explicit to our hearers that the only way to receive this salvation gifted to us by God is by turning from our sins and trusting in Christ. If we preach salvation without calling sinners to repent and turn to Christ, we’ve shifted to this false Gospel of moralism. In addition, we must make sure we help our hearers know whats coming if they choose to reject Jesus. The realities of hell seem so very offensive, but people need to be made aware of the frightening consequences of rebellious sin.

Make the Gospel Explicit

In our speech, our conversations, and certainly our preaching we must make the Gospel explicit less we miscommunicate a false Gospel. We must make explicit Jesus’s perfect life and his vicarious death in our place. We must make explicit the consequences of our sins and the price God went too to pay them. We must make explicit the call for sinners to turn from their sins and trust in Jesus. And we must make explicit that all of the benefits of salvation and eternity are given only because we’ve been adopted by God and made heirs because of Jesus. Make the Gospel explicit. Do not assume even church people understand it. Make it crystal clear all the time and every time.

5 Tips for Preaching through Tough Passages

Recently I’ve been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with the people of Forest Hills Baptist Church. So far it has been a wonderful series working through some of Jesus’ most well known teachings. However I knew when the Lord led me to this series that there would be some difficult passages to come up. The two I was least looking forward to was on lust and divorce. As a pastor some times you must teach on some difficult passages of Scripture.

The Bible doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, nevertheless they are all profitable and useful for the building up of the body. Much like the prophet Ezekiel, as a pastor we eat the sweet scroll of God’s word even though it is often a bitter word of judgement (Ez 3:3). All of God’s word is honey to our lips. Yet, the Scriptures function as a mirror. As we hold up the mirror of God’s word to our own hearts and to the hearts of our own people, sometimes we do not like what it shows us about ourselves. The word of God pierces our hearts and exposes our sin (Heb 4:12). It can be an uncomfortable endeavor but yet it is the task of the pastor to teach the whole counsel of God.

Although I am still a young preacher and have much to learn, having recently taught through both lust and divorce from the sermon on the mount, I offer these five helpful principles for preaching through tough passages of scripture.

1. Practice Expository Preaching

In order to preach difficult passages you must get to difficult passages. With the absence of expository preaching it is tempting for pastors to pick hobby horse passages or passages that will merely tickle the ears of the congregation. As a result, consciously or not, many pastors skip over difficult or controversial passages.

Walking through sections of scripture verse by verse is so helpful because it forces us to encounter and deal with difficult passages. My people know we are walking through the Sermon on the Mount and they would notice if we skipped Jesus’ teaching on divorce. No matter how difficult it may be or though I may not desire to preach it, the accountability of my people force me to deal with difficult texts.

Yet, expository preaching can be a safe guard. When you deal with difficult passages in a expository series, it keeps the difficult sermon from sounding like a personal attack from the pastor. No one in the congregation is saying “I wonder why he picked a passage on lust this Sunday? I wonder who was in the counseling room this week?” The church knows this passage is next, so it removes any perceived hostility people may read into the pastors sermon. Thus the sermon becomes less of the words of a perceived vindictive pastor and more the prophetic, authoritative voice of God.

2. Preach in Humility, as a Man Under the Authority of the Scripture.

When I was preaching the sermon on lust, I tried to set the tone for the sermon at the beginning. I knew I was going to be having to deal with some difficult truths and that it was vital for me to be filled with conviction over sexual sin. I knew that many would perceive as strong word as judgmental self-righteousness, which would be the furthest from the truth. So before I got into the meat of the sermon I said,

This morning I plan to proclaim to you harsh truths that you may perceive are announced in judgement and self-righteousness. Hear me carefully before we begin. I speak as a man who is not above this text but stands condemned underneath it. I am a man who is a condemned sinner redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. As I read Jesus’ words here what shame and dread come upon me. For which of us can here can read these words and not be condemned?

These words helped remind me and my people, that as a pastor I am a sinner who is saved by grace. The only power that enables me to stand in that pulpit without cowering in holy fear is that I’m clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

3. Speak Clearly and with Conviction

Set God’s word loose on your people. Do not be timid or fearful on difficult truths you know your people might not want to hear. So often our fear of men causes us to be timid lambs in the pulpit when we must be roaring lions. When it comes to the sexual immorality of our culture or the no-fault divorces that happen every day, it is necessary to bring a strong word of judgement against sin. However as you do, highlight the Scripture as your authority and not your own opinions.

4. Share Briefly Multiple Interpretations

The teaching on divorce was exceptionally difficult for me, not just because it is a hot-button issue, but because the text is a hermeneutical gordian knot. Many Christians wrestle on what the Scriptures teach on divorce and many books have been written on the subject. The greatest struggle for me was:

  • How much should I share about the debate?
  • Do I want to only share my position and act like the others do not exist?

Those were the sort of questions that plagued me as I was preparing for that sermon.

If you are preaching on such a text it is wise to briefly mention the debate around this text and briefly highlight some of the other views. But spend the bulk of your time proving your position from the text. The pulpit is not the place for an academic lecture on the precise definition of porneia. In fact most of the congregation doesn’t even care, they just want to know what the Scripture says. They don’t want a seminary dissertation on the subject.

5. Give Grace and Preach the Gospel

My great fear in preaching a sermon on lust or divorce is that I sound like some self-righteous right wing bigot. Although there are sections of those sermons where I must come down hard on what God calls sin, I must always point people to the Gospel. Pastor, if you hold up the mirror of condemnation to your peoples hearts you better point them to calvary before you close in prayer. Sins like lust are so pervasive and are hidden deep within our hearts. When you bring those things up to the surface and expose them to the light, it can get uncomfortable and often guilt begins to take over. Yet, I do not want my people to leave my sermon feeling badly over their sin, but gloriously in awe of a God who would save them despite their sin.

