Preaching Law or Preaching Grace?

Here’s the best advice I can share about preaching.  All sermons are either enabling (grace) or obligatory (law). We’re either preaching YOU CAN or YOU SHOULD (or YOU CAN’T or YOU SHOULDN’T).

Obligatory sermons pile up over the years. We wear people down and send them home feeling terrible about themselves. Soon, they’ll take it out on God. They’ll either give up or fake it. We become legalists when we decouple of duties of the Christian life from the divine power to do them.

Enabling sermons also pile up over the years. We build people up in their confidence in God. I’m not suggesting “positive thinking” sermons. I’m suggesting messages that communicate the good news of all that God has promised to do for us and be within us.  Sermons that show off all the sparkly facets of the “I can do all things through Christ” diamond.

Good, theologically rich preaching shouldn’t just inform, it should enable.  It should open your eyes to how God, by his Spirit, conforms you to Christ, even when you’re a jerk.  How God overcomes your jerkitude to reveal Christ in you. It should make you believe that God hasn’t given up on you, and that this coming week is another chance to tap into his power when you’re weary.

I want people to leave my church trusting God for greater things than when they came in.

Most of the Bible is declarative, and therefore enabling.

How come most sermons are imperative, and therefore obligatory?

Great preaching lays the bulk of obligation on God… and exhorts listeners to turn to him. Isn’t that the Bible in a nutshell?


8 thoughts on “Preaching Law or Preaching Grace?

  1. Yes!
    Thank you for a badly needed reminder to all of us who preach.
    Why do we preach “should” so often rather than “can?” Maybe it’s because “should” results in stuff we can do and measure. We can know if we’re successful because we did what we “should.” We want practical and “should” is practical. Unfortunately, our “should” and “practical” preaching has inadvertently taken God out of the center and placed humans there. Ultimately, “should” preaching ceases to be much about the greatness and grace of God and becomes primarily about us.

  2. Bill…

    How refreshing!

    I think the key is encouragement to live and walk by the Spirit — this indeed is the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16). We are no longer slaves to the corruption of the flesh and its lusts (i.e., darkness), but instead have access to the “Father of Lights” in whom there is no shadow (James 1:17).

    How can our sermons point us into the direction of direct dependence upon God’s Spirit?

    First, godliness is a means of “great profit” to life (1 Timothy 4:8). The gushing of “living waters from your belly” stems from your walk in the Spirit (John 3:37-39). And so notwithstanding, any suffering may then become a means through which we develop character and hope for our faith (Romans 5:3-5). That is, the same Holy Spirit that said “Abba, Father” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) is the SAME Holy Spirit that says the exact same words “Abba, Father” in our mortal bodies (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6). We have direct access to the Father in heaven for “greater grace” (Hebrews 4:16 and James 4:5-7). HOWEVER, when we suffer because of sins (i.e., purposefully and deliberately making provision for the flesh and its lusts), then we become “sluggish” (Hebrews 6:12) and our “knees become feeble and the hands become weak” (Hebrews 12:11-13)… We quench and grieve the Holy Spirit.

    Secondly, we must “practice” this godliness consistently — that is, we must make mind-renewal our (can we say “daily”?) habit in this “mystery of godliness” (Romans 12:1; Colossians 3:10-11; James 1:23-25; James 4:8; and 1 Peter 2:11). When we “practice” our mind-renewal, we are in essence looking at ourselves in the mirror of the Word of God as both buried (dead to sin) and raised into life (alive in the power of the Holy Spirit). When we look into the mirror of the Word of God, and then forget what we saw, then we are flip-flopping (or what James calls being “double-minded” Christians). Flip-flopping between grace and the flesh (law) is the same as being hot and cold at the same time (Revelation 3:14-17), and therefore utterly distasteful to our Lord (and might I also add that we are not providing an encouraging example to other Christians, some of whom may have been recent converts to Christ).

    And thus we wrap this up by saying that grace (access to the Spirit and to the throne of grace in heaven) is not ones MasterCard-prerogative to indulge in the flesh and its lusts purposefully and deliberately. In this regard, there is the risk of the misperception and misrepresentation of the gospel of grace as a go-ahead to sin (Romans 3:8; Romans 6:1; and Jude 4). Nothing could be further from the truth.


  3. Awesome message. Thank you.

    John: Amen! What’s less practical than marching around Jericho blowing horns?

    Joseph: Amen! The book of James has Christian Identity on every page.

  4. I like the way you say this, Bill. Too often the emphasis on grace ends up sounding like this:

    “God’s grace covers everything and we’re completely reliant on it. You can’t do ANYTHING!”

    and there’s this weird implication that we shouldn’t even try. Just wait around for God to act in history like magic. *poof* forgiveness! *poof* healing! *poof* a rabbit!

    But I love the message when it sounds like this. when we hear “God’s grace covers everything and we’re completely reliant on it. Now we CAN do something. In fact, ANYTHING!”

    That’s good news.

    • Thanks guys.

      Grace… to be activated in our lives… requires FAITH… and FAITH is a BATTLE! Faith is not passive; it is a supreme struggle to believe that who God is and what he has said is true… enough to act like it.

      1 Jn 5:4: And this is the victory that overcomes the world: OUR FAITH.


  5. I grew up in a church that was scenario #1, and now thankfully God has us in a church that is scenario #2! As a “recovering legalist” I thank God for allowing to see how He is in a different light. I continually am thankful for that!

  6. Thanks for this… This truth has been tossing about in my mind almost constantly lately. Not so much in relation to sermons, but to life in general – since everything we do and how we choose to live can be done either out of SHOULD or CAN IN CHRIST. It’s not enough just to know ‘CAN IN CHRIST’ as the right answer though; even that can be turned into a SHOULD… For those of us who have tasted the sweetness of His Grace often in life, but struggle with ditching SHOULD altogether, what advice do you have about staying ‘camped’ there? Lyrics to one of Sara Groves’ songs (Surrender) are “Why can’t I live there (Grace/Surrender) and make my home?” My heart echos that. So, Bill – if you weren’t absorbed in writing sermons about Grace on a weekly basis (obviously staying in Scripture is key), what other tools would you use to consistently say ‘NO’ to ‘SHOULD’ and ‘YES’ to ‘CAN IN CHRIST’? Do we just accept ‘ebb and flow’ as reality in experiencing His Grace, or do we dare to expect more? If consistency is an option, how do we get there? Tiring of the space between growth ‘spurts’…

  7. Okay… nevermind. 1. Know God’s Promises. 2. Believe God’s Promises. 3. Follow the Directions. 4. Enjoy God’s Blessing. Thanks for teaching – looking up now. 😉

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