By Chris Philbeck
“I’m pretty sure no one will go home and say, ‘That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard.’” I spoke those words recently as part of my sermon introduction.
Let me explain. I’m preaching chapter-by-chapter through the book of Romans in a series called, “Unashamed.” I love Romans because it gives such a thorough explanation of the gospel. Paul begins with the sinfulness of man, moves to the grace of God that makes salvation possible through faith, and then focuses on our continued pursuit of righteousness.
MEAT AND POTATOES
On this weekend I was preaching from Romans 6 where the consistent message is, when you become a Christian, you are dead to sin and alive in Christ. Paul made this clear in his powerful teaching on baptism (Romans 6:1-7) as well as several follow-up statements. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (Romans 6:12). “For sin shall no longer be your master” (Romans 6:14).
So, I introduced my message by saying, “This is not going to be a flashy message today. And I’m pretty sure no one will go home and say, ‘That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard,’ but, that’s OK, because today we’re talking about the meat and potatoes of the Christian life. Because the question before all of us is, ‘Now that I have surrendered my life in complete faith and trust to Jesus, how do I live a holy life?’”
The next two days I received message after message from people saying things like, “Pastor, you were wrong. That was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.” I don’t write that to pat myself on the back, but as a reminder of how important it is to preach genuinely biblical sermons where the truth of the Bible is explained, illustrated, and applied to life with depth.
“I’m 76 years old,” one woman told me. “I became a Christian when I was 12. I’ve never heard someone explain so clearly exactly what happens when you are saved.”
She had understood and obeyed the gospel. She knew her sin had been forgiven and she had received the promise of eternal life. But the message that day gave her a better understanding of the truth that when you become a Christian, you don’t just “turn over a new leaf in life,” you receive a brand-new life.
Paul made that clear.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3-4, emphasis mine).
When you become a Christian, you receive a brand-new life because you move from being covered by your sin to being covered by the righteousness of Christ. The challenge, then, is to live a righteous life.
This is where believers, including the woman I wrote about, get frustrated and confused, because they think, How can I count myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus—the way Paul talked about in Romans 6:11—when I still struggle with sin? Space doesn’t allow me to answer that question in this column, but I was able to answer it in my message. The result was a greater sense of clarity and thankfulness about the gift of salvation along with a deeper level of conviction and understanding of how to live a holy life.
In a chapter from the book The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, Michael Quicke identifies four different types of preachers.
There are teacher preachers who believe their hearers must understand Scripture, so they stay close to the text and explain its meaning. There are herald preachers who believe God empowers both the Scripture and the preaching itself. They believe the Scripture must be understood, but they sound different because they are often dramatic in style. There are inductive preachers who believe the hearer’s felt needs are most important so preaching needs to be relevant to them. So, they begin where people are and find appropriate Scripture to meet the need. Finally, there are narrative preachers who believe sermons should have a story form that connects the hearer with God’s Word.
My point is not that one style is better than the other but to say, whatever style you embrace, make sure it results in preaching that has the depth of explanation to go along with illustration and application.
As I prepare to preach, I try to remember three important principles.
First, preaching with depth doesn’t have to be great. That’s not a misprint. We all want to be great preachers. But what’s most important is that we are faithful preachers because that’s where greatness comes from in the eyes of God.
Second, preaching with depth doesn’t have to be boring. The Bible is God’s Word and when it’s preached with the depth of explanation, people can hear God’s voice, which will never be boring.
Third, preaching with depth can be evangelistic. You can make the point that preaching God’s Word with depth is an act of love for people who are lost because you’re giving them the only hope that is real.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “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.” That happens when we preach with depth.