Effective preaching is preaching with a purpose. Preaching without purpose is relevant only at random and consequential only by chance. Relevant, meaningful preaching begins not with a plan, but with a purpose. Preaching does not exist to entertain, to inform, or to instruct, though it may do each of these. The purpose of preaching is not to promulgate personal opinions, social views, or political purposes. Preaching is a sacred trust, a divine stewardship, the purpose of which is to meet human needs with divine power.
Paul stated his purpose in preaching as “determin[ing] not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul’s purpose was to communicate Christ, not to demonstrate his ingenuity. His eloquent disclaimer of eloquence was not a rejection of style, but a recognition that the best style is one that attracts the least attention to itself. No man can proclaim Christ as the Great Physician and himself as the Great Proclaimer at the same time.
In the last century the preacher was looked upon as being “the Parson” [Person] in the community. Often the best educated, he possessed both wisdom and integrity and was looked to as the one who could provide help. He was considered the source of authority for personal and community decisions in religious and moral questions. How that has changed! Could it be that the preacher’s status has changed from “the Parson” to “the Irrelevant” because he has lost his sense of purpose? One who has lost his sense of purpose and direction cannot impart to others that which he is lacking. Is there not a ditch waiting when the blind lead the blind? The preacher who has ceased speaking God’s message has abandoned his purpose for existence. His hearers, like the prodigal son, feed upon husks.
The preacher who speaks on social issues, psychological disorders, marriage and the home, education, and morality, without bringing God’s will to bear upon them, aims no higher than the spirit of the age. If he aims to the right, he irritates the left; if he aims to the left, he irritates the right; if he aims to the center, he irritates everybody. In any event, he prostitutes the purpose of preaching, which is not to capture the spirit of the age but to change it by the power of God.
The preacher cannot even challenge the spirit of the age, much less change it, except from the top of God’s mountain. We live in an age when leadership is lacking; politicians and officeholders abound. The electorate turns government upside down looking for leaders who can take it where it needs to go and ought to be. No sooner has the old regime been voted out than dissatisfaction arises with the new. It is no different with preachers. People long for a preacher who, with purpose, love, and conviction, proclaims the unsearchable riches of Christ, finding in Him relevant solutions not only for the ultimate issues of life, but also for the thorny issues of daily living that rip at our robes and to the fiery darts of Satan that knock our would-be halos askew.
When men proclaim the authentic Christ to a community that has lost its sense of direction and purpose, even the stammering lips of the unlearned can proclaim an authentic word. As it is written:
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10:14-15.)
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)