John Calvin once said that the Psalms are an anatomy of all parts of the soul. What the Psalms do is present the idealistic, the realistic and the optimistic view of the Christian life. In a sense, the whole Bible does that and it’s important that a preacher do that as well.
If you only preach the idealistic part of the Christian life—the Romans 8 part where everything is well and you’re growing in the spirit, you’re being conformed to the image of Christ—then the love of Christ is very real and vibrant in your heart and you know nothing will separate you from the love of Christ. This is wonderfully idealistic.
But if you only do that and you don’t talk about the realistic part of struggling with sin—the Romans 7 part—then what will happen is beleaguered believers who really wrestle with sin are going to say, I don’t think I’m even saved—I just can’t live up to that, the bar is way too high.
However, if you only preach the realistic part and you don’t preach that idealistic part, then the believers are going to say, I’ve arrived. There’s nothing more for me to do. This tug of war with sin is going on in me all the time. I love what the preacher is saying, I can identify with it.
If the preacher doesn’t also hold up the idealistic part, then the believer isn’t stretching out, he’s not doing what Paul did when he said: “I forget the things that lay behind and I press forward toward a high prize of the calling of God.” He’s not seeking to grow in holiness. He falls into kind of a blasé settling—a kind of inward contentment that this is all there is to the Christian life, instead of saying there is more to know, there’s more to experience.
A Hopeful Realism
The believer also needs to hear from the pulpit the optimistic preaching of the Christian life: that one day I will be as holy as Jesus is holy and I’ll be married to him forever. I’ll be his bride and there will be a utopian marriage between me and him and in heaven this glorious idealism will be perfected in eternal optimism.
If that truth isn’t taught, then we can sort of stay settled in this life. We put our tent stakes in the soil too deeply and think this earth is all there is. Whereas optimistic preaching about the future teaches us that this life here is just like an introduction to a book and eternity is the whole book and we’re always living with one eye on eternity.
I need that optimistic view of the eternal destiny of the believer—that God will make amends for everything on that great day and I will enter the joy of the Lord. So as a preacher I need to preach all three: realistically, idealistically and optimistically.
Content adapted from Reformed Preaching by Joel R. Beeke. The article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.