When you listen to a sermon at church, what do you hear? In his book Transforming Conversion, Gordon T. Smith has some very important words for all Christians to keep at the forefront of their minds:
Preaching is not about urging hearers to work harder, try harder, and do more so that they are more faithful. They cannot do so; the depth of the human predicament makes this impossible and thus futile and (rightly) results in much cynicism about the Christian life—better put, it is cynicism about a false conception of the Christian life. Rather, preaching is about drawing the people of God into the grand accomplishment of Christ in the cross and the resurrection so that they can participate in this life, rest in the wonder of the gospel, and know the transformation that comes through the ministry of the Spirit. Yet in this [the people of God] are not passive! Rather, they need to be involved in active response comparable to one who attends to the subtle yet sure movements of a lead dancer (93).
If you do not leave a sermon in awe of Christ’s grand accomplishment in the gospel and assured of the grace of God at work in you through the Spirit, but rather leave wondering how in the world you will do what the preacher just told you to do, then you did not hear a Christian sermon. You may have heard positive thinking, good advice, or straight-up law; but you did not hear gospel preaching. And lest anyone think that this produces an anti-obedience or anti-effort Christianity, remember Smith’s final words: true Christian sermons aim at active, faith-fueled response, just like a good lead dancer’s initiative.
Let’s respond by praying for our pastors to proclaim Christ, not just talk about Christ. And let us also pray that we respond to Christ’s gospel and the Spirit’s work in us with grace-driven and faith-fueled effort to the glory of God.