A quick glance at church websites in my area that preach topical sermon series yields a breadth of fascinating topics:
- life lessons from Jonah
- character study of Obadiah
- lessons on love from Ruth
- the power we get through conversion
- studies on family
- God’s teaching on sex
- lessons on confidence from 2 Corinthians
- and so on…
As interesting as these topics are, the Gospel is nowhere to be found in any of them.
It sounds harsh to suggest that among Evangelical churches, supposedly known for their voracious adherence to the ‘good news,’ but there is nothing here but Law. Whoa, wait, hold it! Law…Gospel…what in the world am I talking about? In a nutshell, I mean simply this:
All Scripture is either Law or Gospel. That is, either a it is God’s Law speaking to us, telling us what to do and what not to do, or it is God’s Gospel telling us what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
The Law may be characterized as ALWAYS telling its listeners what TO DO and what NOT TO DO. The Gospel may be characterized as always telling its listeners WHAT GOD HAS DONE for them in Christ Jesus. (from Lutheran Wiktionary)
Does my accusation make sense now? These sermons, as well-intended as they all are, consist of little more than lists of do’s and don’ts. Implicit in this sort of American Evangelical preaching is the notion that if we can only live up to God’s expectations for us, he will bless us. If we don’t, he will curse us. This is not biblical Christianity, it is moralism.
More importantly, it is not the Gospel.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for the Law in the life of every believer. It is essential for us to hear the Law and to remind us of God’s moral, ethical, and behavioral expectations. Arrogant, self-confident believers especially need to hear the Law and be reminded of our absolute dependence upon Christ. But–and this is a big but, I cannot lie–if this is the only preaching believers hear, they are missing out of the essence of the Gospel, Christ’s work for us. Unfortunately, based on the lists of sermon series at the church websites I visited, these folks are getting all Law and no Gospel.
Here’s the real problem. Those whose lives are filled with pain, marked by uncertainty, overwhelmed by guilt, or crushed by their own sinfulness need desperately to hear the Gospel. They need to be reminded of about Immanuel–that God is with us. They need to hear the ‘good news’ that God in Christ has done absolutely everything to secure our salvation. They need to know that God is for us. The last thing they need to hear is demand after demand after demand. The need to experience and rest in the unconditional love of God in Christ Jesus.
Fellow pastors, you must preach the Law…but you must also continually nourish God’s flock entrusted to your care with the Gospel.