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Friday, November 09, 2007

Preaching Sola Gratia

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Sola Gratia

Most churches would assert they proclaim "grace." Just a casual search of the yellowpages yeilded 5282 entries when "Grace" and "Church" were searched together. (When searching, "Grace Brethren Church" 199 entries came up.) Another quick search will tell you the churches are all over the map, denominationally. So how do we preserve the message of grace in our preaching?

Certainly, as Chris Cobb laid out, there are groups whose doctrine completely misrepresent grace. (The Mormon "Church," for example, has been pestering evangelicals to see them as a group who proclaim "salvation by grace alone" for several years now, despite their doctrine to the contrary.) Certainly, our church must be aligned not just with those who preach grace (of some form) but of grace alone.

But does this mean every church from a "reformation tradition" is preaching grace alone?

Hardly. In fact, though a Statement of Faith, Articles of Confession or Core Beliefs may boldly proclaim "grace alone," our pulpits can cry out something far from it. Even the preacher who affirms "grace alone" may find himself stating something seemingly different. The culprit can often come from two avenues; Psychology and Motivation.
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?--1 Corinthians 4:7
Psychology--If Paul were to ask that question in a church today, the congregants would have a plethora of answers...TV pop psychologists, secular books, my parents, my teachers, and even "Christian" literature. From Barney to Veggie Tales to Osteen, the name of the game seems to be building up a person's "self esteem." But is there room for man to be exalted and God at the same time? Consider John's observation: He must increase, but I must decrease.

John is not making two separate casual observations. He understood that for Christ to truly be exalted, he would need to diminish. In our attempt to boost other's self worth, we leave them feeling as if they have earned part of their salvation. After all, if I'm not that bad, He didn't have to do that much, right?

I cannot see His grace as great when I think I am.

Motivation--when we fail to see our sin nature, we then overestimate what we are capable of. We read a passage about sanctified living, and assume we can obtain it. Therefore, we preach to our congregation about what they should do, and shouldn't do...all the while, leaving them the impression they are capable of change on their own.

But what have we earned? Everything we have we have received. No merit. No earning it. No justification on our own. We were helpless, dead and blind. We only see Christ as precious because God revealed Him as such to us. We only desire to conform to His image, because He places that desire into us. We can only strive if He is working within. Consider: For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

So often we emphasize grace on "the front side of salvation," yet we often neglect it when speaking to the believer. We lay out application and then simply tell our people: "Now get to it." We present practical elements as if sheer will power or self generated holiness is enough to produce God-honoring results. However, we can't stand before God with any boast, but in Him alone. Proper preaching means we remind our people that nothing they have (whether before or after regeneration) which is good has been earned by their own merit. We truly have been given more than we deserve.

Our sign may say "Grace." Our Scriptures are saturated with verses about grace. Our sermons may even extol congregants to be gracious. But when we must first stroke the ego before calling upon the troops to muster up enough energy to obey...we deny the very grace we claim.

We've got to preach Sola Gratia!

2 Comments:

  • At 10:26 AM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    Good stuff. Keep it coming Danny.

     
  • At 3:05 PM, Blogger Dave B. said…

    Danny,

    Good observations.

    I know many who sit around and thrash the Jews of Jesus day for assuming that they were "in because of their heritage" or "true israel" because they keep the commandments. Many of these conversations end with someone saying "how could they be so blind?"

    We are so much like them.

    We assume our heritage of Biblical integrity or our commitment and faithfulness to God is somehow adding to His view of us. We think we are now special and "in the club" now that we've been saved somehow forgetting that God desires all to come to repentance and extends grace with no preference to person or upbringing. Not to mention it's Christ's righteousness not our own. Church kids are in danger of thinking themselves more "sanctified" in the eyes of men than the urban foulmouthed drop out, when both without grace are destitute. We trade "behaving" more like Christ for "becoming" more like him. (one is our effort, the other is His work in us). We treat the fallen believer as one who's righteousness has been damaged, forgetting that neither he nor we are judged on our record.

    If we truly espouse grace, how about giving the Spirit through the Word time and a chance to change people? Don't sweep the sin under the rug, pretend your not broken, lie about how you feel, attempt to dig yourself quietly out of a whole. All of these laugh in the face of priceless grace.

    The truth is it is the bent of man to want to be responsible for His own life. Bonjovi's "It's my life" seems to be the creed of many even after salvation.

    How often we need to be reminded that it's His life. Grace that saves and sustains. It's true as you said.

     

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