Moralism is Not the Gospel

Al Mohler writes:

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.

A sense of God and His presence

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)


Finding Our Place in God's Story

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)


Two ways to read the Bible

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."

Preaching the gospel in every sermon

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.

Two ways to read the Bible

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?

The sermon, Literalism: Isn't the Bible historically unreliable and regressive? (MP3), is available as a free download.

The Gospel and busyness

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.’


Cruciformity: Entering God's Story

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.

Stingy with the gospel

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."

Preaching the Gospel

Steve Mathewson has an excellent post on preaching the gospel in the coming year:
Earlier in my life and ministry, I’m afraid that when I read Romans 1:16 I only thought of the gospel in terms of conversion. But the more I read Paul, I realize that the gospel is all-encompassing because salvation is all-encompassing. Salvation has past, present, and future aspects. It involves justification, sanctification, and glorification...So when Paul challenges Philippian believers to stand firm in the face of opposition, he calls them to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel” (see Philippians 1:27). When Paul challenges Peter’s legalistic behavior in Antioch, he accuses him of “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (see Galatians 2:14).The point is, then, that the gospel is never something we outgrow. It’s at the core of Christian living. It’s at the core of what God is doing to save us – including the past, present, and future aspects of this great salvation. The answer to our struggles with greed, immorality, legalism, jealousy, hatred, and selfish ambition is the gospel...Whatever challenges or problems we are facing in our churches, the solution takes us back to the gospel. That’s why I’m eager to preach the Holy Scriptures which present the gospel. What a message! I’m eager to preach it in 2008 and beyond!

Daring proclamations of Christ

Jack Miller gives some advice on how to preach with power:
Make each sermon a daring proclamation of Christ, not just of the text, but of Christ in His glory and power. If I were to say what I see in many men who foster the bland saltless model...they just do not lift up or herald Christ Himself in their sermons. Since they are not heralding Christ, they do not receive Christ's power. Will Christ empower a man to make an intellectual discourse when the preacher has no real intent to preach Christ? He can give the intellectual content via his own strength and zeal. The delivery is his own and he can do what he intends to do. I have had some experience of this. But this is not the preaching of the New Covenant. We are a city of good news. We are commanded to lift up our voices with strength and to get up to a high mountain to proclaim this good news. Exposition minus the heralding has all of Christ's foolishness in it, but none of Christ's power. (The Heart of a Servant Leader)

Morality is never enough

Tim Keller often emphasizes a point that's often missed. When we think of those who are not in relationship with Christ, we often think of those who live in open rebellion, like the prodigal of Luke 15. But Keller reminds us that the older brother in this story is also lost. We can be lost when we are in open rebellion; we can also be lost when we live the religious life, trusting in our own goodness to save us.I've been listening to an audio version of Pilgrim's Progress, and I'm surprised at how clearly this theme appears. The main character, Christian, is on his way when he meets Worldly Wiseman. Christian desperately wants his burden removed. Worldly Wiseman suggests an easier way than following Christ. He suggests that Christian goes to the town of "Morality" where he will meet a man named "Legality" who is skilled at curing those who are bothered by sin. This is an easier way, Worldly Wiseman tells him, than following the way of Christ. Morality and civility are offered as substitutes for the real gospel, at a lower cost but (it is promised) the same results.As Christian heads in that direction, he meets Evangelist, who tells Christian what is wrong with going to the church in Morality:
  1. It turns us from the way of Christ;
  2. It makes the cross odious to us;
  3. It leads to death, not life.
Moralism looks at first like it's a good substitute for the gospel. It produces good, religious people who go to church and live well. Both Keller and Bunyan remind us, though, of the dangers of taking, or preaching, this path. Morality is never enough. We need the gospel.

Him We Proclaim

How do we preach Christ from all of Scripture? Dennis E. Johnson, author of Him We Proclaim, suggests that we follow the example of the apostles:
One major theme, to which this book will return the unity of the Old Testament and the New in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and consequently, also, in the community composed of believing Jews and Gentiles that his Spirit is now assembling. This unity, I am persuaded, unlocks the whole of the Scriptures to the twenty-first century preacher and his hearers...The title, Him We Proclaim, is drawn from Colossians 1:28, in which the apostle Paul sums up the message he preaches as, simply, Christ. Between the resurrection and his ascension to God's right hand, the Lord Jesus taught the original apostles that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all predicted the Messiah's suffering, rejection, death, resurrection, outpouring of the Spirit, and worldwide reign through the servants of his Word. The fruit of this intensive forty-day hermeneutics course is heard in the apostolic sermons preserved in the book of Acts, as well as in the Gospels themselves and the other New Testament books.
We'll return to this book again in exploring how to preach Christ from all of Scripture.

