“In conclusion” is often a sermon’s most welcome phrase. It is now time to use it in this series on preaching. Preparing the articles has been a challenge, an opportunity, and a privilege all rolled into one. As one who has moved from full-time preaching to the pew, I am more sensitive to the hearers’ position and needs as they are called upon to participate in worship by actively engaging with the gospel as it flows from the mind and mouth of another. They need help. Hearers are not insensitive. As a general rule they are generous in overlooking the faults and forgiving the mistakes of those who must week after week and service after service generate material that will make people want to be more like Jesus. Patience is their greatest virtue.
But they have a right to expect the preacher’s best. If they ever come to believe that the preacher is not doing his best, the preacher should move, seek a new beginning, and resolve to do better. These articles have been written to cut down on the moving by enabling the preacher to more effectively communicate the greatest story ever told.
After all, the preacher is a part of the sermon. As Philip Brooks said, “Preaching is the communication of the gospel by man to man.” Man cannot change the gospel. He dare not preach any other. What man can do is be certain that he does nothing that detracts from the story of the cross. These articles have been written with the assumption that this is the desire of every man who is engaged in the foolishness of preaching. Through their publication I have learned that, for the most part, this assumption is valid. But there are a few who believe that they do not need improvement, who will not heed any suggestions for their improvement, and who resent any suggestion that improvement is needed. Such preachers do themselves, their hearers, and their Lord a disservice. They would do the kingdom better service by finding (or returning to) a secular job. But as long as the preacher is trying to improve, there is hope. It is only when he quits trying and caring that he is not deserving of his hearers’ patience and understanding.
In recent years preacher schools have proliferated. Preacher schools, for the most part, assume that students are educated, emphasize the study of scripture, and spend little time in teaching effective communication. It does no good to give a man a rifle and ammunition if he doesn’t know how to load and fire.
In Luke 16 Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. In His teaching he described a “great gulf fixed.” What was sad about that description was that life had ended, opportunity had passed, eternity had been entered, and no man could cross the gulf from torment to Abraham’s bosom. There is another “great gulf” that often exists, but it is not “fixed.” It is the gap between the pulpit and the pew. It can be and needs to be bridged. It is my prayer that these articles have provided blueprint, tools, and materials to build that bridge. The preacher cannot build it alone. He needs the help and encouragement of his hearers.
Some who have read these articles have inquired if they are available other than in the Firm Foundation. To date they have not been. It was my intention to publish them in book form. I even had a working title – Crossing the Great Gulf: Bridging the Gap Between the Pulpit and the Pew. By this time the title should be changed to Procrastination. There are at least two good reasons for publishing the articles on www.thywordistruth.com. First, it cost both you and me less. Publication is an expensive process that does not make money unless a book sells several thousand volumes. It is doubtful that another book on preaching will achieve that circulation. Second, and more important, on the world wide webb the articles will have immediate world wide circulation. My prayer is that they will be used to help preachers reach the lost with the gospel.
I am grateful to Buster Dobbs, editor of the Firm Foundation, for his willingness to publish the articles and his encouragement in their writing. When my interest waned or my schedule demanded all my time and then some, Buster was always there reminding and encouraging. Undoubtedly, Buster Dobbs could more pleasantly live out his days by cutting his travel schedule, letting others do the demanding work of writing and the more demanding work of editing the writing of others, but he remains dedicated to the declaration and defense of God’s power to save. Buster is a rare man – he stands for the truth against assaults from the right or the left. He respects no person above the Person of Jesus Christ. The Firm Foundation is now in position to do its greatest work ever. It is true to the word without being rabid. It deserves the support of the brotherhood.
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)