EFAC Australia

Spring 2020


A Sermon
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us

The Bible is full of people needy for forgiveness.

A man and a woman. Rapturously in love. They share some fruit. Disaster.

A king and another man's wife. A moment of passion. A child conceived, a husband despatched. The prophet speaks - a lie exposed.

Two friends. Three years of shared life - of learning, of laughter, of wonder. Denied. Denied. Denied again. A rooster crows - deceit uncovered.

Adam and Eve. King David. The Apostle Peter.

The Bible is full of people needy for forgiveness and, my guess is, so are our churches.

Sometimes we have acted with such deliberateness and calculation and even anticipation that we know we need to be forgiven even before we have sinned. Sometimes we know it as a word slips from our mouth or a thought rises in our heart and we regret it instantly. Sometimes we are completely oblivious of the wrong we have done and it is not until the photograph of our car arrives in the mail that we are aware of our need for forgiveness! Sometimes we are reminded on an annual basis that there is much that remains unforgiven. In many families, everyone knows that there can be no happy anniversaries until someone says 'sorry' and someone else says 'I forgive you'.

If we think the job of a preacher is easy and glamorous then we will never last the distance. If we are going to grow and persevere as preachers we need to be prepared for hard work. Paul's exhortation to Timothy was by implication to fight the good fight and to run the race. This article seeks to remind preachers of some basics in persevering and growing as a preacher for the long race and the hard fight.

Be prepared for hard work.

Paul calls his own ministry "hard work" (2 Corinthians 11, for example). It is hard because it takes a lot of time to prepare and preach sermons. I still know that I ought to spend at least eight hours on a new sermon if I am to do thoroughly what I need to do in both understanding and applying the text and shaping the sermon. In the busyness of pastoral ministry, it is tempting to cut preparation time. That temptation grows the longer we have preached for we may begin to feel competent and confident.

However long we have been preaching for, we have got to be prepared to spend a long time preparing sermons well. Often for me that means, sadly, Saturday night even though I am always thinking about my sermon during the week.

by Paul Barker

In 2005 I preached a series of sermons on the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. That focused my thinking to reflect on the nature of preaching to bring about change in people's lives. I looked at the ethical injunctions in the epistles and considered how they indicated a move from sin to virtue can happen.

The doctrine of mortification of sin is not considered much. I don't recall a lecture on it when I trained for ministry. However this article is not so much a theological argument. Read John Owen for that.1 I am addressing preachers. It seems to me this is a crucial doctrine for preachers to grasp if our preaching is to be truly powerful under God.

The issue is, how do we put sin to death? If preaching is, in part, to train in righteousness, where does the power to change come from? Can human beings change themselves to be more righteous? Paul says in Romans in 6:12 "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions". And, in Romans 8:13 "If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live".

In 2005, John Dickson released Promoting the Gospel: A Practical Guide to the Biblical Art of Sharing your Faith (Blue Bottle Books). John recalls that as a young teenager, recently saved, he was a passionate promoter of the Christian message. He remembers at that time he "had absolutely no idea Christians could be coy about their faith" (7). That soon changed when he attended a church course on 'personal evangelism.' He became self conscious as to whether he was getting the gospel presentation 'right' and his "joy and ability at passing on the Faith evaporated" (8). John rediscovered his original joy in sharing his faith by simply approaching gospel opportunities as a "friendly conversation about my favourite topic" (10) without feeling the necessity to unload a full gospel presentation in every situation. He comments that "most Christians are not 'evangelists' (in the biblical sense of the word) and should not be made to feel the pressure to act as if they were" (11).

Indeed, 'word ministry' is just one of numerous activities identified in Scripture that promote Christ and draw others toward Him. Evangelism (proclaiming the gospel) is a 'subset' of a broader category of promoting the gospel. Other subsets include prayer, godly behaviour, acts of compassion and mercy, financial assistance, answering people's questions and public praise. A key aim of Promoting the Gospel is to show the all-encompassing nature of the Bible's call to be involved in God's mission. All Christians are called to, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, to promote the gospel.


About two years ago now I came to preach on Genesis 3, and I found myself thinking again about how it points us to Christ. I'm convinced it does. But in what way? So I found myself pondering again the ways in which I've heard others answer that question. Because on many occasions, at least in the circles I move in, I've heard people explain the Biblical Theology of Genesis 3 in a way that I'm not sure is right.

I'm referring to the idea that Genesis 3:15 is the first explicit statement of Messianic expectation in the Old Testament. From that moment on, so people say, the narrative invites us to await the appearance of the Serpent Crusher- the one who will crush Satan under his feet and thus reverse the effects of the fall. Furthermore, as Christian readers of the Old Testament, people have taught that we should see in this verse God's plan to send his Christ to deliver humanity from themselves. Jesus is the Serpent Crusher of Genesis 3:15. Or so the story goes . . .

The Lure of the Story

As a preacher, I always have to resist the temptation of preaching from biblical narratives, either Old Testament or New Testament. I love them. Well, I just love stories generally. Actually, most of us do. From kids to 'prime timers', Christians love the stories of the Bible. Why, even Hollywood loves them as it regularly presents the stories of Moses, David, Esther, and the passion of the Christ on both the big and the small screen.

Stories have a universal appeal. Just watch people on trains or planes passing the time reading the latest Grisham or Clancy. Wise journalists often present a news item by beginning with a story. A report on the latest Middle East conflict, or a plane crash, or stem cell research will often begin with a human-interest story about someone affected by the particular issue.

So, I don't need to be convinced to preach from books like Acts because the battle in gaining and maintaining audience interest is already half-won.