The Preacher’s Catechism
By Lewis Allen
Q. Why should we believe in our preaching?
A. Jesus offers himself through his Word in the gospel. Stand on the rock of this truth.
“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” —Galatians 2:16
Believe your own sermons. In fact, if you don’t, you’ll soon be in a world of trouble. Preaching is God dealing with his world and his people. Your pulpit dealings with your hearers are therefore God’s. He is going about his work as you are going about yours. Jesus is offering himself through his Word as you declare it. Your hearers must believe that, but equally, so must you.
Faith comes through hearing (Rom. 10:17). Faith is a wonderful gift of grace that the Holy Spirit gives and then sustains as we hear the Word of God. This much we believe. But the preacher sees more than enough every Sunday to make his faith shudder.
Sometimes the biggest struggle going on each Sunday morning is in the preacher’s heart as he fights to keep hold of his faith in the torrent of discouragement all around him.
A little reflection in a preacher’s life brings back memories that are never really buried. As he’s preached, he’s watched people nod off into deep sleep. Others have scowled, shaking their heads almost involuntarily at a point he’s made, avoiding his eyes or avoiding him after he’s preached. Others have thanked him for the sermon, only to spend the next six days doing the opposite of what he taught them. And then there’s the heartache of ministry between Sundays.
People are lost in the deepest pits of despair, sin, indifference and distraction. They misunderstand the sermon or forget it altogether. One day, he fears, they might join the crowd who went down the road to enjoy the fireworks of the latest church in town—all miracles and no Bible.
I could go on, and you could add your personal horror stories, but the point is obvious: For all the real faith and spiritual growth we witness as a result of our preaching, there’s so much we see that is both worrying and very discouraging. Satan delights in our discouragements, and we are tempted to wallow in them. We’re tempted to lose heart in preaching. Some of us, though we go on preaching for years, already have lost heart.
Is there any way back to real confidence about the work we do? The Westminster Shorter Catechism takes us back to first things. This is where it all began for you before even your call to preach. It began, as it must continue and as it will finish, with Jesus and faith in him. This simple, simple truth must be learned all over again. Listen to the catechism:
Q. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.
Notice in the catechism that faith is a saving “grace.” It is not a work. Salvation is of the Lord, and that includes the gift of faith in order to receive the saving work of Christ (Eph. 2:8; cf. 1:19). True saving faith is nothing less than the work of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. Our own experience confirms this truth: Jesus died and was raised for us, only then to come to us in the convicting power of the Spirit, gifting us with repentance and faith. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us” (1 John 4:16).
Grace is not a safety net, needed only when our tightrope walk amid sin goes wrong. Grace does not make God a last resort when we’ve grown tired of sin. Grace is not something we preach to others but pass over ourselves. Grace is not for new Christians only, leaving those of us experienced in the faith to rely on effort. Grace is for preachers. Grace is for everyday living and ministering.
Grace is who God is in Jesus Christ. Outside Jesus Christ, God is wrath. The hymn says,
“Foul I to the fountain fly,
wash me, Savior, or I die.”
In Christ, God is gentle, saving, and strengthening love. Next time you use the word grace, use it with awe and thanks. It will sound, and taste, all the sweeter.
The preacher’s first and last task is to live in the world of the gospel. The gospel is not only the message he offers to others; it is the gift he joyfully receives moment by moment from God. And Jesus is God’s gospel. As Calvin wrote, “We enjoy Christ only as we embrace Christ clad in his own promises.” Embracing him is the preacher’s first responsibility. And then it is the next one, and the next one—every moment, every year.
This means work. Yes, grace entails work if we are to enjoy and know it. It means bringing our pain, our weariness, our cynicism to God. It means honesty with God. You may berate yourself that you experienced flashes of anger at the person who was ignoring the very application in your sermon you knew he needed. But does that achieve anything? Better still, take that anger to God. Pray for yourself and for your hearer. Pray for a spiritual breakthrough in his or her life. Pray for the same in your own. One of our biggest challenges in preaching is that we lack a deep faith that the Lord will use our preaching, whatever the appearance. We need faith.
Growing in your faith in Jesus Christ will not change your hearers. Not immediately, anyway. That’s okay. Growing in your faith will change you. It will settle your anxious heart. It will silence your lips, which so easily give vent to complaints about others, complaints that speak less of your concern for them and more of a lack of faith in God’s work in them. And the more you grow in the Spirit’s power in response to the Word, the deeper your confidence in this Word will be, whether privately read or publicly preached.
What you preach, despite the mishaps and the disasters, is true, and you know that it’s true. Jesus offers himself through his Word in the gospel. Stand on the rock of this truth.
Excerpted from The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, Crossway.org.