That is what you must do with your sermons, make them red-hot; never mind if men do say you are too enthusiastic, or even too fanatical, give them red-hot shot. There is nothing else half as good for the purpose you have in view. We do not go out snow-balling on Sundays, we go fire-balling; we ought to hurl grenades into the enemy’s ranks.—C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour; Fleming H. Revel edition, 69.
“I think it is a great lesson to learn in spiritual things, to believe in Christ and His finished salvation, quite as much as when you are down as when you are up, for Christ is not more Christ on the top of the mountain than He is in the bottom of the valley. And He is no less Christ in the storm at midnight than He is in the sunshine of the day. Do not begin to measure your safety by your comfort—but measure it by the eternal Word of God which you have believed and which you know to be true—and on which you rest, for still here, within the little world of our bosom, ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap’ ” (Ecc 11:4).”
Charles H. Spurgeon (1892, Sermon 2264)
Is salvation merely a message of “do better?” Is Christianity simply a moralistic religion that teaches that all we need to do is obey God? That is what the self-righteous Pharisees thought, and it is what many people in churches think. To them, Christianity is a list of rules that can be kept–albeit with a lot of sacrifice. Don’t think so? How many times have you heard someone say their wayward son or daughter “just needs to get back to church?” Is that all they need? Is that what Jesus taught?
In Romans 1:17, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” (Romans 1:17, ESV). This text traumatized Martin Luther before his conversion to Christ. Here was a man that sincerely wanted salvation. He had dedicated his life to holy living in a monastic community where he sacrificed on a daily basis. Yet his soul was tortured. Here are Luther’s own words, written a year before his death on March 5, 1545 following a long life of joyful blessing in true salvation through Jesus Christ.
I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was … a single word in Chapter 1 [:17], “In it the righteousness of God is revealed,” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteous wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ ” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Here a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.… And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise. [Emphasis added]
The “gates of paradise” were opened up to Luther because he no longer depended upon his own law-keeping to satisfy the perfect demands of God. He saw salvation as a gracious act of God alone. Christ was perfectly righteous, fulfilling the whole law in our place. He died in our place and we are justified because of his perfect life and substitutionary death.
The hamster wheel of self-righteous deeds done in order to save ourselves is endless and endlessly disappointing. But the worst thing is that it does not end in heaven, but hell. The one who rejects the perfect finished work of Christ on the cross in favor of his or her imperfect works should expect nothing more, and will get nothing less.
Don’t point people to hell with “do better” sermons. Don’t say that your lost neighbor needs to be invited to church when you need they need to be regenerated by Christ. Don’t confuse fruits of righteousness with earning points with God so he will somehow love and favor you more.
Christ alone is enough. Faith in him alone saves. This is all “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.”
Illustrations have been described as windows that add light into the sermon in order to illuminate abstract truths. If that is true, and I believe it is, then quotes are a good tool to have in your sermon arsenal. Except when they aren’t. Quotes can be used effectively, and they can be abused in the worst way. I want to point out the proper and improper uses of quotes in a sermon.
Good Uses of Quotes
Here are 6 reasons to use a good quote would be appropriate:
- Artistry: The writer says something more beautifully than you can say it yourself.
- Clarity: The writer makes the point clearer than you can.
- Impact: The writer says something in a powerful way to make your point.
- Pithiness: The writer says something in a memorable and “catchy” way.
- Depth: The writer says something with a profundity that you can’t seem to say yourself.
- Interesting: The writer says something that draws interest or excites the imagination.
Poor Uses of Quotes
Here are 8 reason you ought to think twice before using that quote in your next sermon:
- Quotes that are too good not to share, even though they have nothing to do with the main idea of your sermon. Just because you like it, don’t squeeze it in.
- Quotes that are not short and to the point. Two page quotes from a Puritan in old English aren’t helpful unless you are trying to help someone fall asleep.
- Quotes that are only an interest to a very specific audience. Just because you love reading Wallace’s Greek Grammar doesn’t mean you should quote from it.
- Quotes that you have to explain after you read it. It’s like a joke–if you have to explain it, it’s not funny.
- Quotes that can be stated in your own words easily.
- Quotes that are meant to carry a sense of authority, i.e., “The great theologian so-and-so says…” The Scripture should be our authority. Quotes of men may bring clarity, but they should not bear the weight of authority to prove our point.
- Quotes that you cannot verify or find the source. If we proclaim the truth, we shouldn’t be using quotes that may be false.
- Quotes that are shocking and controversial. This isn’t because they don’t work, but because they do. This type of quote might just derail your sermon if your audience does not recover from the shocking quote bomb you let loose.
God of the Publican,
Be merciful to me a sinner; this I am by nature and practice, this the Word proclaims me to be, this I hope I feel myself to be; Yet Thou hast not left me to despair, for there is no ‘peradventure’ in Thy grace; I have all the assurance I need that with Thee is plenteous redemption.
In spite of the number and heinousness of my sins Thou hast given me a token for good; The golden scepter is held out, and Thou hast said, ‘Touch it and live.’ May I encourage myself by a sense of Thy all-sufficiency, by faith in Thy promises, by views of the experience of others. To that dear refuge in which so many have sheltered from every storm may I repair.
In that fountain always freely open for sin may I be cleansed from every defilement. Sin is that abominable thing which Thy soul hates, and this alone separates Thee and me. Thou canst not contradict the essential perfections of Thy nature; Thou canst not make me happy with Thyself, till Thou hast made me holy like Thyself.
O holy God, make me such a creature as Thou canst take pleasure in, and such a being that I can take pleasure in Thee. May I consent to and delight in Thy law after the inner man, never complain over the strictness of Thy demands, but mourn over my want of conformity to them; never question Thy commandments, but esteem them to be right. By Thy Spirit within me may my practice spring from principle, and my dispositions be conformable with duty.–The Valley of Vision