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Preaching Grace Rather Than To-Do Lists

When we share five ways to be a better parent, what are we communicating about the gospel?

My sin, not in part but the whole

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!*

Whenever we preach anything that makes our hearers think they need to work harder to make God (or us) love them more, we are not preaching the gospel.

We need to preach grace.

Grace says that God did it all and we can do nothing. Not that we don’t have to do anything, but we actually can’t. All our righteousness is like filthy rags, says Isaiah 64:6. We are actually incapable of contributing to our salvation. As Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

So if every sermon needs to preach the good news of a gospel of grace, does every sermon end the same way? “Well, God loves you and there’s nothing you can do to lose that love so, you know, just go do whatever this week.”

If we are preaching grace, where is the application? How do we call people to holy living or tithing or kindness or commitment if we preach grace? How do we call them away from believing in moralistic therapeutic deism?

To preach grace isn’t to let people off the hook. To preach grace is not to tolerate poor behavior, in ourselves or in others. To preach grace is to remind people that we get to live differently because of what God has done. Living a holy life is not a burden. Obeying God’s will for our lives is not to check things off yet another to-do list. Living as God invites us to live is a gift! Living as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to live in response to God’s grace.

*Lyrics from “When Peace Like a River” by Horatio G. Spafford

Mary S. Hulst is the college chaplain at Calvin College. She previously served as a professor of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary and as senior pastor of Easter Avenue Christian Reformed Church. Taken from A Little Handbook for Preachers by Mary S. Hulst. Copyright 2016 by Mary S. Hulst. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com


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