Sins and Sermons

If you attend church every week, or most weeks, you hear a lot of sermons; and you may have noticed that most of them deal with sin. In fact, Lutherans believe that all sermons should contain both law and gospel — the law to convict us of our sin and the gospel to remind us that we are forgiven.

My question today, though, is how do you react to those sermons about sin? My husband says we are prone to this kind of thinking: it’s not about you, it’s not about me — those sins belong to the guy behind the tree. In other words, we like to hear the law when it applies to somebody else, but we’re loathe to listen when it touches our own lives. A book I’ve been reading, None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, presents the same idea:

“As the preacher warms to his topic about sin X, I begin compiling a mental list of all the people I know who need to hear this message and repent. I cull through lists of those who have offended me …. plotting about how I can off-handedly relate the wisdom of this sermon to them…”

What we should be thinking is: “how does this message apply to me?” Even when we see that we are guilty, we become defensive, believing that extenuating circumstances release us from full culpability. Worse yet, we may become angry — how dare the Pastor criticize us and our behavior that way! We’re sitting here in church, so we’re one of the good ones, right? When it comes to our own sin, we are blind, and not only that, we want to stay that way!

Next time you listen to a sermon about sin (which will probably be this week), realize that God (not the pastor) is speaking to you! He knows you inside and out. He knows what’s in your mind and your heart. He knows your sin, even when you want to deny it. Sanctification is growing in our dependence on God, and the first thing we need is forgiveness. Accept it, as God’s grace and grow closer to Him in gratitude.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

For more posts about sin see:

Sin and Grace

Occasions of Sin

Why to Avoid Sin

Letters to My Students Vol. 1: On Preaching by Jason K. Allen–Book Review

In this book, Dr Jason Allen, president and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Missouri and an associate professor of preaching and pastoral ministry, writes in the tradition of Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. He has a passion to serve God through equipping pastors to fulfill their calling. This is the first volume in a series of three.

He begins with a section on preparing to be a preacher, including the essential indicators that a man has been called to this ministry. He follows with sensible instructions on how to prepare a sermon, and grow in maturity as a preacher. He has a strong bias in favor of expository sermons. If you’re not sure what an expository sermon is, here are some questions to help you identify one:

  • Is the text accurately interpreted with consideration given to both its immediate and broader biblical contexts?
  • Are the sermon’s main point and its subpoints derived from the text?
  • Does the sermon’s application come from the text, and is the text being brought to bear on the congregation?

As you can see, this method of preaching supports a high view of the Scriptures. To preach in an expository way is to preach the text.

Maybe you are asking yourself at this point, if I am not a pastor, why should I read this book? Well here’s my answer. It will make you a more discerning listener. Someday as the member of a congregation, you will need to call a new pastor. Part of that call process will probably involve listening to at least one sermon given by each person you are considering. Shouldn’t you, therefore, educate yourself on what to look for?

This book will also give you an idea of just how much prayer, study and work your pastor puts into every sermon he prepares. It’s an important and daunting task. Dr. Allen reminds preachers:

“…the sermon is to do more than entertain or simply fill the hour of worship. The sermon is to impart words of life—words of new life to the unbeliever and words of continual growth for the Christian. Remember as you preach, the stakes are so high because your audience, separated from Christ, is so low.”

I found this book easy to read and informative, and would recommend it to both pastors and lay people. The only issue I found as a Lutheran, was the chapter of the public invitation. Since Lutherans believe that we do not choose Christ, He chooses us, so Lutheran sermons do not include this.

VERDICT: 5 stars

If you are interested in purchasing this book, follow the link below:

https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/letters-to-my-students-P005811476

Remember the Gospel

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:1-2

My husband says every good Lutheran sermon must contain both law and gospel:  law so we recognize that we are sinners and the gospel message that through Christ’s atonement we are saved.

In our daily world, it’s easy to forget both of those things.  Sin has become a bad word.  We’re told it’s not healthy to feel guilt.  We simply “made a mistake” or “used poor judgement.”  It’s easy to make excuses for our behavior that lessen our responsibility.  It’s easy to deny our faults and blame somebody else.  That goes as far back as Adam, remember?  He told God, “the woman you gave me, caused me to sin.”

But we’re made for God and without Him we feel incomplete, so no matter how hard we try, guilt creeps in.  We doubt and despair.  We try to feel good about ourselves, but the devil continually whispers to us that we’ll never be acceptable.

There’s only one cure:  go to church, confess your sins really are sins and really are yours and then hear the gospel.  My husband says that’s simple, too:  Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for me.

Did you confess your sins today?  Did you hear the gospel?  If so, you may be a Lutheran.

Only Love Lasts

If you’re a Lutheran, you know we’re in the midst of Lent. That means an extra weekly church service.  In keeping with the penitential mood of the season, our Pastor (who is also my husband) selected the book of Ecclesiastes for the sermon series.  It’s a rather gloomy book; the “preacher” or “teacher” (reputed to be King Solomon), lists the many accomplishments of his life.  He’s rich, wise, famous, successful, and has enjoyed all the pleasures available to man.  Yet none of these things have truly satisfied him.  He calls them all, “vanity” (or in some translations “meaningless”), no more than “chasing after the wind.”

Last week’s sermon got me thinking about a talk I once heard by James Dobson. He said when his father died, he did not remember how much money he made, or what he had achieved professionally.  He didn’t think about the many “things” and comforts his father had provided for the family.  He remembered the times he and his dad spent together, doing simple activities like going fishing. Those times taught him that his father cared for him and wanted to be with him. They were the kind of memories he wanted to pass down to his own children.  Love is the best legacy to leave, the only one that really lasts.

In the thirteen chapter of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul attests to this when he says, “Love never ends: as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will pass away.” Even our spiritual accomplishments are “nothing” if we don’t do them out of love.

So, like Paul, “Make love your aim.”(1 Corinthians 14:1).

How do you plan to do that  this week?  Send us your ideas and comments.