We sin against Christ and we misrepresent the Gospel when we suggest to sinners that what God demands of them is moral improvement in accordance with the Law. Moralism makes sense to sinners, for it is but an expansion of what we have been taught from our earliest days. But moralism is not the Gospel, and it will not save. The only gospel that saves is the Gospel of Christ. As Paul reminded the Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” [Gal. 4:4-5]
…The deadly danger of moralism has been a constant temptation to the church and an ever-convenient substitute for the Gospel. Clearly, millions of our neighbors believe that moralism is our message. Nothing less than the boldest preaching of the Gospel will suffice to correct this impression and to lead sinners to salvation in Christ.
What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence…I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers)
Only as we see our story enfolded in the larger story of redemption will we begin to live God-honoring lives. Lasting change begins when our identity, purpose, and sense of direction are defined by God’s story. When we bring this perspective to our relationships, we will have a dramatically different agenda. It will take the principles and commands of Scripture and use them as God intended. We will see how each principle, promise, and command finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ. Separate them from Christ and they lose their God-intended meaning and get hijacked by other agendas. (Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands)
Tim Keller from last Sunday's sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York:
There are two ways to read the Bible. The one way to read the Bible is that it's basically about you: what you have to do in order to be right with God, in which case you'll never have a sure and certain hope, because you'll always know you're not quite living up. You'll never be sure about that future.
Or you can read it as all about Jesus. Every single thing is not about what you must do in order to make yourself right with God, but what he has done to make you absolutely right with God. And Jesus Christ is saying, "Unless you can read the Bible right, unless you can understand salvation by grace, you'll never have a sure and certain hope. But once you understand it's all about me, Jesus Christ, then you can know that you have peace. You can know that you have this future guaranteed, and you can face anything."
The first practice of God-centered preaching is exegetical. The second practice is homiletical. Once we identify the meaning and purpose of the text, and identify the vision of God and how that vision meets our need as fallen creatures, we must structure the sermon to reveal the need exposed in the passage, encountered in the people before us, and how it is met in God. This takes pastoral sensitivity and a commitment to accurately communicate Scripture to real people.
Since Scripture reveals God's saving acts, culminating in Christ's accomplishments at the cross, we are essentially applying the gospel to every need. Every sermon becomes an exposition of the gospel. However, we do not apply the gospel in a rote manner. The vision of God, and the human factor raised in the text, provide fresh avenues to communicate the gospel to a variety of human situations faced by the people before us.
Tim Keller comments on Luke 24:27: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
If you think the Bible is all about you – about what you must do and how you must live and how you have to do everything in order to get the blessing – then of course you don't need a Messiah who dies for you. All you need is the rules.
But there are two ways and only two ways to read the Bible. You can read the Bible as if it is all about you and what you must do, and what you have to run around doing in order to get the blessing. Or you can read every part of the Bible as all about Him and what He has done for you. Is it all about you or is it all about Him?
How do you help people with busyness from Scripture without preaching a therapeutic, self-help message? Tim Chester gives us an example of how to do this:
For most us, our busyness is self-induced…Some of us are busy because we can’t say ‘No’. We crave people’s approval or we fear people’s rejection. The Bible calls this ‘the fear of man’. And the good news is that God is bigger. And living for him sets us free from being controlled by other people’s approval or disapproval…
There’s nothing wrong with being busy. Most of us enjoy being busy. What creates stress is the feeling that we cannot meet the expectations of others or of God. But Jesus offers rest from the burden of self-justification. We are accepted by God. This is how we find meaning and value. At the most fundamental level, Tim Chester is a justified sinner. I’m not fundamentally a writer, or preacher, or even a husband and father. I am a sinner saved by grace and all I contribute to that identity is the sin bit. I don’t need to prove myself as a sinner saved by grace. Instead I praise the gracious embrace of the Father, the complete atonement of the Son and the Spirit’s enabling presence. This is who I am. And it’s a gift. I don’t need to earn it…
‘So what can I do about my busyness?’ Perhaps that’s what you hoped I would tell you. But the question itself is flawed. What if I told you five things you could do about your busyness. Where would that leave you? With five extra things to fit into your schedule, you’d be busier than ever! Busyness is one problem we can’t solve by doing more! But the situation is not hopeless. We’re not doomed to be busy. Someone has done something about our busyness – the Lord Jesus Christ. You don’t need to ‘do’ more to overcome busyness because Jesus has already done all that is required. ‘It is finished’ he cried. ‘The job is done. The work is complete.’
The Meeting House, a large church outside of Toronto that calls themselves “a church for people who aren’t into church,” is going through a series on how to enter Scripture as God’s story.
The first week outlines the story of God in six acts (MP3 audio | PDF sermon notes). The second week is on basic hermeneutics (MP3 audio | PDF sermon notes). It includes a section on three exegetical mistakes that lead to anthropocentric interpretation: over moralizing (turning narrative into moral example without regard for context), over symbolizing (turning history into allegory), and over personalizing (making everything about ME first, Jesus second).
Next week’s sermon is on Christocentric interpretation.This series is a good example of teaching basic Biblical interpretation to an entire congregation.
Jared has a great post at The Gospel-Driven Church. "Maybe something's in the air, because I'm hearing this growing dissatisfaction with Jesuslessness in the churches more and more." He quotes a post from Dave Cruver:
Now, this pastor was exegetically accurate and precise. He conveyed the meaning of the verse fairly well. He was not boring. He was engaging. His love for the people of which he is Undershepherd was compassionately displayed.But there was no GOSPEL! The pastor's main point conveyed was, "pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!"We may be exegetically accurate and precise. And we may convey the meaning of the text as the original hearers (possibly) understood it, but when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, it's still moralism. It's a promotion of self-salvation. At the very core, both teachings are saying, "Jesus' finished work is not enough! Go and do! Save yourself!!"For a preacher of the Gospel, it is sad there was no preaching of the Gospel.
Jared concludes, "But I am hopeful. There is something in the air. Perhaps the tide is turning."