A few years ago, I listened to a well-known pastor preach about leadership from the story of David and Goliath. The sermon offered leadership advice based on David’s actions before and after killing Goliath.
As I listened, I realized that the same points given about David’s leadership could have been about any successful leader. I thought while the man preached, “He could have preached that same sermon about Winston Churchill.”
The sermon offered truth, just not specifically Christian truth.
What makes a sermon Christian?
Is it the speaker?
In this instance, the speaker is a Christian pastor, but I don’t think the sermon was Christian.
Does using the Bible make a sermon Christian?
The sermon was built around a famous Bible story, but lacked what I believe to be (as I share below) the key element of Christian preaching.
While a Christian preacher and the Christian Scriptures are necessary for a sermon to be Christian, they are not a guarantee.
Rather, for a sermon to be Christian, one single element must be assumed—the necessity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If a sermon can be just as effective if Jesus is still in the tomb, then it is only a motivational speech.
The resurrection of Jesus vindicated everything He said about Himself. To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus is still dead there is no Christianity.
There is a fundamental assumption behind New Testament commands. When Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, or the writer of Hebrews gives a command, they assume the reader is capable of obeying.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, “4 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one (NASB).”
Paul also wrote in Romans 8:9-11, “9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (NASB).”
Christians are spiritually alive. This life enables obedience to God’s commands. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to live godly lives.
If a sermon’s application can be followed by a non-Christian, then there is no spiritual substance to that application. A lost man may be able to follow “Ten Rules for Dating Your Wife,” but he will not be able to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). That type of love is impossible for a spiritually dead husband.
The contrast between spiritual life and spiritual deadness demands that preachers apply sermons in two ways. First, the preacher calls Christians to obey and believe the Scripture. Second, the preacher calls the non-Christians to repent and believe so that they can then begin to do what the sermon text instructs.
For instance, when preaching from Ephesians 5:22-33, the pastor’s evangelistic motivation is that the principles found in a godly marriage are available to all who will call on Jesus for salvation. It is only after conversion that a couple can expect to begin reflecting God’s plan for marriage.
The power to live out Ephesians 5:22-33 is only found through the indwelling Holy Spirit, who was sent by the resurrected Christ (John 16:7).
Two types of people hear a pastor’s sermons: the lost and the saved. He must consider both when offering sermon application. By contemplating the needs of both groups, each sermon builds up the saved while also calling the lost to salvation.
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, “1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (NASB).”
Paul closely connected pastoral preaching (reproving, rebuking, exhorting, being patient, offering instruction) with evangelism. The meaning, power, and necessity of Jesus’ resurrection allows the preacher to minister to the congregation with God’s Word while also calling sinners to the Savior.