Preaching Articles

There are no “good” people in the Bible—at least not in the theological sense—except for Jesus. Everybody else is wrecked and ruined by sin and desperately in need of a Savior. So the way we have traditionally approached character-based sermons has a tremendous flaw. Here’s the traditional approach…

  1. Tell the story of a Bible character.
  2. Highlight the good stuff they did.
  3. Challenge people to follow their examples.

I’ve done plenty of that kind of preaching in my life in ministry, and I wish I could go back and re-preach them all from a totally different perspective. There are some major flaws with this kind of preaching. First of all, it’s moralism. It gives the idea that we can, in our own power, actually DO the good things we see the characters doing. But we can’t. We don’t. We fail repeatedly.

Second, preaching in this way assumes that the central protagonist of the story is a human being such as Abraham, David or Paul. But the real protagonist in both the metanarrative of Scripture as well as each of its rather diverse stories is God. It’s about him. It’s his book, he’s the hero and its his character and will we see unfolded. The people involved just illustrate all the things we learn about God.

Third, it’s discouraging. I’ll never be an Abraham or Noah. At least I won’t be the kind of Abraham or Noah that we often preach about. I might be like the Abraham who lied about his wife’s identity a couple of times and failed to stick to God’s plan while trying to make things happen on his own. Or I might have a few things in common with the Noah who embarrassed his sons at the end of his story in his state of drunkenness. But we usually like to make the heroes sound positive.

But the heroes of the Bible are often misrepresented in our desire to make them look good in their faith. What we want to say to the congregation is, “See, Abraham believed God and he wound up being a really, really great guy because of it!”

So if this is the wrong way to preach from the life of a Bible character, what’s the right way? What should we be preaching about from the lives of Bible characters? Here’s my alternative approach.

  1. Tell the story of a Bible character.
  2. Explain how and why they failed or were incapable of doing God’s will.
  3. Point out God’s grace was powerfully at work in their lives, redeeming them and re-shaping them.
  4. Challenge people to look to Jesus alone for that same redemption.
  5. Encourage people to try a better approach under God’s grace and in God’s power.

In my view, this is a far more Christological and even helpful approach than using the characters of the Bible like shining examples of greatness. So don’t preach about all the good people in the Bible. Preach about the goodness of God to redeem sinful people and empower them to make different decisions based on his truth.

SermonCentral is the world's leader in sermon resources and research. We are dedicated to equipping pastors worldwide for excellence in preaching.

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

Ronald Smith

commented on Jun 17, 2015

Good insights. However there is no one way to preach a sermon. It is highly improbable to preach the goodness of God without preaching the manifestation of that goodness in the life of the believer. The bible even declares a list of heroes of faith. Christ taught with parables highlighting God's grace AND the believer's faithful obedience. Being led by the Holy Spirit has a far greater impact on our preaching than our preference of style. But, your point is well taken. Preach well.

Dan Thornton

commented on Jun 17, 2015

I agree. We shouldn't turn every Bible story into some kind of "do better and you'll turn out better" admonition. It's a problem of starting with what "I" want to say and forcing a Bible story to fit my prejudice somehow. Unfortunately, the suggested alternative outline does the same thing, it forces a Bible story to fit "my" new and improved story. It works for Gideon, Peter, Mark, and Zacchaeus. However, Noah doesn't fit the "improved" story - nor does Joseph or Daniel. They fit the old story better, with the change to focusing on what amazing things God can do through someone who is righteous and faithful. Samson doesn't fit the old or the new template, nor does Jephthah or Jonah. They are different lessons altogether. The point is well taken, however ? preach what the Bible presents, not what we want to force it to say.

Todd Clippard

commented on Jun 17, 2015

"It gives the idea that we can, in our own power, actually DO the good things we see the characters doing. But we can?t. We don?t. We fail repeatedly." Whoever said these characters did such by their own power? By their own free will? Yes. And such examples are to be imitated (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17; Heb 12:1) just as much as poor examples are to be given in Scripture to be avoided (1 Cor 10:11). I understand the need to present a clear picture of great Bible characters, but to say that we should not preach so as to encourage others to strive to follow their good examples is anti-biblical.

Anonymous Contributor

commented on Jun 17, 2015

I disagree. We need heroes of the faith to encourage us in our walk with the Lord. Yes, no one is perfect, even in the Bible, except for Jesus, but we need other Christians to look up to so that we can imitate the good things in their lives to help us to live a more godly life. Listen to what Paul had to say in 1 Cor. 4:16 - "Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me." In 1 Cor. 1:11 - "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." In Phil. 3:17 - "Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do." In Phil. 4:9 - "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." In 1 Thess. 1:6 - "You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." In 2 Thess. 3:9 - "We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate." Imitation of the godly things in people of the Bible is what we should be doing.

Calvin Bryant

commented on Jun 17, 2015

Excellent explanation Pastor Brandon. God gets all the glory when we preach about people in the bible. Their halo is from the grace of God. I hardly ever think about Moses, Mary or Peter having a fallen condition. Good word.

Joel Rutherford

commented on Jun 17, 2015

Dan, Don't forget that 'Noah found grace...' before anything else happened. As far as we are told, grace came before any of Noah's goodness or actions. ,

Todd Clippard

commented on Jun 17, 2015

But WHY did Noah find grace? see v 9.

Carl Garrett

commented on Jun 17, 2015

There are some valid points; however, it is not necessary to point out the mistakes of a character in every sermon. Example: If I am preaching on Abraham's intercession for Lot what reason would there be to point out that he had lied about his wife? If I am preaching about Peter and his vision on the roof top what reason would there be to discuss his denial of Jesus.

Jamel Salter

commented on Jun 17, 2015

Funny how people are quick to give an opinion or quick to show their biblical prowess by quoting a bunch of scriptures. What is it about the church and the Bible that we must use every opportunity to debate it. Its no wonder that we have so many denominations out therw. I agree 100 with that he is saying. Why cant you folks just recieve it.?,

John Payton

commented on Jun 17, 2015

Good point to keep in mind. However, I am glad that every time someone mentions my name they don't bring up my failures...even God "forgets" them.

Ross Pyle

commented on Jun 17, 2015

I really haven't heard very many messages that did not point out both sides of the character of men and women in the Bible. I was rarely, if ever, led to believe, by a preacher, that we could follow the example of these people without the grace of God being the ultimate source of power and enablement. The glaring weaknesses of Abraham, Moses, Elijah,, were too obvious to overlook. The only examples in Scripture of whom little or nothing negative is said are Joseph and

Pastor Walter Roberts

commented on Jun 17, 2015

We must always "tell the truth" especially when you are preaching to people that "God wants" to speak to whether it is a correction or an encouragement. What does God want you to say to His people and at that particular time and place?

Dan Kassner

commented on Jun 18, 2015

Always preach Law/Gospel.

Join the discussion