Preach Grace Not Moralism

Tim Keller makes a critical point.  Too often as preachers we preach a gospel that moves people from rebel to legalist.  We so easily preach so that younger sons become older sons, but somehow miss the glory of the father’s prodigious grace in humiliating himself for the sake of both sons.

Let us be careful to distinguish rebellious sin and moralistic self-righteousness (still sin), from true grace.  We cannot overstate the danger of preaching that turns worldly rebels into pew-filling moralists, but fails to preach the unique distinctive of grace that only the Christian gospel has to offer.

5 thoughts on “Preach Grace Not Moralism

  1. Do you think that every sermon should have the elements of grace in it? Or should some sermons stand alone, based on the text but knowing that next week, or over the long haul, grace will become clear?

    So a sermon on Proverbs, say, that perhaps has the danger of moralism – should it be rooted in grace this week, with disadvantage of watering down what the text is saying by seeming to explain away its serious call to wisdom?; or should it just be taught as the text says , knowing that the rest of the series will make it clear that this is grace-based, with the risk of people who are there for one week missing the point?

    I guess this is a problem for us as preachers who tend to speak on a bit of a book or a bit of a letter, so that we can end up moralising what was supposed to come in the context of grace – e.g. almost end up preaching moralism at the end of Galatians – that would be tragic. Presumably the first readers would not have missed the point, being as the whole letter would have been read to them in a one-er.

  2. Peter,

    Great post. Seems to me that moralism is a great danger in our churches, and not because we are very moral. But rather because of our inherent bent to consider ourselves good and thus think our identity is based on our behavior, and not the other way around. As you say, self-righteousness is still sin … and was a key sin Jesus Himself confronted time and time again with the religious leaders.

    As Keller says, “Religion says: ‘I obey — therefore I am accepted.’ But the Gospel says: ‘I am accepted — therefore I obey.'”

    In case you hadn’t come across it: Keller’s message of Religion vs. the Gospel was put in chart form by Darrin Patrick of Journey Church in St. Louis —

    Hardly a week goes by without referring to it as a gracious reminder. We use it to remind Christians especially about the grace found in Jesus to know, love and enjoy Him above all else, motivated by love and grace. Everyone I’ve conversed with about this in the past year or so has considered it a monumental truth, freeing to the soul and enabling holiness. Thank God for Tim Keller’s influence in the church today, towards Gospel-centeredness.

    We work from our significance, not for it — that’s part of the outworking of the Gospel.

  3. Tim – you are right, most Bible books were written to be read in one shot. We divide up the books into “chunks” of thought. There is a danger that w preach a complete idea, but half a theological truth. I would say every message does not need to go all the way to Jesus and Calvary and give the whole gospel message, but every message should be sensitive to the overarching reality of grace in the Christian faith. I suppose an extreme example would be to preach from the middle of Job, faithfully representing the idea in each chunk, but not representing the overarching message which is usually quite different! Messages do balance each other over time, but I don’t want to risk a grace-free presentation and rely on every listener to return for the grace another week. We must always remain sensitive to the greater impact of what we say – accurate in handling the text, and wise in representing the whole Bible’s message.

  4. Nice post!

    So true. Well meaning preachersblend the law and the gospel so that one leaves the sanctuary not feeling the joy of the freedom which Christ has won for them by forgiving their sins, but rather the burden of something left undone (the law).

    The law ought be use in a sermon, but not as a tool to make one better but as a hammer to break the hearer into little pieces so small that only the Lord Jesus can put them back together with the sweet , pure sound of the gospel, handed over freely with no strings attached.

    It seems to be getting more rare to find preachers that know the proper uses of the Law and the Gospel.

    Thanks for bringing this vital topic to the fore.

    – Steve Martin San Clemente, CA

  5. The doctrines of Grace are as far from the old sinful flesh as one can go. The flesh loves to glory in its self, but really has nothing to glory in, as Paul said…”we have whereof to glory, but not before God” the flesh must then be cruified DAILY so that his Spirit is not grieved with in us. Remember, “grieve not the holy spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed untill the day of redemption”….”quench not the Spirit”….if we can only heed these two commandments in scripture, God will be glorified within our mortal bodies.

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