Last Sunday I finished my part in preaching through the book of Exodus. My philosophy in developing a preaching calendar for a Bible book is to work through the large literary units of thought. With that in mind, our teaching team spent 15 weeks on the story of God redeeming his people Israel from Egypt. It was both challenging and encouraging to me as a preacher. I hadn’t taught Old Testament narrative in a while and, in finishing Exodus, was reminded of a few things in preaching it.

#1: Get behind the story

Far too often I hear preachers work through a text like a commentary. They read a few verses, then proceed to interpret, illustrate, and apply those verses. After, they take the next few verses and do the same. This isn’t a wrong method to preaching. However, it can lead to preaching a message with disjointed ideas and miss the main idea of the text. I tried to discipline myself to get behind the story of Exodus in each of my sermons. In other words, I didn’t do any substantive sermonizing (illustration, application, etc.) until I had walked the congregation through the entire text in question. I had to trust the story was appealing enough to stand on its own. However, in doing it this way it allowed me to treat the entire text as having one truth to preach instead of several different ideas in which I might lose my listeners or at least work ten times as hard to consolidate into a unified message.

#2: Make it about God

I think the temptation in preaching Old Testament narratives is to cheapen the texts by letting the characters become mere touchstones for living or normalizing stories to parallel them with our own life situations. But these make the main aim of the author something less (and frankly trivial) than intended. The Bible is ultimately the story of God and his plan to redeem his people through the work of the gospel. That’s why a question I kept asking myself about each Exodus text I was assigned was, What does this text tell me about who God is and what he wants to do for his people? This God-focused analytic helped guard me from the errors of moralizing, generalizing, or spiritualizing, and allowed the text to speak with the appropriate gravitas it was given by the writer.

#3: Preach a New Testament sermon

Simply put, if you preach an Old Testament text like a Jewish rabbi would, you aren’t giving your congregation Christian preaching. We must preach the Old Testament as those who have the fuller revelation of the New Testament. This is where understanding biblical theology is critical. Our teaching team constantly reviewed where Exodus not only fit within the bigger story of redemptive history but made sure to take our people from Sinai to Calvary – showing that these things of Moses and Israel were a “copy and shadow” of the gift of God in Christ (Heb. 8:5). Also, if your Old Testament text is also preached in the New Testament, use it in your sermon! I felt I worked through half of the book of Hebrews in preaching Exodus because it so frequently interprets Exodus. Let the writers of the New Testament do the heavy lifting for you! It will also ensure that your feet will be firmly planted on this side of the Cross while faithfully preaching a text which precedes it.

#4: Give them Jesus

I thought about making this a part of #3 but I want to highlight it with its own point. Dr. Tim Keller says preaching is doxological. It should lead us to worship. Why? Because, as we’ve noted, the Bible is ultimately about Jesus. I can’t tell you how encouraged I was to worship Jesus through the study of Exodus. It was incredible! Indeed, I visited one of our campuses and listened to my own sermon (of all things) on the tabernacle. At the end of the message, all I could do is respond in tearful worship, grateful for our “true tent” in Jesus (Heb. 8:2). Seeing how the different strands woven through Exodus tie up in the Person and Work of Jesus is not only the task of the preacher but his joy as well! Better yet, it will also be the joy of his congregation! When you preach the stories of the Old Testament make sure they find their conclusion in the Savior of the New.

“I just need to find some balance in my life.” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times. It’s a favorite mantra for busy Christian suburbanites in their search for the Holy Grail of a well-lived life. But aiming for balance is wrong. Dead wrong.

It’s a bad criterion for life because it deludes followers of Jesus into viewing one’s ‘spiritual life’ as merely another area among many needing to find its proper time allotment within the schedule. Consequently, we open our Day Runners to see in the morning we’re booked up with our occupation, then it’s the gym afterwards. Next, it’s off to grab a quick dinner with the family before running junior to baseball practice as our spouse takes the other kiddo to gymnastics. If we’re lucky, we might get in a little SportsCenter or Tonight Show before hitting the sack. Seven hours later we wake up to to the same routine again.

When life is seen as a series of boxes to be checked (e.g., job, exercise, kids’ activities) we figure we can cover the spiritual box by squeezing in a church service once or twice a month. Maybe, if we’re really committed, we can spring for a five minute morning devotion here and there. All of it done in the name of balance. This is why aiming at a “balanced life” will stunt our growth in Jesus and make spiritual maturity hard to come by because it falsely partitions Jesus off from the rest of life. But the truth is Christ isn’t an add-on to life but our very life itself (Col. 3:4). Jesus blew up the idea of life as a series of boxes to be balanced when he said in Mt. 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” To him, there is only one box – the kingdom of God – in which everything in our life is to have a place. And why…

Followers of Jesus shouldn’t aim for balance but effectiveness.

