Here’s a man who proclaims the gospel every sermon.
We still have much to learn from Keller. And as a distillation of the preaching task it would be hard to improve on these four points (from this nifty little 9 page paper)…
1. PREACH TO CHRISTIANS AND NON-CHRISTIANS AT THE SAME TIME
Because the gospel is the root of both justification and sanctification.
The typical approach to the gospel is to see it as the ABC’s of Christian doctrine, or merely the minimum truth required to be saved, but to rely on more “advanced” biblical principles for progress in the Christian life. If that were the case, then we truly could not focus on both evangelism and spiritual formation at the same time. However, Martin Luther understood that the gospel is not only the way we receive salvation but is also the way to advance at every stage in the Christian life. This is why the first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was “All of life is repentance.”
Jonathan Edwards, in his Religious Affections, argues that belief and behavior are inextricably linked and that any failures in Christians are due to unbelief. The antidote to unbelief is a fresh telling of the gospel. Preaching, therefore, is not either for evangelism or edification, because all of us have the same underlying problem.
2. PREACH GRACE, NOT MORALISM
My sermons used to follow this approach:
+ Here is what the text says
+ Here is how we must live in light of that text
+ Now go and live that way, and God will help you.
I came to realize over time that I was doing exactly what Edwards said would not work. I was relying on fear
and pride to prompt obedience to God. Although I was doing it indirectly and unconsciously, I was employing
preaching to trick the heart instead of reorienting the heart.
I have come to realize that my sermons need to follow a different outline:
+ Here is what the text says
+ Here is how we must live in light of it
+ But we simply cannot do it
+ Ah—but there is One who did!
+ Now, through faith in him, you can begin to live this way.
3. PREACH CHRIST FROM EVERY TEXT
There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: It is either about me or about Jesus. It is either advice to the listener or news from the Lord. It is either about what I must do or about what God has done.
Jesus is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the Lamb, the Light,
the bread. The Bible is not about you—it is about him.
4. AIM AT THE HEART (NOT THE EMOTIONS, OR EVEN THE MIND)
We must not assume, for example, if our listeners are materialistic that they only need to be exhorted to give more. Though guilt may help with the day’s offering, it will not alter one’s life patterns. If people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. They have not truly understood what it means to have all riches and treasures in Jesus Christ. It means their affections are causing them to cling to material riches as a source of security, hope, and beauty. Thus in preaching we must present Christ in the particular way that he replaces the hold of competing affections. This takes not just intellectual argument but the presentation of the beauty of Christ. Jonathan Edwards defined a nominal Christian as one who finds Christ useful, while a true Christian is one who finds Christ beautiful for who he is in himself.