I am sometimes asked, “As Christians, should we view ourselves as saints or sinners?” My answer is, both. We are simultaneously saints and sinners. The apostle Paul often referred to believers as saints (Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1), and we really are. We are saints not only in our standing before God but in our essential persons as well.
We really are new creations in Christ. A real, fundamental change has occurred in the depths of our beings. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us, and we have been freed from the dominion of sin. But despite this we still sin every day, many times a day And in that sense we are sinners.
We should always view ourselves both in terms of what we are in Christ, that is, saints, and what we are in ourselves, namely, sinners. To help us understand this twofold view of ourselves, consider Jesus as an analogy. In His own person He was sinless, but as our representative He assumed our guilt. However, He never had any of the personal feelings associated with guilt. He was fully conscious of His own sinlessness even when bearing our sins and the curse of our sins in our place. In like manner, while we should always rejoice in the righteousness we have in Christ, we should never cease to feel deeply our own sinfulness and consequent unworthiness. (The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness)
Here is a key to great earnestness in preaching. If you really believe that “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13), and that not only the first act of faith but all subsequent acts of persevering faith are sustained by the Spirit through the Word of God, then virtually every sermon is a “salvation sermon” and the souls of the saints are being saved every Sunday. There is not an earnest sermon for evangelism when the souls of the lost are at stake, and then a less serious and less critical message for the saints to simply add a few stars in their crown. Rather every sermon is crucial and critical in sustaining the faith of the saints and so bringing them safely to glory. (“Thoughts on Earnestness in Preaching,” unpublished teaching notes, 3/15/99)
“Our ministry must be emphatic, or it will never affect these thoughtless times; and to this end our hearts must be habitually fervent, and our whole nature must be fired with an all-consuming passion for the glory of God and the good of men.”
“Preach not calmly and quietly as though you were asleep, but preach with fire and pathos and passion.”
“The great reason why we have so little good preaching is that we have so little piety. To be eloquent one must be in earnest; he must not only act as if he were in earnest, or try to be in earnest, but be in earnest.”
“Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive. We ought to be driven forth with abhorrence from the society of honest men for daring to speak in the name of the Lord if the Spirit of God rests not upon us.”
Nothing is more needed among preachers today than that we should have the courage to shake ourselves free from the thousand and one trivialities in which we are asked to waste our time and strength, and resolutely return to the apostolic ideal which made necessary the office of the diaconate. [We must resolve that] “we will continue steadfastly (sic) in prayer, and in the ministry of the Word.” (This Was His Faith: The Expository Letters of G. Campbell Morgan [Fleming Revell, Westwood, NJ], 1952)
What about the role of the preacher of God’s Word? If you are looking for a good church, this is the most important thing to consider. I don’t care how friendly you think the church members are. I don’t care how good you think the music is. . . . The congregation’s commitment to the centrality of the Word coming from . . . the preacher, the one specially gifted by God and called to that ministry, is the most important thing you can look for in a church. . . .
Preachers are not called to preach what’s popular according to the polls. . . . People already know all that. What life does that bring? We’re not called to preach merely moral exhortations or history lessons or social commentaries. . . . We are called to preach the Word of God to the church of God and to everyone in His creation. This is how God brings life. Each person . . . is flawed and has faults and has sinned against God. And the terrible thing about our fallen natures is that we are greedy for ways to justify our sins against God. Every single one of us wants to know how we can defend ourselves from God’s charges. Therefore, we are in desperate need to hear God’s Word brought honestly to us, so that we don’t just hear what we want to hear but rather what God has actually said.
All of this is important . . . because God’s Holy Spirit creates His people by His Word.
This is why Paul told Timothy to “form a committee.” Right? Of course not! . . . “Take a survey”? No! . . . “Spend yourself in visiting”? No! . . . “Read a book”? No! Paul never told young Timothy to do any of those things.
Paul told Timothy, straight and clear, to “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). This is the great imperative. This is why the apostles earlier had determined that, even thought there were problems with the equitable distribution of financial aid in Jerusalem, the church would just have to find others to solve their problems, because, “We . . . will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Why this priority? Because this Word is “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). That is the great task of the preacher: to “hold out the word of life” to people who need it for their souls. (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 38-39)
One of the great perils that face preachers . . . is the constant danger of lapsing into a purely cerebral form of proclamation, which falls exclusively upon the intellect. Men become obsessed with doctrine and end up as brain-oriented preachers. There is consequently a fearful impoverishment in their hearers emotionally, devotionally, and practically. Such pastors are men of books and not men of people; they know the doctrines, but they know nothing of the emotional side of religion. They set little store upon experience or upon constant fellowship and interaction with almighty God. It is one thing to explain the truth of Christianity to men and women; it is another thing to feel the overwhelming power of the sheer loveliness and enthrallment of Jesus Christ and communicate that dynamically to the whole person who listens so that there is a change of such dimensions that he loves Him with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. (“Powerful Preaching,” chapter 14 in The Preacher and Preaching, edited by Samuel T. Logan [Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986], p. 369)