John Calvin once wrote,
You will see a number of people who labor very hard indeed at reading the holy Scriptures — they do nothing else but turn over the leaves of it, and yet after ten years they have as much knowledge of it as if they had never read a single line. And why? Because they do not have any particular aim in view, they only wander about…. [they] do not know which is the point they ought to rest on, namely, the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Sermon on Ephesians 2:19-22, 1599)
Calvin was dead-on. Because the Bible is ultimately about the redemptive revelation of Jesus, all gospel-centered preaching (and reading for that matter) should take that truth into account; namely, preaching should recognize both our need for redemption and God’s provision of redemption in Christ. To not consider the redemptive context of the passage can cause the preacher to run perilously close to giving another “Do More, Try Harder” message where the people think their growth and merit before God rests utterly upon their shoulders instead of seeing Christ as their wondrous and gracious rescue.
Two questions that can help us steer clear of the morass of moralism in the pulpit are:
- What does this text reveal about God’s nature or attributes which provide the work of Christ?
- What does this text reveal about our nature or attributes which require the work of Christ?
Think of it this way. Any time we read the Scriptures we should wear the lenses which ask the same questions (restated for ease):
Answering these two questions helps point us to our only remedy – the grace of God. Indeed, revealing the necessity and provision of grace is what makes a sermon redemptive! You don’t have to squeeze Jesus in places where he doesn’t explicitly appear in a biblical text, but you can demonstrate the relation of the text to his person and work.
So, my fellow preacher (and reader of the Bible), make sure your sermon doesn’t devolve into one more message of self-help that your congregants can get anywhere outside the church, give them one that points them to the very reason God gave us the Bible in the first place…
…Jesus and the goodness of his Gospel.
May your messages “rest on the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
HT: Influenced and adapted from notes taken in Dr. Bryan Chapell’s doctoral class ‘Christ-Centered Preaching.’ Byran, if I messed this up don’t expel me. 😉 You can get Bryan’s foundational book here.