Have you ever read a book that fascinated you until the last chapter and then frustrated you because of the way it ended? The author masterfully built up to a conclusion that was flatter than a fallen soufflé. Sermons can fail for the same reason. The introduction grabs attention, the body flawlessly develops the theme, but the sermon flounders because the preacher doesn’t know how to conclude it. The conclusion is the last thing the listener hears. It must drive home the theme, demonstrate that the problem has been solved, convince that the question has been answered, or issue a stirring call for action, or else the hearer is not apt to take much home. Thus, it is a dangerous deficiency not to carefully prepare the conclusion of the sermon. Why would anyone preach for twenty-five to thirty minutes to bring the sermon to a head and then leave the conclusion to the inspiration of the moment? The most likely result is that the conclusion will become a garbage dump where everything leftover is thrown in.
There are different types of conclusions, each of which may be appropriate depending on the sermon’s subject, theme, and development. For example, a conclusion may summarize. Repetition reinforces memory. One often suggested form of outline (although an oversimplification) is to “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” The obvious advantage of such an approach is repetition; the obvious danger is that the same sermon will simply be preached three times and the hearers will be confused.
A conclusion may be an illustration that portrays a mental image of the theme. The advantage of this approach is that an easily remembered illustration will, when remembered, bring the sermon’s theme to mind. The danger is that the illustration will not fit the sermon, and thus detract from it, or will be so long that it overwhelms the sermon.
The conclusion may be an application that helps the audience answer what they should do, and why and how they should do it. The advantage of concluding with an application is that it connects the sermon to the hearers’ world. The danger is that application may be based more on the preacher’s experience than on the text, leading the hearers to base their faith on the wrong object.
The conclusion may be an exhortation. This is perhaps the most common conclusion – the extending of an invitation to believe and obey the gospel. The advantage is that it stimulates the hearer to action. The danger is that the desire to obtain responses to the gospel leads to intimidation through fear or manipulation through emotion. Both fear and emotion can be legitimate bases of appeal, but neither is valid when reason is totally displaced.
The type of conclusion used should be varied. Not every type of conclusion fits every sermon. Moreover, if the same type of conclusion is used for each sermon, it will not be long until the conclusion loses its impact upon the hearers.
What are the characteristics of a well-prepared conclusion? First, a good conclusion must be appropriate. For example, if the conclusion is an illustration it must be based on an experience common to the hearers. If the conclusion is an application, it must be relevant to the hearers. Otherwise the hearers will be confused.
A conclusion must be clear. If the conclusion is an exhortation, it must be clear exactly what the hearers are being exhorted to do. If you have to explain the conclusion, its impact will be lost. Clarity will be helped if the conclusion uses short, direct sentences containing simple language with strong nouns and verbs. The preacher can speak of “sin-sick souls who suffer from lack of fellowship with Jehovah,” or he can speak of “people who stumble through life with no Father with whom they can walk, no Friend to whom they can talk, and no Helper who can give them hope.”
A conclusion must be personal and pointed. Nathan was personal and pointed when he indicted David, “Thou art the man.” Peter was personal and pointed when he charged, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” A conclusion should leave no doubt as to the hearer’s responsibility.
A conclusion must be concrete. The conclusion is not a time for abstract, vague language. Abstractions have no force. Of course, this does not mean that the preacher should call names, or use or abuse individuals. It does mean that the conclusion should be sufficiently specific to permit the hearer to apply it.
The conclusion must be brief. In short, it should conclude. It is not the time to introduce new ideas. It should take no longer than the introduction. It should not be introduced by “finally,” or “one more point,” or similar phrase. Such phrases invariably turn the hearers’ eyes from the face of the preacher to the face of their watches.
The conclusion is the destination of the sermon. A good conclusion may on occasion sound with thunder. It may on occasion electrify with lightning. It may on occasion be as quiet as a summer morning or as soothing as a gentle rain. But it always, ALWAYS, registers in the heart.
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)