I want to leave them with Jesus. I want to point them to the savior who fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law in their place. I want to point them to the suffering servant who was nailed to that tree for the forgiveness of our sins. I want to point them to the liberator who frees sexual captives and the God who never divorces his adulterous wife. He is the always faithful God who is ready to forgive and restore. When you preach these difficult sermons give your people what they need the most, Jesus.

If you would like to listen to these to sermons you can listen to my sermon on Lust and Divorce. (I'll put up the link to the sermon on divorce as soon as its uploaded)

Pastors, how have you dealt with difficult passages? How do you handle texts that you know will elicit controversy? Share your wisdom in the comments!

Ruth: The Romance of Redemption

We just finished studying the book of Ruth at Forest Hills Baptist Church. It has been a great study as we examined the love story between Ruth and Boaz. Throughout the whole book God is working continuously behind the sciences to accomplish his purposes. It was a great reminder of God's power, love, and compassion in gifting us with our redemption. All the sermon audio at Forest Hills can be found on our church website or you can subscribe to our podcast form the iTunes store.  However, here is an archive of the four sermons from Ruth: The Romance of Redemption.

Part 1: The Need for Redemption

Part 2: The Hope of Redemption

Part 3: The Search for Redemption

Part 4: The Gift of Redemption

 

A Pastor's Prayer

As I was in study and prayer this past Sunday morning, I came across this beautiful prayer in "The Valley of Vision". As a pastor and teacher of God's word, I connected with this prayer entitled "A Minister's Preaching".  If you are not a pastor, read this prayer to learn how to better pray for your pastor.

My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task; Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee; Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction. Present to my view things pertaining to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men’s consciences. Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance. Help me to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy. Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and set before them comforting considerations. Attend with power the truth preached. and awaken the attention of my slothful audience. May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy. I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee; Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, from lack of warmth and fervency. And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

Battling Spiritual Exhaustion

You cannot give what you don't have. That statement rings true when it comes to Christian teaching. Many Christians are involved in teaching ministry, perhaps as a Sunday School teacher or a small group leader. Pastor's are especially engaged in the teaching ministry as the preaching of the Word is one of their primary responsibilities. Although I love to teach, I've come to the realization that it is a labor of love. The constant demand of preparing lessons, messages, sermons, blog posts, and the like are draining. They are not only taxing on the mind but also taxing spiritually. As teachers, if we are not careful our reservoirs of spiritual vitality can begin to get low as we give and give to others through our teaching ministry.

The great danger of Christian teaching is spiritual fatigue and exhaustion. As teachers if we are not resting and pouring into our own spiritual lives we can quickly find ourselves hating the very thing God has asked us to do. As a pastor I've experience this sort of spiritual fatigue first hand. There have been weeks where I have had three or four messages to prepare for that week. So how do we deal with spiritual exhaustion?

1. Take a Sabbath

Sometimes in teaching you just need to take a break for a week. Sometimes we expect ourselves to out do God never rest. We must sometimes rest to recharge our batteries. Confession time, this is difficult for me. So often I sinfully equate resting with laziness. There is nothing wrong with resting our minds and our hearts from having to constantly produce teaching material. Take that day a week to just rest and relax your mind and refresh your spiritual batteries. Spend extra time in the Scriptures seeking after God. Go for a long walk and just talk with God. When I begin to since spiritual exhaustion creep in, I quickly take an hour or two and just commune with God in prayer. It is amazing how the living water can quench our dusty throats.

2. Always be Learning and Studying

As a pastor, there are not a lot of people in my church who are teaching and instructing me. When spiritual exhaustion sets in, it is easy to get lazy in our thinking and just rely on personal hobby horses to get us through the next teaching engagement. Here I have learned the wonderful value of reading and studying. A good book is like a good conversation with a great mentor. You get to learn from other's wisdom and experiences. You get a fresh perspective and it stretches you spiritually. Another way I've begun to always be learning is through audio podcasts. Through the miracle of technology I am able to listen to some of the best preachers and teachers of our day. As I do I am able to be fed by other great pastors and teachers and I become encouraged in my spiritual life.

3. Find Great Community

Spiritual exhaustion thrives in isolation. Pastors and teachers need to learn to build community with other pastors and teachers who can pray for and encourage one another. Community is vital to our spiritual growth and is necessary in our lives. So often many teachers live in isolation although they may be surrounded by people. Developing good friendships with other teachers even outside of your church can be helpful in preventing spiritual exhaustion.

4. Remind Yourself of the Gospel

As a teacher it is so easy for me to begin to find my worth and identity in the content I produce and not in Christ. When this happens I must remind myself of the Gospel.  God's acceptance of me has nothing to do with my performance but everything to do with Christ's performance. The moments I am most spiritually exhausted form the teaching ministry are the moments in which I begin to rely on my own strength and power as some twisted way to earn God's favor. In my spiritual exhaustion I must remind myself of my dependency on the righteousness of Grace and preach to myself the life giving good news.

Teaching is the greatest joy and the greatest privilege. It was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said, "The work of Preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called." He is absolutely right, but it is also an incredible labor. When spiritual exhaustion begins to set in we must be quick to respond with the remedy of Christ's restoring grace. As we rely on His strength and His power the Word who became flesh will give us the words to proclaim His majesty, glory, and beauty.