You can preach an expository sermon with clarity and conviction and even compassion, but if you’ve missed the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’ve not even preached a Christian sermon. Only the gospel of Christ’s cross and resurrection can both save a lost soul and sanctify a found one. It is God’s grace in the good news of Christ’s life, death, and glorified raising that provides the power sinners need to grow and go, and it is only God’s grace that does that.
What are the basic elements of biblical preaching?
How do you know you’re preaching a Christian sermon and not simply giving a religious or spiritual lecture?
While I think gospel-centered expository proclamation is the best approach to fulfilling the biblical call to preach, this exercise could probably use some more filling out. And since preachers like alliteration and lists, I thought I might suggest a checklist reflecting what I propose to be the irreduceable complexity of true Christian preaching. Next time you’re preparing a sermon, maybe keep these questions in mind. Or, after the next time you preach, share this list with your fellow elders or another team of trusted advisors and ask them to apply the questions to your delivered message.
- Is your sermon CONTEXTUAL?
The word contextual is important. It’s more specific than simply asking if the message is textual, because a lot of preachers use Bible verses in their sermons, and by this they determine that their sermon is based on a biblical text. But putting some Bible verses in your sermon is not the same thing as preaching the Bible. Moreover, simply explicating one or two verses — which is totally fine to do, in my opinion — may also not capture the import of even those one or two versesif they’re taken out of context.
Make sure the biblical text drives what you want to say, and not the other way around. And even if you aren’t preaching a whole passage of Scripture, make sure whatever portion your preaching is kept in the context of the passage where it’s found. Every biblical text should be interpreted according to its immediate context, and every immediate context should be interpreted according to the greater context of the gospel storyline of Scripture (see Question 5). As the old preacher’s dictum goes: “A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.”
- Is your sermon CONVICTIONAL?
In other words, does it express declarations of truth? The import of a Christian sermon is not simply to raise questions and coddle felt needs but to proclaim “Thus saith the Lord.” So our preaching comes with conviction. It comes with conviction about who God is, what God has done, and what this means for you and me.
Convictional preaching means we don’t preach as if every sentence ends with a question mark. Convictional preaching means we don’t hem and haw about sin and the law. Convictional preaching means we don’t flinch at the realities of hell and wrath. Convictional preaching means we don’t cater to the world’s values or consumeristic impulses. Convictional preaching means we do not avoid or soften the essential and orthodox doctrines of historic Christianity. And perhaps most fundamentally, convictional preaching means we preach the written word of God as if it is inspired and infallible, sufficient and supernatural, living and life-giving.
- Is your sermon CLEAR?
Remember that a good theological sermon is not one that people find difficult to understand! In maybe one of the best narrative examples of expository preaching in the Scriptures, we read that the scribes and priests reading from God’s word to the gathered people did so “clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8).
- Is your sermon COMPASSIONATE?
- Is your sermon CROSS-CENTERED?