Preaching radical grace
Tullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, he is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. What he has to share about sermons seasoned with grace is encouraging and enlightening. Read this extract from SermonCentral.com and if you like the article and want to know how he prepares his sermons, read the rest HERE.
SermonCentral: How can pastors evaluate their sermons to see if they’re really preaching Jesus + nothing? What kind of litmus test can we take to make sure we get grace right in our preaching?
Tullian: The litmus test that I use for myself is that if people walk away from my sermons thinking more about what they need to do than what Jesus has already done, I’ve failed to preach the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has done for me what I could never do for myself. And a lot of preaching these days is “do more, try harder,” like you said. It’s behavior modification. We come to church expecting God to give us a to-do list or the preacher to give us a to-do list. As long as we are given a to-do list, we maintain some measure of control over our lives. Just tell me what to do.
This message of radical grace, that “it is finished,” is difficult for the human heart, the sinful heart to grasp because we’re so afraid of control being wrestled out of our hands. So we come to church saying, “Pastor, my marriage is in trouble…my children are going off the deep end…my business is failing…I’m coming to you as the expert to tell me what to do to fix my own life…” And as a result, our lives get worse, not better, because we’re taking matters into our own hands.
So my job at the end of every sermon—and this is the grid by which I preach—I preach God’s law, and then I preach God’s Gospel. Both are good. The law diagnoses my need and shows me that my best is never good enough. So I’m always trying to help our people realize that they’re a lot worse than they realize and they’re a lot more incapable than they think they are. But the good news is that God is more than capable, that He’s already done everything we need for Him to do. He’s already secured in Christ everything we long for. So my job at the end of every sermon is to, in some way, shape, or form, encourage our people by saying, “Cheer up. You’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but God’s grace is infinitely larger than you could have ever hoped or imagined. It is finished.”
And what I’ve discovered is that the people who lean on “it is finished” most are the ones who end up being the most free and whose lives change the most. It’s the people who constantly demand to-do lists and then preachers who capitulate to that demand and give them to-do lists, those are the people who get worse. I’ve realized, and I’m only 39 years old, but I’ve realized the more I try to get better, the worse I get. I’m just realizing I am a narcissist. I think way too much about how I’m doing, if I’m doing it right, have I confessed every sin. In other words, I’m thinking much more about me and what I need to do than Jesus and what He’s already done. And as a result, I’m not getting better. I’m getting worse.
I’ve come to the realization that when I stop obsessing over my need to improve, that is improvement. When I stop obsessing narcissistically over my need to get better, that is what the Bible means by getting better. That’s why Paul was able to say at the end of his life, “I’m the worst guy that I know, and the work of grace in my life is that I’m free to tell you that.” I think the whole notion of what it means to progress in the Christian life has been radically misunderstood. Progress in the Christian life is not “I’m getter better and better and better…” Progress in the Christian life is, “I’m growing in my realization of just how bad I am and growing in my appreciation of just how much Jesus has done for me.”