Recently I’ve noticed a trend among some Christians who don’t regularly attend church, as well as those who do attend regularly, but suggest that they don’t need to hear a sermon weekly because they’ve “moved” past that stage of their Christian life.
I understand very well why some people feel they don’t need to hear a sermon or attend church. Some people have been burned and hurt by the Church. Every Christian needs to listen to a good sermon, which is focused on the biblical text under consideration, and points them to Jesus. To understand the importance of preaching in the Christian life, we’ll consider the following points in this article:
- Jesus’ use of the scriptures in preaching
- Standing fast for Sola Scriptura
- The authority of the Bible
- Humility and its relation to the Bible
- The importance of preaching in the Christian life
Jesus engaged in what is known today as expository preaching, which is preaching the point of the text as the point of the sermon. We should observe how frequently Jesus’ teaching involves the exposition of Scripture.
When Jesus began His ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth, He started with a reading from the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:16-21:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
His great “Bread of Life” sermon in John 6 involved the explanation of the Bible’s teaching on manna that came through Moses. Even though Jesus could impress His hearers by performing miracles, He still rested the authority of His teaching on the truth of the Scriptures. It is important that we preach with authority today, and this can come only by presenting the truth of God’s Word.
It is because of the authority of the Bible as God’s revealed Word that the Puritan Thomas Watson could say, “In every sermon preached, God calls to you, and to refuse the message we bring, is to refuse God Himself.”
Standing Fast for Sola Scriptura
One of the great moments in Church history was Martin Luther’s refusal to recant his teaching when confronted at the Diet of Worms in 1521. In the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor, and with the threat of death lingering in the air, his accuser pointed to a pile of books that Luther had written. The Cardinal demanded that he recant his teachings because they conflicted with the Roman Catholic doctrine and criticized the Pope. Luther responded, “Unless I am refuted and convicted by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason—since I believe neither the Pope nor the councils by themselves, for it is clear that they have often erred and contradicted themselves I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”
Luther did not teach or take his stand on his credentials, but on God’s plain teaching in the Bible. This established the great Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura—that Scripture alone has authority over the faith and lives of God’s people. This should be the conviction that guides all our teaching in the Church. John 7:16 states, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”
We should say the same. Preaching on this text (John 7:16), Luther noted, “This is a necessary principle. In the ministry, where the divine Word is concerned, Christ’s words, used here, must be followed, so that no one preachers any doctrine unless it is supported and buttressed by the certainty that his doctrine is not his own. Every preachers and teachers authority comes from one place the Word of God.”
The Authority of the Bible
People sometimes complain that almost anything can be taught from the Bible. This is not entirely true. Not everything that is claimed to have come from the Bible is, in fact, from the Word of God. So how can we be sure of the truth? With all of this mind, Jesus made a great promise in John 7:17, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
According to Jesus, the key to recognizing God’s truth is not found in a book or taught in a seminary. It is found in our hearts, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. He says that those who seek to do the will of God will know God’s truth when the Word is preached.
Notice that all through the Gospels there are two kinds of people. There are those who sit quietly at Jesus’ feet to learn. And then there are those like the religious leaders who stood before Him arguing. This is important to help us understand difficult subjects from the Bible.
Whether the subject is God’s sovereignty, the Trinity, the biblical roles of men and women, or practically any other disputed matter, the most important issue is whether or not we are willing to submit ourselves to God’s Word. Are we sitting quietly at Christ’s feet, or are we arguing over the Bible? This is the question. Over and over again, this is what determines whether we can discern and receive what God has taught. Proverbs 3:5 encourages, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Augustine was one of the most brilliant minds ever recorded. He established a rule for himself that whenever he found that he disagreed with the Bible, he concluded that he was the one who was wrong, and therefore submitted to the teaching of God’s Word. This is what it means to do God’s will—that we are willing to believe and obey what the Bible teaches, even when (indeed especially when) it requires we revise in our thinking and actions.
Humility and Scripture
Our first question must always be to determine what Scripture says and then we must humble ourselves to receive and believe because it is God’s Word. Only then may we enter safely into questions of understanding, or apparent contradictions, and God will lead us into the deeper truths of His Word. This is an incredible promise especially for new believers and even seasoned believers.
We all have much to learn. Studying the Bible’s challenging teachings will stretch our thinking and build our faith. We must determine when we struggle with the tough teaching of Scripture that we will embrace the truth of God’s Word and believe it. John 7:17 states, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
F.F. Bruce comments, “If there be a readiness to do the will of God, the capacity for discerning God’s message will follow.” Once we realize that we are not schoolmasters but pupils, we have placed ourselves in the right place to be taught by God through His Word.
This explains why Jesus’ hearers did not receive Him in faith. It wasn’t because of defects perceived in Him or His teaching. They simply were not willing to be taught by God’s Word. Joel Nederhood rightly applies this problem to all unbelievers, when he explained, “Those who trust in Christ and are trying to do his will should realize that people around them who reject Christ are doing so because they have not chosen to do God’s Will. Those who choose their own will or the will of others who oppose Christ will simply not be able to recognize the truth that Christ has come to bring.”
Is this the cause of your unbelief or your lack of growth in faith and godliness? Then realize that the Bible is God’s holy Word or it possesses no authority at all. Examine the many proofs of the Bible’s divine authorship and read it with a prayer that God will show you the truth of His Word. And when you have come to this conviction, determined to do the will of God. As you understand the Bible’s teaching, decide to believe it and put it into practice.
Jesus’ hearers resented His rebukes; they were not willing to be corrected by His Word. This is why they rejected Him, the One who is the true Tabernacle. The same can happen to us if we drift away from the way He wants us to live; we will find that His voice grows ever fainter. Other voices intrude. But as we who have Christ’s Spirit live in obedience to Him, we find our lives enriched immeasurably as Christ’s teaching takes deeper root in our hearts.
Preaching is vital to the health and growth of Church and to the Christian life. Jesus used Scriptures to teach us how we are to live our lives. Jesus exercised His teaching ministry to confront the religious who thought they had it all figured out, when, in fact, they didn’t. He also preached to the crowds and called people to Himself. Jesus divided the audience between those who believed and those who would walk away from His harder teaching.
The preaching of the Word of God can either soften or harden our hearts. One of the clearest signs of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the believer is a hunger and thirst for God’s Word. Yes, you should be reading your Bible daily, but you should also be seeking to apply that Word you are reading into your life.
The same principle applies when hearing the sermon. It’s not enough to just hear the sermon. Hearing the sermon is a good first step. Now heed it and apply the preached Word to your life. Then your heart will be soft before the Lord, and you will walk uprightly before Him.
The faithful preaching of God’s Word helps us to grow to be like Christ. It helps us to grow in the knowledge of who God is, what He is like; who Christ is, what He’s like; what He demands of us now, and His mission of seeking the lost, and making disciples for His glory. This is why the argument that we “don’t need the sermon anymore because we’ve outgrown it” is the wrong one to make.
We need to sit under the faithful preaching of God’s Word; preaching that considers the point of the passage as the point of the sermon. We need to sit under such preaching, that not only takes seriously what the Bible says, but applies the Bible and makes a beeline to the finished work of Jesus. Such preaching will either harden our hearts (and confirm our unbelief) or soften our hearts, bringing along with it the conviction of sin, repentance, and growth in godliness. All of this is why preaching is important to the Christian life.