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Preaching Morality vs. Preaching Christ

I want you to do something strange. Something we usually don’t do in 21st century American Christianity. Are you ready for it? Here it goes, try to remember all the details of the last sermon you heard! I know, Sunday is over, it’s time for the real world. But give yourself a few moments to get back to your last sermon.

Do you remember how the pastor got started? If you’re the pastor, do you remember how you got started? (I’ve been there too if you’re struggling) Many times an introduction will include a personal story, a connection to the topic, a “hook” to get everyone to realize this sermon is worth listening to and it’s for me.

Most preachers will then enter into the body of their sermon. This can be an exposition of a passage of Scripture, or an exposition of a certain biblical topic. Most sermons in the “body” section will usually have a few main points. Can you remember all of them? Can you remember at least one of the points? The last sermon I heard was focused on finances, certainly a topic discussed frequently by Jesus. Have you recalled the last sermon? It’s cheating if you say, “The sermon was on the book of Mark.” Come on, you gotta try harder.

I’m going somewhere with this, hang with me, your memory of the last sermon could make a drastic impact on your life and the life of your church for generations. I know, a big promise, let’s see if I deliver.

Now, how did the sermon end? In preaching lingo this is referred to as “bringing it home” and/or “landing the plane”. Many times this will be a time when people are most challenged to live out the main points of the sermon. The pastor may provide a creative way for you to remember and live out the sermon. In many churches, also, the glorious Gospel will be proclaimed. People will be told of their need for Jesus and be given an opportunity to put their trust in Jesus as their Savior. Do you remember how the last sermon ended?

Ok, here is how your memory of the last sermon could make a drastic impact on your life and the life of your church for generations. One more question, take a step back from the trees and look at the forest. Was the main focus of the sermon morality or the person of Jesus? Think it through, was the pastor focusing on: getting you out of debt; making you more generous, improving your marriage; reducing your anxiety; increasing your joy; getting you to be more involved? Or was the sermon about Jesus?

Here’s a getting-out-of-debt sermon outline Preaching Morality:

I’ve been in debt and it stinks. So many of us are in debt, listen to these statistics about debt. Here is what we have learned about the stress debt places on our lives. Do you want that stress? Let’s look what the Bible says about debt. God doesn’t like debt so we need to get out of it. Let me help you with some time-tested principles. Here are 3 main points about getting out of debt. Dave Ramsey has some great ways to help us get out of debt. Let’s pray for Jesus to help us get out of debt. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please trust Him today.

In contrast, here’s a getting-out-of-debt sermon outline Preaching Christ:

I’ve been in debt and it stinks. So many of us are in debt, listen to these statistics. We have a debt problem but trying to fix it will only treat our symptoms. We have a greater problem. Jesus is not the center of our lives. If we are in debt it is because “things” have become the center of our lives, not Jesus. If Jesus is our passion, “things” are no longer our passion. Now that we have lost the appetite for things, let’s get out of debt so we can be more free to live for Jesus. We desperately need Jesus as the center of our lives every day. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please trust Him today, He is the only hope we have. Now that things no longer control us, we want to clean up the mess we have made. Dave Ramsey can help us with that.

Do you see the difference? Both sermons are about finances but the first one is mainly focused on helping us be moral people, the second sermon is centered on Christ. The first sermon could be preached almost anywhere. 99% of the sermon would be acceptable at a mosque, synagogue and universalist church. Have the pastor leave out the conclusion and the new ager will consider you a friend.

The first sermon is focused on a concept, the second sermon is focused on a person.
The person of Jesus is offensive and a stumbling block to those outside the faith. The second sermon could cause riots.

Do I think churches who typically preach morality should close their doors? Absolutely not. If Jesus is preached, even if He is only preached for the last 60 seconds, I rejoice that He is preached. I do believe, however, people may one day start a movement away from your church. Let me explain.

One of the hallmarks of great reformations and/or revivals throughout church history is they started from an atmosphere of Preaching Morality.
Here’s how it works. People grow up hearing about morality. They want to be moral people. They sincerely try all of the 3, 4 and 5 point sermons about living a moral life. People, however, do not find ultimate success, satisfaction and peace in morality if it is done for the sake of morality. They are empty, even if they look on the outside like good moral citizens.

This was the atmosphere leading up to the Great Reformation of the 1500’s. This was the atmosphere leading up to the world-wide Great Awakening of the middle 1700’s. Here is what happens. Jesus will build His Church. People will meet the person of Jesus. When people meet the risen Lord, bowing their knee to Him, they will rise and live a life with His light burden. They will find rest for their souls.

Here is my warning to those who are Preaching Morality and also to those who are currently Preaching the centrality of Christ. If it is not obvious that the person of Jesus is the central focus of your church, people will one day reform against your church. This happened in the 1500’s, the mid-1700’s and it will happen to your church. When people meet Jesus and you have stopped focusing on Jesus, people will start churches and movements helping others meet Jesus…not morality.

