Almost everyone agrees that preaching should be transformational. But we need to define what it is that we are seeking to see transformed?
1. Conduct – This is the most obvious area of transformation. We all love to see a life transformed from worldly conduct to “christian” conduct. But we also need to be wary. Consider Frank. Frank was a drinking champion. He could drink more than anyone else and still be standing – that is how he got respect in the pub. Then Frank saw a beautiful young lady going into the church next door. He started attending. He quickly realised he got no respect for his drinking abilities, but would get respect for church attendance. Everyone in the church celebrated the transformation of Frank – “look at what the gospel can do!” Really? Self-concerned glory hunting gave way to self-concerned glory hunting in a new context (worldly Frank in the pub became worldly Frank in the church). Not exactly gospel transformation. That’s the problem with conduct. It can be faked. It can also be manipulated from the outside. Peer pressure and cultural conformity can bring about impressive results. But God’s involvement is not required. A Christ-gripped life will manifest transformed conduct, but it also goes much deeper.
2. Character – Again, let’s both affirm this and be wary of it. Character tends to be measured as the sum of the parts of conduct. Consistency in multiple areas of conduct looks like character. But if one area of conduct can be faked (for Sunday morning), then multiple areas can also be faked for each time someone is watching. The Gospel will change a character both profoundly and gradually, but if we aim to change character in people, we are still liable to apply pressure and treat them as self-moved autonomous beings (wasn’t that part of the lie in Genesis 3?)
3. Belief – Unless people are transformed in what they believe, any change in character and conduct will remain superficial. Belief is more than knowledge. I can inform people with knowledge, but how do I influence what they actually believe and trust in from the heart? That seems to go beyond what I can achieve.
All of these things are good and all will be transformed by biblical preaching in one way or another. Ultimately though, if we are talking transformation, we have to go to the next level:
4. Affections – Call it heart, call it values, call it appetites, whatever. The gospel transforms a life from the inside-out, from the heart outwards. It takes the Spirit to plant an appetite (a relish) for Christ in the affections of someone. This is where I feel relieved of the pressure to bring about transformation, but also the incredible privilege of my position as preacher. I don’t twist arms to conform to behavioural standards for the sake of church conformity. I do present Christ and the Gospel in all its wonder and majesty and sweetness, and I do so absolutely dependent on God to bring about transformation.
Biblical preaching transforms lives, but it occurs from the inside-out. Anything more superficial will tempt me into acting like a mini-god pressuring mini-gods into self-moved determination and that just smacks of a fallen world perspective on the whole thing. God’s Word invites us to trust Him, we should do the same.
2 thoughts on “What Does Transformational Preaching Transform?”
Peter, in the light of this post how do you suggest we should approach the preaching of passages where a change of behaviour, attitude or belief is exhorted or commanded?
Thanks Mark, vital question. I would say we should preach the text we are preaching, in its context, and in ours. That is, Philippians 2:5-11 exhorts the reader to have the same attitude as Christ. It follows on the back of an instruction in verses 3-4. If we simply preach this section of instruction and exhortation, then we may give the impression that listeners need to pull up their bootstraps and make more of an effort. But is that how the gospel transforms us? I don’t think so. So thinking in light of the context (which must include the big idea of the book in 1:27-30 and the set-up in 2:1-2), and thinking in light of our context (people tempted to trust in ourselves rather than experience the fullness of fellowship with God), we should present the richness of the Philippians context and thereby give the exhortation in its setting. It should stir and challenge listeners, but not by pushing their gaze onto themselves, but rather, on to Christ.
Another example would be the exhortations of Ephesians 4:25-32. On its own it looks like a set of six instructions. But with chapters 1-3 in view as background, and 4:17-24 as context, the call is to live out what God has already done within. 5:1 reinforces this notion of being beloved and the impact of that. So lets be sure to preach for changes of behaviour, attitude and belief, but never by divorcing these things from the root of all true change, which is the heart.