How Timothy Keller preaches Christ from all of Scripture

Last week I promised to return to the theme of preaching Christ from all of Scripture. I've learned a lot from the ministry of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. His preaching lectures from Gordon-Conwell are extremely helpful. Here's how Keller preaches Christ from all of Scripture:
The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO."This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be." The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN'T DO IT."But you can't do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard." The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT."But there's One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the---. He has done this for us, in our place." The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT."Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this..."
This isn't the only way to preach Christ, but the beauty of this approach is that it steps around some of the hermeneutical traps. For more information, you can order Keller's lectures from Gordon-Conwell.Update: Resurgence has reposted the entire article that is the source of the above quote.

The challenge of preaching Christ from all of Scripture

A few years ago, I commented to a mentor that preaching Christ from all of Scripture is a challenging task. I was relieved when he agreed. It is something that many of us realize we need to be doing, but it's also important to recognize that there are challenges in learning how to do this.If I could choose to listen to anyone exposit Scripture, I would choose Jesus' exposition on the road to Emmaus, in which it's aid of Jesus: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). That would have been something to hear.Just to highlight the challenges of preaching Christ from all of Scripture, I'm going to list seven ways that a Christocentric interpretation may take shape. These are from Sidney Greidanus in his book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament:
  • To see the passage in the historical progression of God's redemptive plan through history;
  • To focus on promise fulfillment, in which Christ fulfills Old Testament prophecies;
  • Typology, moving from a type in the Old Testament to the anti-type in Christ;
  • Analogy, showing the relationship between God's message for Israel and Christ's message to the church;
  • Longitudinal interpretation, tracing a theme of the Old Testament to Christ in the New Testament;
  • Using a New Testament quote that cites or alludes to an Old Testament passage, and linking these passages to Christ; and
  • Showing the contrast Jesus brings to an Old Testament passage.
Each of these requires some explanation, but for now I want to highlight that preaching Christ from all of Scripture does take some effort. It is challenging - but it's crucial.More to come next week.

The Old Testament and Christ

In Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser Jr. argues that preaching the Old Testament helps us see that "the life, ministry, death, and resurrection were clearly anticipated long before the events occurred." The Messiah, he writes, "is at the heart of that neglected portion of the Bible."We do not need to "resort to settling for a double set of meanings in order to squeeze out of the Old Testament some messianic possibilities." The Old Testament writers were aware the nexus between their temporal and historic events, and their "climatic fulfillment in the Messiah...The Old Testament cannot have a more obvious meaning along with a hidden Christian meaning." The texts speak to God's unchanging plan from all of history.Jesus himself said of Old Testament texts: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me" (John 5:39).So how can we preach Christ from the Old Testament? Tomorrow we'll look at seven ways. Early next week, we'll talk about how one preacher approaches this task.

Preaching Christ from all of Scripture

One issue that is often discussed in preaching these days is how to preach Christ from the Hebrew Scriptures. You see this debate not only in discussing the redemptive-historical approach, but also in books like Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching, Ed Clowney's Preaching Christ from All of Scripture, and Dennis E. Johnson's Him We Proclaim.

I was reminded of the importance of this issue yesterday as I read the account of Jesus' call to Philip to follow him: "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'" (John 1:45).

As I read this yesterday, I was amazed that Philip was able to see Jesus so clearly in the Law and prophets. It was a good reminder to me to take this issue seriously.

In coming posts, I'll try to highlight some of the dangers we face as we preach Christ from all of Scripture, as well as some ways we can do this well.

Rediscovering the Gospel

490 years ago today, a monk with a mallet posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. One of the 95 Theses said this: "62. The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God." In essence, that monk rediscovered and applied the gospel within his context.

It's just as important for us to rediscover and apply the gospel today, first to ourselves and then in our ministries. Tim Keller puts it this way:

We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.” The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s of Christianity, but it is the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom 1:16-17)....

All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel...

The main problem, then, in the Christian life I that we have not thought out the deep implication of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel—a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says (on Gal. 2:14), “The truth of the gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine… Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” The gospel is not easily comprehended. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not “get” it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel—seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.

So Happy Reformation Day! I pray that our ministries will be characterized by the rediscovery and application of the gospel.

Some Reformation Day resources: