I heard a sermon the other day that was a “good sermon”. The speaker was funny. The congregation was engaged. The congregation was given very helpful pointers, things that would help in living better lives. There was nothing heretical in the sermon; nothing that I could not heartily affirm. Helpful, engaging, down-to-earth, and it used biblical principles. Yet, after hearing the sermon I felt sick to my stomach.
What caused my sickness? Was it my breakfast burrito? Perhaps too syrupy of pancakes? That could have added to my sickness but the main problem was not in something I ate but more in what the preacher did not feed me. Missing from the “sermon” was gospel and Christ-centeredness.
And here’s the deal. I have preached “sermons” that are void of the gospel myself. I am just as guilty. I have preached on relationships in such a way that teens engage in legalism instead of gospel-driven obedience. I have preached a text from Paul that would make Paul vomit because of its gospel-deficiency. I have preached a text from the mouths of Jesus that had little to do with Jesus and more to do with us. I have preached sermons that would make me vomit. May I never preach another one.
You see, I cannot bring myself to preach another sermon or happily listen to another sermon that is void of the gospel. I really could care less about having 7 principles to being a successful employee, 3 things to help me be a better spouse, 14 rules for being a faithful church member, etc. Those are important. Those are very important. But once you have been captivated by the beauty of the gospel a sermon that ONLY deals with being a successful employee just will not cut it. I want to know what the gospel has to do with my employment. I want to know how Jesus redeems work. I want to know how Jesus puts me on mission. If those 7 principles are grounded in the gospel, lead me to believing the gospel more, and are motivated out of what Jesus’ has done on my behalf then preach it.
I want to know what happens when everything in your life explodes and your 7 principles just do not cut it? Do you just make more little rules that are founded upon biblical principles or do you cast yourself wholly on the mercy of God? The church doesn’t simply need better marriages, better finances, better living, better church services, better politics, or anything else. The church needs the gospel. The church needs gospel driven marriage and not “biblical-principle” driven marriages. The same goes with every other topic you want to throw in there. The gospel is not meant to be slid in through the back door at the end of the sermon.
The gospel is meant to permeate the entire sermon. As Bryan Chapell has beautifully said, “whether people depart alone or in the Savior’s hand will mark the difference between futility and faith; legalism and true obedience; dogoodism and real godliness.” I am not saying that living by biblical principles is not needed, is not wise, and is not godly. What I am saying is that it’s not biblically faithful unless the sinner is left in the hands of the Savior. Only Jesus can heal and only the power of God can lead us on to biblical faithfulness.
Lest you misunderstand me let me be clear. I am not talking about “a salvation message” every Sunday. I am not talking about preaching sermons that are devoid of practicality. That’s not preaching either. What I am desperately sick of are “good sermons” that teach us “biblical principles” but do not drive sick, broken, rebellious sinners to the Jesus that deeply loves them. If “biblical principles” had the power to please God and change hearts then the religious elite would not have crucified Jesus.
Just give me the gospel…that’s enough to captivate me for all of eternity.