Preaching with grace is an approach to the task of preaching that preachers would be wise to consider.
You may have wondered how you came across to your listeners as you preached on difficult passages. I remember Ben approached me following a sermon on Psalm 100. He said, "Your preaching is too Calvinistic for me." He continued, "After I've heard you preach, I leave the sanctuary discouraged."
While visiting a church I had served, Harriet confessed to me, "You expected a lot from us, and I never felt I could meet those expectations." These comments have haunted me in my sermon preparation as well as in the actual preaching itself. What does it mean to preach with grace? After reflecting on this question for some time, I intend to encourage you with what I've learned.
When We Think of Grace
As preachers, we can go to Bible dictionaries and commentaries and put together a list of the biblical categories for the word grace. We know the biblical writers used a variety of meanings when employing the word grace.
The first way we understand grace is that which gives joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, loveliness or charm. For example, a man or woman may be an absolute delight and described as someone who "brings grace to every situation." Psalm 45:2 says a person's "lips have been anointed with grace."
A second consideration of the word grace is that of good will, loving kindness and mercy. We know from Scripture and by living life that when a person extends good will toward another it is a gesture of grace. We see this aspect of grace pictured in Jesus' teaching in Luke 6:27-36 about loving one's enemies.
The third manner in which grace is understood by biblical writers is the kindness that a master extends to a slave. Thus, by analogy, this understanding of grace has come to signify the kindness of God to humanity (Rom. 6:1-23). We see this in Luke 1:30 where Gabriel said to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God." John wrote, "From the fullness of His grace we all have received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:16-17).
This favor of God with humanity is seen in the New Testament letters as the writers invoked God's grace upon the readers. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:3), and he concluded his letter to the Roman church by praying, "The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you" (Rom. 16:20).
The question these definitions raise is: What do we do with grace? Randall Pelton warns that when preaching passages that call for obedience, we can fall into a Do-This mode that gets in the way of practicing grace: "Believe this and receive this."
The tension Pelton and Anderson cite is a reality—one that most preachers wrestle with every time they stand in front of an eager congregation.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned my conversation with Ben. Our conversation continued after he confessed to feeling discouraged after he heard my sermons. I told Ben I was sorry he felt discouraged. He paused and then said, "That's OK. What you have to say may be something God has to say to me."
In his words, Ben demonstrated grace. From our conversation, I sensed God was at work in Ben and in me—by His grace.