This is part two of my post from yesterday.
Many people I know would never intentionally preach the prosperity gospel, though we often live as if it were true. I know many Christians whose faith was dashed on the rocks of life’s pain and troubles. Any preaching that fails to account for the fact that life is difficult, even (especially) as a Christian, sets us up for failure.
I humbly submit that the second type of sermon that we should avoid also sets the congregation up for failure because it focuses on the wrong things: our works. The second way to NOT preach is the Guilt Gospel.
The guilt gospel boils down to the message that you need to do more. To be a good Christian, you need to serve more, give more, read the Bible more, follow these 3-5-10-(infinity) easy steps to spiritual growth. If you’re not growing, you’re not doing enough.
Or, you tell the congregation that they need to be more. They’re not good enough people and need to try harder to emulate Biblical heroes.
- If I’m preaching about David, I tell the congregation they need to be David.
- If I’m preaching about Moses, I tell the congregation they need to be Moses.
- If I’m preaching about Paul, Esther, Deborah, Peter, Elijah, Daniel, Mary (take your pick of which one), Abraham, Ruth, The Good Samaritan, or Zacchaeus, I tell the congregation they need to be Paul, Esther, Deborah, Peter, Elijah, Daniel, Mary (take your pick of which one), Abraham, Ruth, The Good Samaritan, or Zacchaeus.
- Of course, I can always change it up by saying, “Don’t be like [insert unsavory character here].”
The allure of this preaching style is that it works…for a time. People will sign up to serve, give, take a class, or whatever else you’re asking because they feel guilty. But they won’t necessarily have joy, perserverance, or spiritual growth as a result. They’ll just have another task to perform.
More importantly, this isn’t the Gospel either.
The heart of the Gospel is that we could never do enough. Essentially, it is a bait-and-switch to invite people to God’s free grace and then tell them they have to earn their keep from here on out. Is it true that God loves me “just as I am” until I agree to follow him?
You might think, “The Bible says, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ and ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” Doesn’t that mean we need to work hard?
God is already doing the work. The very next verse after the exhortation to “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is “For it is God that is at work within you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In the second passage, we’re told to take up our cross and follow Jesus. He’s going before us, so it’s not like we’re paving the way with our awesome deeds.
The second problem is that God has not made us to be another person. He has not given us their personality and circumstances. I’ve read the quote several times recently that says, in effect, when I die, God will not ask me why I wasn’t Moses; he will ask me why I wasn’t the person he’s made me to be.
When I’m constructing a sermon, I think about the people to whom I will be preaching. I picture the stay-at-home mom with multiple young children underfoot and ask myself, “Can she do what I am saying or will she walk out of here feeling guilty that she can’t do and be more? Did she meet God or another checklist of things to do in order to meet him?”
I have to ask that even for myself: “Can I do this with the responsibilities I have?”
This preaching comes from a misunderstanding of the Bible. The Bible exists to reveal God. Every single person I listed pales in comparison to Christ. Every single person pales in comparison to Christ, period. They may have admirable qualities, but none of them have the power to save themselves, let alone us. Admirable qualities do not make for a life-changing message.
Preaching that points us to anyone (no matter how wonderful he/she is) that isn’t Christ points us in the wrong direction.
Up Next: Gospel-Centered Preaching