Ask yourself, How can I live in such a way that I make the biggest impact for the Kingdom of God? This goal uproots the idolatrous suburban lie which tries to convince us we have to be involved in this, that, AND the other in order to have a full life. The truly full life is the one surrendered to God in every square inch of it. It’s the life packed in every nook and cranny with Christ as Lord, the gospel our hope, and the Kingdom as mission. The effective, unbalanced life may not remove our job, kids’ practices, or even an hour at the gym from our schedule (although it could), but it does put them all in the one big box of living on mission for Jesus.

So, look at your calendar ask yourself, “How can I best organize my life for the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God?” Maybe you’ll find you’re too busy or not involved enough. It will look different for each of us:

  • You may decide to DVR your favorite sitcom because it airs during the same time your neighbors who are far from God hang out in their front yard. Effectiveness not balance gives you clarity to see how much of a great opportunity it would be to deepen your relationship with them for the sake of the gospel.
  • You may decide to give more of your resources for Kingdom endeavors. Effectiveness leads us to see how the blessings God has given us could be better distributed for his kingdom. For example, maybe instead of getting a new car every other year you decide to forgo that new ride and use the money to help support a new church plant overseas. That’s aiming for effectiveness.
  • You may decide you’re going to dial down your kids’ level of involvement in sports because you realize when they leave for college while they may able to spike a volleyball, nail a 3-pointer, or throw a football on a rope for 30 yards, they will do so with little hearts for God. Thinking effectiveness instead of balance can spur you to ask, “How different would my kids’ spiritual life be if I dedicated half the time they spent on sports to discipling them in the gospel?”

Sound like tough changes? They are easier to make if your aim is effectiveness for the Kingdom of God. They only appear insurmountable if we seek balance.

Follower of Jesus, don’t believe the myth of balance.

If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

- Luke 9:23

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
- Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody

A very popular but tragic myth many professing Christians believe is that as long as you “ask Jesus in your heart,” walk down an aisle, or make a decision for Christ, you can live however you wish. I see this type of thinking at work when people come through the waters of baptism only to return to unchanged lives where sin and rebellion are willingly and gladly chosen over obedience and holiness time and again. Salvation is only equated with rescue from judgment. But that’s not true. Viewing salvation as only a rescue from sin, death, and hell is to miss the critical other side of the coin.

Take the picture of salvation in the great exodus of Israel. God delivers the Israelites through the Red Sea not so that they might only be free of Pharaoh but that they would serve God. I would argue that the book of Exodus is not about being freed from slavery but about a change of masters. Is this not what Moses told Pharaoh at the beginning in Ex. 9:1, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me.’“? In other words, God’s people had been serving Pharaoh, now they were being called to rightly serve Yahweh, their one, true King. Notice what God told them as they gathered before Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:5, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God expected his people to obey! It was part and parcel of his relationship with them – not something peripheral or optional, but a natural response to the grace of God’s deliverance.

God doesn’t save Israel from slavery in Egypt so they can stand on the other side of the Red Sea, give Yahweh a nice wave, and proceed to live as they personally see fit. He expected them to live lives of obedience. That’s why the exodus isn’t just a from-thing, it is also a to-thing. God saves his people from their enemies so they might be set apart to him and his kingdom. This should help us see that the salvation God brings always has both a from component and a to component. They cannot be separated but are two sides of the same coin. Thus, God sent Jesus to the Cross not just to save you from judgment but also to save you to himself – to serve him and his kingdom. God didn’t provide a better exodus for you in Christ so that you might be your own master (which would only be putting you back into slavery) but to bring you to your right Master.

We need to know that while real grace will meet us where we are, it won’t keep us where we are. Grace doesn’t make obedience optional. It never has. It’s why Jesus can say in Jn. 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” or in Lk. 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” It’s why Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Christ is never loved till sin be loathed.” It’s also why it’s not enough to say we love Jesus with our mouths, or via attendance in a church building once or twice a month, or go through the waters of baptism and not reflect that love through a growing sense of obedience and personal holiness in our lives. We have been saved to God. Our sexual practices have been saved to God. Our conversations have been saved to God. Our resources have been saved to God. You name it, every circle of activity in our life has been saved from judgment to the Lord God.

May those of us who profess Christ as Lord serve him as such. May we not believe the myth that says you can profess Christ with your mouth but not with your life. May we reject the idea of cheap grace and easy believism which says we can be Jesus’ followers without actually having to follow him. Why is that a lie? Because God not only saves from, he also saves to.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
- 1 Peter 1:14-16