As a pastor my whole goal is to see people grow in Christ likeness. Pastors want to see transformation. We want to see obedience, maturity and growth. This is nothing new. The apostle Paul labored and strived to see or present “everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1.28).
But how do you get them there?
There are two main approaches that I have seen. One is more popular than the other, and sadly, it is also less biblical.
1. GUILT-ING FOLKS INTO OBEDIENCE
This is far too common. The approach here is to lay out the biblical responsibility (you must evangelize, lead your family, love your wife, submit to your husband, pray, etc) and then show how far short the hearers have come to compliance.
This approach may seem to produce results. For example, after such a sermon a guy may resolve to witness to his neighbors, love his wife, and start a bible reading plan. Further, he may actually begin doing these things. But what happens when he fizzles out? What happens when the sting of the pastor’s whip has stopped pulsing? What happens when his conscience has quieted?
What the pastor has essentially done is given his hearers law. He has said, “This is what God requires. How far short have you fallen? Now, it is time to make some changes. You need to measure up.”
This approach always produces guilt. But why? It is because the pastor is bidding his hearers to look at the law and then look inward. And when we do that we find ourselves lacking in everything but guilt. We are hopelessly undone when looking to ourselves for moral righteousness. We have nothing. We are guilty. The result is some time on the religious treadmill to try to burn off (atone for) the excess calories (sin) and as a result feel better about ourselves.
This is not helpful.
The other approach seems distinctly more Christian.
2. GLORYING FOLKS INTO OBEDIENCE
This is markedly different. The pastor still shows God’s requirement (law) and exposes our shortcomings (sin). However, instead of bidding the Christian to look inward for righteousness, the pastor lovingly and faithfully raises his brother or sister’s eyes to Christ and what he has done for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that pastors should not preach the commands of Scripture. I am not even saying that Christians should not feel guilty when they sin. But what I am saying is that when we experience this guilt we are not to look inward for our righteousness but outward. The guilt is not a dark cloud of despair that we sit under until we outrun it through our good works and obedience, instead guilt over sin is to be a divinely dispatched chauffeur that drives us to the cross where we see the culmination of Jesus’ obedience for us.
There is a drastic difference here. On the one hand people are motivated by fear and shame. They will work to obey until they don’t feel the fear and the shame seems to be mitigated. This is not gospel but pennance.
On the other hand people are motivated by love. We are sinners. We know this by the weight of guilt that impresses itself upon us as we hear the law thunder. But if Jesus is the true and better scape goat who bears our guilt and shame as he is escorted out to the wilderness then we are free from fear, guilt and shame.
And further, if Jesus has truly satisfied and removed God’s just wrath. If he is the true and better other goat from the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), the one who was killed and had his blood marched into the heavenly Holy of Holies for us–then there is nothing to atone for! As a result, we are motivated by love, happiness and security. And unlike guilt, fear, and shame—love never expires! A true understanding of what Christ has done for us will never fizzle, it will only flame, burn, and kindle happiness in Jesus.
We see this with the Apostles in their writing. Look at Ephesians 1-3 and then 4-6 (gospel and then imperative commands). Look at Colossians 1-2 Supremacy and Sufficiency of Christ and then 3-4 all about living in light of the glory of Christ. We see it also with John:
(1Jo 4.9-11) In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Do you see the difference? John could have said, “Love one another.” And this would have been right. But instead, he seasons this imperative with so much gospel that if the Christian really hears and obeys it he will do so because he is sweating out the truth of Christ’s love for him!
It is deadly to a congregation for the pastor to guilt people into obedience but it is life and joy to glory them into obedience. If we as pastors preach the glory of Christ in the gospel to our churches then we will see them perk up, refreshed. Just like flowers follow the sun during the day, so too Christians are drawn to behold and enjoy the glory of Christ.
The best way to implement this as a church is to implement it as a Christian. If the pastor has benched Jesus and his gospel and is preaching law then he has done so in his own life. The gospel is on the shelf. This is unacceptable. If the goal is obedience then the means is Christ and his gospel. Nothing else will do the job.