It is rare for any movement of God to continue in its fervor for more than 3 generations. If the living person Jesus continues to remain the center you have a fighting chance that everything you’ve righteously worked hard to build may continue for many generations. The foundation is secure. This will require, however, constant reformation on your part. This is why the reformers of the 16th century believed in semper reformanda (always reforming). We continually need to make adjustments to keep Jesus the center of our sermons, church, and our very lives. Thankfully, we do not have a far away God, we have a near God with a living Savior.

Let us all, no matter where we are right now, preach Christ and not settle for just morality. If you are currently in a church characterized by preaching morality, please set up a meeting with the pastor and privately with a heart of respect and love discuss these concepts with him and see what the Lord may do in the life of your church for the sake of many generations.

If you are a pastor who has been preaching morality let me first say that I trust you are doing a lot of things well and please don’t take my post as a condemnation over your whole life. But like any of us when the Lord convicts us of a certain reality in our life that needs to change, please don’t resist the Lord’s work. You’ll never regret preaching Jesus as the center of your ministry. I’ll leave you with a quote from Charles Spurgeon, the man known through church history as the Prince of Preachers:

No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching. – C.H. Spurgeon

13 Responses to “Preaching Morality vs. Preaching Christ”

  1. Tim, thanks for this.

    A good reminder where we should be focused and way too often are not.

    What I liked so much about our former pastor. was not about how he preached what personally personally applied to us but always about Jesus Christ being first in our lives., no matter what our situation. Unfortunately so many in our church didn’t agree, and forgot to support him. I think so many of us have lost sight of our first love, in all the political rhetoric, and the all about us syndrome so prevalent in Christianity nowadays.

  2. Excellent post!

  3. Thank you for an excellent article showing the difference between preaching Christ and having our sermons rooted in the glories of the gospel vs. preaching moral concepts that are disconnected to the foundation of our faith.

  4. What if people are in debt because they are foolish not because they centered their lives on “things?” I ask this in light of my believing and preaching Jesus Christ as the center in all things.

  5. My son just pointed me to a great video that makes this point well. Matt Chandler: Irreverent, Silly Myths

  6. Mark – Yes, this is definitely a possibility. My focus was mainly on preaching but there are times when we make dumb decisions with our eyes on Jesus. Hopefully, however, we grow in wisdom, knowledge and Christ-likeness throughout life if we live a Jesus-centered life.

    Mike O – I love that Chandler video. Definitely a lot of similarities with my preaching examples and Chandler’s emphasis. Thanks for sharing the video.

  7. None of us are up to it (the Christian life).

    The gospel has nothing to do with our finances.

    It is forgiveness for all our sins, which happens to include poor stewardship of our time and our resources.

  8. Steve,

    Yes, I agree with you none of us have arrived and none of us can live the Christian life in our own strength. We all need a living Savior.

    Regarding your statement about the gospel having nothing to do with our finances…here is why I think it does. Yes, I would agree with you the gospel has nothing to do with our finances if we are solely talking about aspects of the gospel leading to our salvific justification before God. I believe, however, the gospel (or more specifically Jesus) is also very interested in our sanctification. As the continual reality of the gospel impacts our life as we live day in and day out hopefully abiding in Christ…our finances should more and more evidence our nearness to God.

    What do you think?

  9. Tim,

    I don’t think so.

    Jesus, in fact, told his disciples to sell everything that they had a give it to the poor.

    That doesn’t seem like a good plan to develop a portfolio or financial well-being.

    Jesus is interested in our stewardship. But none of us can really cut the mustard there.

    But He does forgive us and He does sanctify us, in spite of our lackluster performance in the arena of finance or any other area.

    My 2 cents, Tim.

  10. Is there a difference to preaching morality, and preaching the law (as preaching law and gospel together with eachother like Luther.) – when you are speaking about revival ? Should you preach morality or law ? Or is there a difference.

    Else it was a wonderful peace. Thanks.

  11. The law brings death…and the gospel brings life.

    We preach both because the old sinner needs to die (to any pretense of righteousness of their own doing). And then the gospel raise that dead person to new life.

    Methinks.

  12. Halvard,

    i think there is a difference in morality and the law in the respect that many people think simply obeying the law, which is following authority of any kind, civil or spiritual, is tantamount to being saved. I believe that’s why Jesus condemned, as Tim pointed out, the difference between simply following rules to live by and the having person of a Savior and Lord through which we operate first.

    So I think it is a difference between simply following the rules externally speaking, and one of developing true inner character. By having Christ first in our lives and being transformed into His image, I believe that should be our guide, either personally or through corporate teaching.

    That way the two work together in harmony.

  13. Sometimes the first example in the sermon can reach someone better than the second example, especially if they are new to the church or visiting. I thinks what’s important is to preach it the way God lays it on your heart.

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