“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” (For similar Charles Spurgeon quotes, check out this blog)
Spurgeon makes a great point here. What should the focus of the pastor be when delivering a sermon? Should it not focus on Christ? I would like to point out a few passages of Scripture that speak to this issue. First, the same passage that Dr. Spurgeon references. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV) When Paul went to Corinth, what did he focus his message on? Was it not Christ dying on the cross, bearing the sins of the world?
The second passage comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28 ESV) The “Him” Paul talks about in this passage is referring to Jesus. Here, Paul again talks about proclaiming Christ. How does he do it? He does it through warning and teaching. This proclamation of Jesus results in the church maturing in Christ, or rather being sanctified.
And just so you don’t think Paul is the only one who felt this way, here is a passage from First John. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)
This passage emphasizes that Jesus is the central point of this apostle’s teaching. If you go to any of the letters to the churches, Jesus is always at the heart of those letters. He is the focus.
I believe that how a pastor views sanctification will determine how he preaches. A simple definition of sanctification is the process in which a Christian becomes more like Christ. In the church today, there is a lot of confusion about sanctification. The confusion doesn’t lie around what it is, but rather how it happens. Is it something that God does to the Christian? Is it a combined effort between God and man? Or is it all man’s effort?
Let’s target the last question first. If a pastor truly believes that Christians must sanctify themselves, without God’s help, then suffice it to say, the role of that pastor will be to help his congregation do just that. That means during sermon time, he should present to his audience ways that they can improve their moral lives. The Bible, being the “ultimate manual on how to live your life,” is used for this purpose. The pastor can do this a number of ways. He can preach the law to people, showing them what to do and not to do. He can preach from the wisdom books such as proverbs, advising his flock to follow these good pieces of advice. He can also point to characters in the Bible, displaying how they were successful or unsuccessful. Through these peoples' examples, the pastor can usually point out two or three practical steps to living a more Godly life.
What if sanctification is a dual effort? This is the idea that God gives you the power to overcome your sin, but you need to put in the effort. I don’t really see how this will be any different from the first example. Sure, you can add the caviat that God is on your side and will help you through the tough times. You might even share about footprints in the sand. But the pastor will then use the Bible to point people to the “How To’s” of life.
In these first two approaches, there’s no need for the gospel to be preached on Sunday. The gospel is for the nonbelievers, not members of the church. The only time to really point people to Christ and Him crucified will be on Good Friday or on Easter Sunday or on a special outreach event at the Church.
But what if sanctification is fully the work of God? What are you to preach about then? Suddenly, all those practical steps seem pointless. If God is the One doing it anyways, who needs good advice? You might start asking yourself, “Why are all these laws and rules in the Bible then?” or, “What’s the point of Proverbs?” or maybe, “Why do I have the story of Gideon, if I’m not suppose to follow his example?”
In Luke 24, shortly after Jesus rose from the dead, we find two disciples walking down the road to Emmaus. Jesus approaches them and asks what they are discussing. The disciple’s eyes are held, so they don’t recognize that it is Jesus talking to them at this point. They begin to tell Jesus all about the crucifixion and the strange reports of a resurrection. Let’s pick up the story in verse twenty-five. “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)
Here, Jesus answers those tricky questions from above. Scripture points us to Jesus and the cross. Those law passages are there to show us our sins and how we desperately need a savior. Those words of wisdom, point us to a fear of God. But why fear God? Because God will one day judge your life. The fear of God should drive us to the cross to lean on Jesus. Those characters in the Bible that you have been trying to learn life lessons from, really are types and shadows directing us to Jesus and His sacrifice.
Sanctification is a work of God. He sanctifies us by the washing of water with the Word. (Ephesians 5:26) If a pastor truly believes that God is the one who sanctifies, then he will point his flock to Jesus.
When Paul was writing his letter to the church in Rome, what kind of people was he writing to? Yes, some were Jews and some were Gentiles, but they were all Christians. Yet in his address to them, what does he say? “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:15 ESV) Paul wants to share the gospel to believers! He then proceeds to spend the majority of his letter, doing just that.
The gospel has the power to bring people to saving faith. The gospel also has the power to sanctify those who already believe. The Bible was written to point men to Jesus. Our sermons likewise should point men to Jesus.