There are a lot of bad sermons. And since I’m a professional sermon-giver, I tend to think of myself as a connoisseur of good preaching. And in my listening to sermons, there are plenty of preachers who just come up with garbage. There are dull and boring preachers that at least still preach the truth. And even worse, there are engaging and creative preachers that boldly preach things that are not biblical and hardly helpful.
Harmful preaching can be hard to detect behind a veil of clever phrases and enthusiastic shouting. And it’s not because the listeners are unintelligent, but simply because harmful preaching often disguising itself in spiritual language.
The worst kind of 3 point sermon was, “Here’s what you should do. You are not doing it. Try harder.”
1. Here's what you should do.
This is great. The scriptures clearly proclaim to us the will of God and how we should live our lives. They speak to what we should do as Christians and they speak to what all people do as they go about their lives. To say that we shouldn’t ever talk about what we should do is equally dangerous as the problem that only talks about what we should do.
2. You are not doing it.
Again, the sermon has not yet taken people down a road to hell paved with an excellent spiritual life and a lack of cursing, drinking, or gambling . This point is spot on. If you tell people what they should be doing, quickly following that will be a reminder that they are not doing it.
And a lot of preachers can’t even get this point right.
If you preach, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” The only response must be, we don’t do it. But often preachers will preach what we should be doing and fail to ever point out our failure to do so.
Good preaching does not ignore the reality that God’s word is often a mirror that we can hold up to our own lives and see every blemish and crack. The Bible is clear about what you should be doing. And it is clear that you are not doing it.
3. Try harder.
The worst kind of sermons make the first two points and move on to this third one. If you preach well and make clear what the scriptures call all people to do, people will fully realize that they are not doing it. And if you when that happens, they will be broken by their sin.
And that’s not bad. That’s just God doing what he wants to do in order that the Gospel might do its work. The problem is that when we the third point is about trying harder instead of Christ, we leave people broken and drowning in their sin only to throw them an instruction manual on building a better boat.
The response to the broken and condemned person is not “try harder” but “It is finished.” Too many of our sermons ignore the message that forgiveness was won on the cross of Jesus and disguise it by claiming it to be about a Christian’s “spiritual life.”
The problem is without preaching “It is finished” no motivation or inspiration is going to change the person hearing the message. Try harder doesn’t ever produce what it demands. Only the Gospel produces the change that the law demands. Only the Gospel changes the me-centered hearts that are continually prone to wander and rebel against everything that God has said.