It seems like a lot of people want to hear practical and applicable teaching. This is understandable. If the alternative is impractical and irrelevant messages then by all means sign me up for the former option. The problem is that application in preaching can so easily direct our gaze in the wrong direction.
Truly transformational preaching will always point us toward God for the transformation. It is as we encounter God’s self-revelation that we will feel genuine conviction. It is as we look to Christ that we will find genuine transformation. Of course we are either responsive or unresponsive to the work of the Spirit in all of this, but if we are not careful we can easily leave God out and look to ourselves for change.
One phrase that I’ve heard Andy Stanley use a few times is potentially very powerful in this regard. More than once I’ve heard him say that such and such a sin won’t be visible in the mirror.
Our fallen tendency will be to look at ourselves, self-evaluate with a liberal dose of self-justification and rationalization, and thereby skirt around any sense of conviction. The whole process of conviction-repentance-transformation is thereby cut off before it even begins.
I have seen this in my own life and I am sure you have in yours too. I have seen this in otherwise very mature believers. Somehow we seem to be wired not to see certain issues in the mirror. This means that we cannot simply rely on God for the transformational help at the end of the process. Instead we have to look to God for the conviction to begin with.
Before we even preach to others lets be sure to ask God to help us see our own blindspots – those issues that we have been rationalizing and covering for too long. As those who are genuinely learning, let us then preach to others, reminding them that their own self-evaluation will be flawed and blind, since certain sins “will never show up in the mirror.”