Beyond Guilt

A friend asked me how we can preach to encourage listeners apart from making them feel guilty.  He and I would both recognize the need for genuine conviction of sin, a work of the Spirit and a feature of some texts (and therefore some messages).  But I understand the need for the question – too much preaching relies too much on guilt as the primary, or even the only, change mechanism.

Guilt is a poor motivator.  The Spirit of God certainly does bring conviction to people, to me.  An absence of conviction of sin in a life is an indication of a real problem.  But there is much more to the Spirit’s work than just conviction of sin.  There is much more to life transformation than guilt.

As I read the Bible I find myself convicted, yes, but also stirred, inspired, encouraged, enlightened, intrigued, reassured, enlivened, thrilled, calmed, galvanized, spurred, moved, attracted, delighted, renewed, transformed, changed.

God uses the Bible to change lives, and He changes lives by more than just guilt.  So how, as a preacher of God’s Word, can I beneficially engage the lives of listeners with more than just a guilt session?

This week I’d like to offer several elements of an answer to this question.

1. The Preacher’s Stance.  Where do we stand?  Guilt-only approaches tend to take a domineering and confrontational stance.  This comes through sometimes before a word is even spoken.  It shows in demeanour, in expression, in attitude.  It may be justified in terms of the authority of God’s Word, etc., but it is worth rethinking.

I would suggest a stance that is empathetic rather than confrontational, although there is a place for the latter.  I am not suggesting the preacher stands amongst the listeners as a sympathetic fellow-struggler with nothing more than shared struggle.  We do stand with God’s Word and so do have something very profound to offer.  But we also stand as recipients of that Word.

Sometimes our talk of authority can lead us to authoritarian approaches.  Yes, God’s Word has authority and as I preach God’s Word there is a “thus saith the Lord” aspect.  But it is right here that some betray their narrow view of God and come right back to a guilt-only approach.  That is, they see God as being purely authoritarian and a guilt-approach-only Deity.

Thus saith the Lord.  We represent Him.  How did God reveal His own character, personality, values, etc.?  On Sinai, through the prophets, in Christ?  God didn’t just come as a pounding fist.

We should consider the stance we take as one standing and speaking God’s Word, while at the same time being one standing as a recipient of God’s Word.  If our stance is simply a “lording it over” stance then we betray a worldly passion for power that reflects a twisted view of God Himself.

Tomorrow I’ll add another element to consider in pursuing how to preach with more than just guilt.

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