By Ray Hollenbach on May 26, 2015
Great preaching proclaims the grace of God, and sometimes we need to clear away the obstacles to that grace.
The Scripture affirms we are saved by grace, through faith. As preachers we should be aware that while God's grace comes regardless of any merit on anyone's part, there are obstacles to receiving God's grace. Good preaching—as an act of grace—should present and confront these obstacles. I can name at least three; perhaps you have seen some others, as well.
Three times we hear from the Scripture, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 29:23, James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5) Three times! I’ve seen pride at work in my heart in at least two ways: one ugly, and the other insidious. The ugly storm front is plain: It comes when I’m offended by the offer of grace. “I don’t want your grace—who are you to offer it to me?” To receive grace is to acknowledge our need. We must humble ourselves to hold the grace we’re given. But my pride is insidious as well: I will gladly offer grace to others because it demonstrates my superiority over them. In my pride, I will offer grace because I think it is mine to give. Because of my position and power I dispense grace out of my own largess. The humble soul understands he is never giver of grace; he can only share the grace he has received.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15) The second enemy of grace is personal pain and suffering. The wounded heart draws inward and avoids even grace itself. We want to be alone, alone in our pain. But this aloneness is an illusion. This passage from Hebrews warns us that, apart from the grace of God, our bitterness and unsettled scores seep into those around us. My bitterness can defile others. People, both saved and unsaved, need grace for suffering, even in the everyday slights of life. In our pain, when we refuse grace we defile many. All the while we think we are suffering in silence and solitude, unaware that when one member of the body suffers, the whole body is in pain.
“Scarcity” is a terrible word, except that I can think of no other. This third opponent of grace is the fear that grace is a zero-sum game, that grace comes from God prepackaged in fixed amounts. People suspect that this package holds 12 ounces of grace, and that it's the only measure of grace they will ever be given. Their minds have yet to inform their hearts that his mercy endures forever, and comes in limitless supply. Sometimes the people of our congregations are frightened sparrows who think their small breaths will consume all the air in the sky. They think, "Whatever grace I find I must keep for myself. Who knows where I’ll find more?" We must remind them from the pulpit that if the Father clothes the flowers of the field and feeds the birds of the air, how much more will he provide the life-giving freedom of grace—grace they should share with others. Here is the supply of Heaven: When we share the grace we’ve received we discover the source of all grace, who gives the Spirit without limit.
Grace is abundant and free. It’s the deal of a lifetime—no, eternity. When people understand God’s grace for what it is, they want in! And yet there are opponents of grace. Let's be sure to clear the way for salvation by preaching about these obstacles. These are my grace battles from the pulpit. And what of you? What are the enemies of grace you've seen in your congregation? I’d love to know. And you need to tell.
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