Recently I’ve been meditating on the books of Romans and Isaiah and, thinking about the importance of preaching sin properly, I have drawn up a list of points to help me which, I thought, it might be worthwhile sharing (even though this list might later need revision or refining).
1st we need to be clear on definitions.
It can be confusing and unhelpful to call sin rebellion. This is certainly truth but is not the best way of approaching the problem. The old definition of lawbreaking or transgression clarifies the matter for hearers. This is in fact one definition the bible gives and nails ‘Sabbath-breaking’ as ‘want of conformity to or transgression of the Law of God’.
2nd we need to avoid redressing sin in more acceptable unbiblcal jargon.
Some are tempted to go down the more culturally acceptable path of dropping terms like sin, iniquity, transgression, error for failure, mistake, fault and so forth. There is certainly a place for illustrating ‘sin-pictures’ with modern language where appropriate. Surely, however, our task is to unpack these good biblical words, so that our hearers appreciate and comprehend how God thinks about sin, even if it might offend 3rd MIllennium sensibilities.
3rd we need to employ the full range of biblical language in explaining what sin means.
We might want to do this in a ‘skilful’ series of children’s addresses [for the more stout-hearted pastors – children need to know about what the bible says on sin if we want them to repent]; or address these various terms in a number of different sermons [this is good to do regularly]; it is hardly the best policy to bang-on about sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, sin – the likely effect will be to produce boredom, annoyance, deafness, hardness and not the desired repentance [they may even come to water down the seriousness, wickedness and perversity of sin]. A far better policy then is to explain these great word pictures of transgression, iniquity, sin, wickedness etc..
4th we need to shut down all roads of escape by carefully meeting objections of those who would seek to wriggle out from under the full weight of the truth.
5th we need to pray that God would use the teaching and exposition of sin to convict sin in hearers, both unbelievers and believers, to bring them to life-long, ongoing, repentance by the gift of free grace.
Since Christ promised Another Comforter to do exactly that, though there are many things preachers might do that are not accompanied by power, we can expect divine unction to accompany such preaching and produce true, deep, lasting godly sorrow and contrition in the congregation.
6th we need to preach sin in all its seriousness, ugliness, pervasiveness and wickedness.
We must be prepared to lay bare the whole counsel of God about sin, in a biblically-balanced fashion: the realities of sin original as well as actual; the radical depravity of the whole personaliy; how sin is michievously and deceitfully at work within the human heart; thereby showing though every sin is deadly, that all sins are not equal – some sins, as the catechisms teach, are, by their nature or aggravations, more heinous than others. There is more we can say, of course, regarding the causes of sin, the temptations to sin, the aggravations of sin, and the consequences of sin both for the pagan and the Christian. We need to talk about hardening of the heart to sin and the danger of superficial solutions. We need to talk about the tragic, defiling, spoiling, contaminating, polluting, alienating, searing effects of sin upon the defaced Image of God in body, life and conscience.
7th we need to point people to the perfection of righteousness in the character of the thrice holy God whose eyes are too pure to look on sin indulgently.
To all three Triune Persons sin is odious and vile. The LORD hates all sin naturally, intensely, universally and eternally. We must not be afraid to show the final outcome of the impenitent in eternal separation from God, and to stress no-one more than the Saviour spoke of the fires of the damned.
8th we must preach sin with a godly intentionality.
The aim is to break the heart, crush the Spirit, rouse the conscience, produce godly sorrow, stop the mouth, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The prayer is this will be done so that with true conviction of the just condemnation of God, the sinner is driven from self, sees all other alternatives hopeless, and in fear of a righteous judge, runs to take refuge in the Saviour God has provided. Brokenness and contrition is the thing the Lord seeks most – he indwells, as in a Temple, by the Holy Spirit’s presences, within the heart of the broken-hearted sinner.
9th we must preach Christ as the most excellent, noble, spotless, bearer of guilt and its sentence.
