Much of the evangelical preaching with which I am familiar neither inspires a terror of God’s righteousness nor praise for the depths of God’s grace in his gift of righteousness. Rather, it is often a confusion of these two, so that the bad news isn’t quite that bad and the good news isn’t all that good. We actually can do something to get closer to God; we aren’t so far from God that we cannot make use of the examples of the biblical characters and attain righteousness by following the “Seven Steps to the Spirit-Filled Life.” But in the biblical view, the biblical characters are not examples of their victory, but of God’s! The life of David is not a testimony to David’s faithfulness, surely, but to God’s and for us to read any part of that story as though we could attain the Gospel (righteousness) by the law (obedience) is the age-old error of Cain, the Pharisees, the Galatian Judaizers, the Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, Arminians, and Higher Life proponents. -Michael Horton
“Practical” is the magic word of so many when it comes to sermons. You’ll hear people say, “I don’t want to hear doctrine, I don’t want to hear about my unrighteousness and hellfire, and I don’t want to hear the gospel. I want to hear things that help me live my life. I want practical.” And by that, they mean that they want to hear the same kind of moralism that they see on afternoon TV talk shows and in the books of popular evangelical authors.
The truly moronic thing about moralism is that it not only misses the entire point of Scripture (which is Christ), it isn’t even that practical.
Say what? Well, think about it. Any believer who observes life realizes some basic things eventually. First, that we are not in control of things. Accidents happen. Things go sour at work. Family members get very sick. Often these things happen with a suddenness that feels like a punch in the gut.
Second, that we are Romans 7 Christians. We are weighed down with sin and suffering (and we’re too dulled by sin to realize the half of it). We have a weak desire for the things of God. We are old and lonely. We are struggling with lusts. We often seem to be running in place. We were unwatchful and thus surprised by a witnessing opportunity that we were not expecting. We are growing more wistful as we approach middle age, seeing how shallow our faith really is. And so on.
Moralism may help with short-term problems, but it simply does not speak to any of these things practically. That elderly woman who battles depression with searing memories of her departed husband, will a sermon that tells her how to improve her marriage and have a better sex life help her? How about that young man who is gripped by porn or the middle-age man with the comfortable suburban life who is spiritually slothful? Will that sermon convict them to repent and continue to looking to the righteousness of Christ? Will it show God’s faithfulness to his covenant people? Will it show that God ordains and works all things together for good for the called according to His purpose? Will it say: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” (Ex. 14:13)
Law and gospel does. It’s meat for life’s hardest circumstances.