Preaching & Teaching

Preaching God’s Two Words: Law & Gospel

Preaching God’s Two Words: Law & Gospel

I was invited to speak at the “Preach the Word” conference at Living Stones Church in Reno, NV, and was assigned “Preaching God’s Two Words: Law & Gospel.”

I can think of no more important thing to get straight before one preaches than the distinction and relationship between God’s Law and God’s Gospel. We are talking about the character and holiness of God and the pleasant pardoning and love of God. Because we are sinners, the law is God’s “No!” and curse to us and the Gospel is God’s “Yes!” To confuse them is to corrupt the Christian faith at its core. Martin Luther says, “The whole of the Scriptures and the whole of theology depends upon the true understanding of the law and the gospel.”

In Galatians 3:1-3, 10-14, St. Paul writes:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Almighty God, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for 
our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, 
and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever
hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have
 given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with
 you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 28, Book of Common Prayer, pages 236)


4 Quick Questions About Studying The Bible

4 Quick Questions About Studying The Bible


Justin Holcomb: I prefer to go through the books consecutively, which helps me focus on the message of each book. Reading book by book helps me understand how the text fits together. This way, I’m able to follow the Bible’s themes and ideas from beginning to end. I also don’t want to overlook details. Reading one book at a time helps me get into the texture of each passage and helps me locate themes that repeat.


JH: I think the big idea is: What is the Bible? Is it a to-do manual? Is it just a classic text? Do we read it so that we can find a few commands that we should follow, or is it saying something else?

Since I think the big idea of the Bible is “God saves sinners,” that is the theme I’m generally looking for. When I teach the Bible, I want people to be looking for what God has said about Himself, while also being fully aware of who we are or can be: redeemed sinners.


JH: In Sudan, we taught army chaplains who served without weapons on the front lines. They ministered to the southern army, northern prisoners of war and Sudanese civilians. In this instance, biblical literacy was our main concern. After visiting Sudan for the first time, I realized that these chaplains loved Jesus and they loved the Bible—but they didn’t have Bible training or resources, so they didn’t know it that well.

We went through the entire Bible and taught them how it all hangs together—dates, biblical writers, basic structure. They had such an eagerness to learn.


JH: I enjoy helping pastors develop sermons. I want to make sure pastors are teaching with their eyes fixed on holiness and the grace of God. I have them ask themselves: Am I giving each person the good message of “repent and believe the gospel,” or am I giving them heaving burdens that they can’t carry?

With my seminary students, I focus on a “gospel-centered” hermeneutic. I want them to see the weight of the holiness of God and the response of repentance. I want them to understand their continual dependence on the grace of God and the message of the Bible, both for themselves and for the people they’re going to be leading and evangelizing.


Justin Holcomb is featured in the current January/February 2012 issue of Bible Study Magazine. This Q&A is available on their site where he talks with the magazine about studying the Bible and equipping leaders.

5 Reminders When Preaching A Topical Sermon

5 Reminders When Preaching A Topical Sermon

Here are 5 points to keep in mind regarding topical sermons on Mother’s Day. These points also apply to other topics as well.


1. Keep it simple

When you are preaching through a book of the Bible, you are obviously limited to the text selected for that week. But when you preach a topical sermon, you have whatever the Bible says on that topic at your disposal—and having such a wealth of material doesn’t always work in your favor. If you try to say everything you find on the theme, you run the risk saying very little about anything in particular. So figure out what you want to say and keep it simple. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic; it means focused.


2. Aim for coherence

In addition to selecting from the wealth of biblical data you find from your study, you also need to arrange the information in a coherent manner that is accessible to the congregation.


3. Make sure it corresponds to reality

For example, preaching on Mother’s Day allows you to say and celebrate lots of wonderful things about moms and motherhood. Many experience real joy on this day. However, others experience lots of pain or disappointment because of loneliness, miscarriages, someone’s death, divorce, etc. Please keep this wide spectrum in mind as you preach. Laugh with the joyful and weep with and comfort those who are mourning.


4. Go for the heart

Navigate between the two extremes of either (1) giving a lecture or (2) aiming for a sentimental moment. You can do this by using great illustrations that capture your points well or by getting a bit personal about the joys or sadness of this day for you.


5. Preach

Your roll is not to serve as a host for a special moment or to be an armchair critic of where our culture has goofed on motherhood or viewing women. You are a preacher of Good News. Proclaim the person and work of Jesus and his gospel. The grace upon grace from Jesus (John 1:16) is the most relevant thing for you to communicate.


Suggested Readings

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon

Bryan Chapell, The Hardest Sermon You’ll Ever Have To Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching

12 Ways to Make Your Teaching & Writing Anti-Christian

12 Ways to Make Your Teaching & Writing Anti-Christian

1. Downplay the law of God and his grace. Tell people God is not that angry about cosmic treason, and grace isn’t that amazing.

2. Don’t mention God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Assume that people already know enough about them or that the Trinity is too confusing to talk about.

3. Make “The Little Engine That Could” the foundation and center of your theology.

4. Remember that God is passive, so you better be really active… or else.

5. Remember, no other Christians get it right except for your tribe, of which you should be chief.

6. Only use Scripture as a proof-text—don’t actually teach it.

7. Tell people to follow their hearts.

8. Talk about technique a lot, because techniques are concrete. Miracles like regeneration, God turning haters into lovers, and the fruit of the Spirit are too abstract to be helpful.

9. Guilt is a great motivator. Use it wisely.

10. In their sanctification, people should fake it till they make it. Tell them how.

11. Be condescending. Make sure your theology is un-gracious in content and tone.

12. People really want Good Advice instead of Good News, so be a people-pleaser and only give lots of advice.