The preaching of sin is really the necessary preparatory to driving sinners to Christ to escape the condemnation of Law. There is a vast array of passages and texts in both testaments of the bible, in both Law and Gospel, in Synoptics and the 4th Gospel, in Romans, Hebrews, Peter and Revelation, which set out the active and passive obedience of Christ, and paint in bold colours what it meant for Jesus to be crucified for His Church: the Prototypical Gospel in Genesis 3.15, the Passover of Egyptian Exodus, Sin’s Burial in Micah, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, and the Levitical Day of Atonement and passage on the Scapegoat to name but a few. The accounts of the Passion are rich feeding grounds as we explain the significance of blood-sweat in Gethsemane, Christ’s arrest, trial and sentencing, the mocking, scourging and beating, as we make our way to Calvary. We will want to talk about the significance of the nail-pierced hands, dessicating thirst, Pilate’s charge above the Cross, the head once crowned with thorns, the legs remaining unbroken, the cry of dereliction, the other dying words, the giving up of the Spirit, the dying thief redeemed, which all point to sin’s solution.
10th we need to preach common sins and contemporary sins.
There is not a great deal of point in preaching about ‘playing dice’ when few do that today [unless you pastor a church in Las Vegas]. We cannot dodge the issues of the day, such as widespread Sabbath breaking, materialism and greed, viewing erotic material, saying OMG, and dealing comprehensively, fairly and truththfully with issues raised by, and responses to, the LGBT community.
11th we need to preach sin with balance and proportion.
We need to be gracious, loving, wise and discreet, but we also must be fearless and firm. Such preaching has never been popular and we will no doubt have our critics. If we are to preach sin clearly our manner should be courteous, our language should be temperate and we must not snuff out smoking flax. It is vital we address the great sin of unbelief and the abhorrence of the fact we do not love God more than all. We have a duty to remind our culture there is one unpardonable sin – not to seek the Saviour in true brokenness of heart.
12th we need to preach sin personally and pointedly addressing the conscience.
There are many Calvinistic congregations who will applaude a preacher, or even demand that a pastor, unfolds the doctrine of Total or Radical Depravity. Yet these same congregations do not always so readily receive the words of the preacher or teacher who pinpoints their current contemporary problem in their lack of holy living. The faithful Gospel minister will be prayerful and careful to deal with ‘respecatable sins’ instead of always hitting ‘home runs’.
13th we need to preach new birth of believers as the ultimate divine answer to the sin problem.
Renewal of the whole man, after the image of God, in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness is the chief thing that is required. The mind must be reborn, the heart must be renewed, and the will must be regenerated, so that every faculty is freed from the sentence, power, dominion, penalty of sin. This whole man new birth can only take place by the gracious internal operation of the sovereign Holy Spirit by which through faith the believer is united to Christ.
14th we need to explain the psalms we sing often which will help ingrain the theology of sin and its solution into our minds.
There are many psalms which address the sin affliction – Psalm 1 at the start of the Psalter reminds us of two ways; Psalm 2 which follows at once warns the nations against rebellion and the duty of submission; Psalm 14 gets down to brass tacks with its Calvinistic flavour; Psalm 51 brings the sinner to the heart of the matter and the necessary solution of brokenness and contrition; Psalm 32 and 40 bring us to the joy of salvation and the blessings of justification; and there are many other Psalms which speak of the consequences of sin which will rebound on the rebel.
15th we need to explain the truth about sin and its solution reverently, earnestly, honestly and humbly as broken-hearted, chiefs-0f-sinners, with tender compassion towards broken-hearted fellows, eager to see their hearts relieved and their burdens rolled away.
There are, no doubt, futher qualifications and reflections to add, but let me humbly and honestly close this blog with the following questions brothers…
16th, and finally, dearest brothers, ask yourself honestly, in light of the Gospel, by the mercies of God, are you preaching sin properly?
Will you repent if through sloth, ignorance, or fear you have been guilty of ‘sin-lite’ sermons? Or if you have been hammering away in monotone and wondering why the flock is hardening to your jackhammer? Will you seek the necessary wisdom, courage, strength and grace to bring glory to God, by the power of the Spirit, to lead sinners to the Good Shepherd and Saviour of the sheep? Will you ask for the mind of Christ to preach salvation from sin as He would have us preach it? Will you use this as a means of revival in your own heart and congregation? May the Lord bless, pity and shine on us with His face that the earth and nations all might embrace His saving ways of grace.