This morning let me say something about an interesting section of this book in chapter 9, “Can I Preach a Christian Sermon without Mentioning Jesus?”
Goldsworthy notes that preaching the whole counsel of God will necessarily include exhortation. Most people like that sort of thing — they narrowly view it as the only thing that counts for application. Unless the sermon tells me what to do and how to live, it’s not relevant and not applicatory. Goldsworthy says, “I suggest that we love this kind of treatment because we are legalists at heart. We would love to be able to say that we have fulfilled all kinds of conditions, be they tarrying, surrendering fully, or getting rid of every known sin, so that God might truly bless us.” (p.118) If the preaching can just give us a ten-step program to holy living, we love it. People don’t want to hear so much about what God has done for us apart from us — that’s old news. Tell us something we can do.
Goldsworthy goes on, “The preacher can aid and abet this legalistic tendency that is at the heart of the sin within us all. All we have to do is emphasize our humanity: our obedience, our faithfulness, our surrender to God, and so on. The trouble is that these things are all valid biblical truths, but if we get them out of perspective and ignore their relationship with the gospel of grace, they replace grace with law. If we constantly tell people what they should do in order to get their lives in order, we place a terrible legalistic burden on them.” (p.118) Goldsworthy doesn’t say this, but it is my observation that it is even more tempting when you see lifestyle issues in the congregation that are problematic. You figure that the solution has to be to preach more law — and even if that is subsumed under the heading of “thankfulness” it can have a habit of becoming legalistic (what John Piper calls “the debtor’s ethic”). The problems are not solved and in fact, get worse. The solution is counter-intuitive.
Let me give the last word to Goldsworthy — this whole paragraph is worth reading carefully:
In practical terms, if we as preachers lay down the marks of the spiritual Christian, or the mature church, or the godly parent, or the obedient child, or the caring pastor, or the responsible elder or the wise church leader, and if we do this in a way that implies that conformity is simply a matter of understanding and being obedient, then we are being legalists and we risk undoing the very thing we want to build up. We may achieve the outward semblance of conformity to the biblical pattern, but we do it at the expense of the gospel of grace that alone can produce the reality of these desirable goals. To say what we should be or do and not link it with a clear exposition of what God has done about our failure to be or do perfectly as he wills is to reject the grace of God and to lead people to lust after self-help and self-improvement in a way that, to call a spade a spade, is godless. (119)
This is a worthwhile book that I can recommend to pastors and aspiring pastors.
(Reposted from 07.31.07)