We have all heard the sermon that many would coin the “fire and brimstone” message that leaves you drenched in sweat from the heat of your guilt. These sermons certainly convict. But…do they change you? Some messages are not so direct with their condemnation. They focus on the behavior of David with Bathsheba or the disobedience of Israel to highlight where you have sinned. Preachers consider this to be a “negative” sermon that convicts the listener and leads to change.
This issue with these sermons is they are preaching to a room of dead people a sermon that is meant for the living. Let me explain.
Imagine you are asked to give the eulogy at a funeral. You preach a message on 1 Cor. 6:12 about how we should not permit any substance to control us. You tell the dead man that he needs to be repentant of anything that has controlled him. All mourners are in shock at the absurdity of your effort. You are clearly unaware that this corpse is unable to obey your admonishments. You are never asked to preach at a funeral again.
These sermons happen every day in the pulpit. They ask people who are dead to obey. Have you ever left church thinking, “I feel terrible about my disobedience, but I don’t know how to change?” This is because you are trying to do what a dead man cannot do. You are trying to make your flesh obey. Your flesh was crucified with Christ and who you REALLY are has been resurrected with Christ.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].
A preacher who emphasizes Christ recognizes what is dead. They understand what is incapable of power. They preach to the living, the listener who is mourning their sin, who is paying the consequences of their actions. This listener may even be in denial that they are paying dearly with their lives for the sin that enslaved them, but they suffer nonetheless. Their presence at the church service is enough recognition of their depravity. What they don’t know is that they are dead in their old self, but alive in Christ. We must be intentional about renewing our mind to our new identity and submit ourselves to sermons that reinforce our Christ identity. The preacher who emphasizes our new nature that abides in resurrection power will cause the convicted, guilt-ridden soul to sit up, the mature Christian to take notes, the child to ask questions, the senior to grab their Bible. The awakening to who we really are will enrapture and captivate our souls as we listen to who we REALLY are in Christ.
Each time we are listening to a sermon or abiding in His presence, we are acquainting ourselves with our new identity. This is the same identity we remind Satan and any temptation that attempts to ensnare. Who am I? I am Christ.
Christ is resurrection power.
Christ is the fruit of the spirit.
Christ is victory.
Our flesh is the old man, the unregenerate man. Why must preachers harangue the deceased? Why can’t sermons hearten the living? Preachers are to remind us of our new nature. We must speak to the resurrection power that lives in all of those who believe Christ is the Son of God. Their obedience will be Christ’s power when they realize who they REALLY are.
I have a temper problem. I am a very emotional person. I feel to the point of pain just watching TV. I can’t watch scary movies or the hospital scene of Terms of Endearment without writhing in sobs. This makes me deeply empathetic, but I can also rage. I even hesitated to write rage because that’s an intense admission but it’s the most accurate description. I can war with my words and my weapon is my vocabulary.
I can feel convicted by my sin. I can tell my husband I won’t yell at him or my kids anymore, but relapse moments later with the same behavior to the detriment of my family. You can hand your pastor the cigarettes but what do you do when you need a cigarette and you gave your pack away? Will you quit “cold turkey” because you have a convicted heart, or will you continue to smoke when your weakness was stronger than your conviction. You resort to shame that hides the new pack from your preacher and your God.
Every person wants to change but doing it without Christ will always label you a sinner and put the focus on your achievement and not the cross. It’s possible to change on your own but you will always be controlled by your own effort. If sermons focus on the old man, then what separates the messages from the social worker or psychologist who excludes God from the equation? If we are Christ’s ambassadors, then we must always preach the positive message of Christ that created in us a changed person.
I want to change. I want to do the right thing but am I going to focus on my “old” man to do it or Christ that has already made me a new creation? It’s the “already, not yet” blazing in my convicted heart. The approach to my breakthrough will be an emphasis on who I am “already” in Christ. My identity is Christ even in the midst of my rage. It is “not yet” to be seen but still who I am. The only way I can overcome my anger is when I am firmly planted in who I am in Christ more than I am in my inability to obey Christ. I disobey whenever I yell, fight and scream. Jesus never reacts but responds. That means…I can respond and not react. I can feel the anger but not act. Jesus is emotional. He wept and even raged, but every act was obedient and prophetic. I am created in Christ Jesus as His workmanship. I am not a slave to my sin but a beloved daughter who has been renamed. If we emphasize who Christ is in us, then we emphasize who we really are despite our behavior.
We are healed even though we are sick.
We are restored even though we are broken.
We are at peace when suicide broods.
We are faithful when we fail repeatedly.
We triumph when loss beckons.
Romans 6:1-11 (KJV)
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: 9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
You can “reckon” yourself dead because Christ died. Romans 6:12 says this: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” If you isolate that scripture you will focus on the old man mustering the ability to obey. If you expound on the 11 verses prior then you will know the old man was “crucified with Christ”. The use of “therefore” in verse 12 is a result of your confidence in the resurrected Christ. Not only is my sin forgiven when I yell and scream, but there is a resurrection power that lives in me to never rage again.
Each sermon we hear and offer must remind us of what has been done, to who we REALLY are or “already” are. When your focus is Christ, the conviction, renaming, rededication, renewal, etc. all happens without you. You received Jesus and He did the work in you. Otherwise, you would have reason to boast that you rid yourself of sin. I have nothing to boast but the frailty, inconsistency and depravity of my flesh. But, Christ in me is strong, faithful and perfect in my weaknesses. I am perfected and complete in Christ. To me, that is the template for a good sermon and an obedient life.
 Jerry Vines and James L. Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons(Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017), 73.
 2 Corinthians 5:17 (AMP)
 Ephesians 2:10 (KJV)
 Romans 6:1-11 (KJV)
 Romans 8:11 (KJV)
 Eph. 2:8 (KJV)
 2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)