Sunday, June 15, 2014

God uses preaching to change lives

Acts 13:16  "Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen."

Today's post aims to understand how God uses preaching to change lives. In the Book of Acts we see roughly 20 examples of preaching. In Acts 13 we see the Apostle Paul's second sermon recorded in the book of Acts. Our main point of application for today will be: That God has ordained the preaching of the scriptures to convert the soul of sinners and change the lives of the saints. 

Scripture, especially in the New Testament, testifies to the centrality of preaching as God's ordained means of conveying saving and sanctifying grace. Romans 10:13-17 - "for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." 1 Corinthians 1:21 "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." 1 Timothy 4:13-16 "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."

So again we say: That God has ordained the preaching of the scriptures to convert the soul of sinners and change the lives of the saints. In the remainder of this post we want to consider Acts 13:16-52 and the following two thoughts: What constitutes a God-ordained sermon? Then secondly, the results that can occur when the Word of God is preached.

What elements are included in God-ordained preaching
As one studies the contents of Paul's sermon to the Jews in the Synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (13:14), we see the following seven key components of his sermon that can act as a recipe for putting together the types of sermons that are used by God to change lives.

1. Strong Introduction to get everyone's attention. Acts 13:16

2. Exposition or explanation of the scriptures. Acts 13:17-25

3. Progression of thought or clear direction. Acts 13:17-25

4. Heavy use of illustrations from other parts of the Bible. Acts 13:17-25

5. Exhortation or urging the listeners to apply what they are hearing. Acts 13:26,40-41 

6. Conclusion. Acts 13:40-41

7. Response of some kind (whether it be reception or rejection). Acts 13:44 

The results can occur in God-ordained preaching
Having witnessed the key elements of a Biblical sermon, what results can occur when the Word of God has been proclaimed? Notice some observations from Acts 13:44-52. 

1. Rejection Acts 13:44-47
Perhaps some readers would not had expected this first observation. True preaching that has been done Biblically and for the glory of Jesus Christ will not leave listeners wondering where the preacher stands, where the text stands or where they stand.  Jesus plainly said in Matthew 12:30 (KJV) "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." True God-centered preaching aims to get a response. Not every God-centered sermon that is preached is guaranteed to result in salvations. Truly no salvation can occur without the preaching or teaching of God's Word. Yet we know that in the Bible, whenever the Word of God was proclaimed, the so-called "squishy-middle" comprised of the non-committed was collapsed and the end result would either be those committed to Christ or those committed to opposing Christ. Clearly the refusal of the Jews in Pisidia was of their own choosing. Paul states in Acts 13:46 "Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles." The people who ended up rejecting the Gospel did so because of their own freedom to choose out of their sinful inclinations. Acts 13:50 records how the rejecters incited others to drive Paul and Barnabas out of the area. 

2. Reception. Acts 13:48-52
With the news that Paul was turning to the Gentiles with the message of salvation, a second response came forth.  After quoting Isaiah 42:6 in Acts 13:47, we read in Acts 13:48 "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Why did these people believe? Two things were present for them to believe. For one thing the preached Word. 

Then secondly, God's elective purpose of grace, as seen in the phrase "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." The Baptist Faith & Message explains what is meant by the term "Elective Purpose of Grace" - "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility." These Gentiles believed freely as a result of God's choosing and Sovereign grace working through the preaching of the Word. All who trust in Christ as Savior and Lord do so because of Grace.  All who reject the claims of the Gospel about them and Christ do so because of their own choice. God ordains the means of salvation: (preaching, faith, repentance) without doing violence to a person's responsibility to trust on Jesus Christ and be saved. No one can comprehensively explain how both truths (Sovereignty & human responsibility) are true at the same time.  The Bible does not expound at length, and so neither should we.  Affirmation of both God's Sovereign purposes and man's choice have their meeting place in the event of the preaching of God's Word. 

Closing thoughts
As we conclude this post today, we identified key elements in God-ordained preaching, as well as the typical responses that can occur when Biblical preaching is done. 


  1. An atheist asked once asked me, "Why did God leave the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden? That is like an adult leaving a child near an open flame on the stove, telling the child 'don't touch it,' and then leaving the room. God bears some responsibility for Adam and Eve taking the fruit. He should have put it out of their reach."

    Sometimes my heart thinks like the atheist. I wish it weren't so hard. But I understand. We have to be free to reject Him if we want to. He did not make robots or puppets. Even the angels can reject Him.

    I told the atheist, "Before God even created one thing, He had a plan. He already knew what was going to happen. And the plan for our Savior was born even before man and the earth. And Jesus agreed to it. He agreed to be a substitute for us, take our sin upon Himself, and give us back eternal life. It is a free gift to anyone who will believe. In heaven, there will be a Tree of Life from which we can freely eat. It will never hurt us again."

    It is so refreshing to come here and read your posts -- it is like breathing the fresh air of sanity.

    God bless,

  2. To Abby:

    The atheist wrongly assumes two things: a). that Adam and Eve were without any attending graces b). that God left them alone.

    We know that Adam and Eve had all of the graces they needed to overcome the serpent's offer, as well as God's accompanying presence in walking with them. Consider these details: 1). A lush garden 2). God's words 3). God's accompanying presence 4). They being clothed in His glory

    Your response to the Atheist was spot on. The Gospel alone tells us that God not only is aware of our suffering, but in the Person of the Son He came to do something about it.

    Atheism is ill-equipped to deal with such issues as pain and suffering and must resort to either dismissing the issue all together or borrow from some other worldview to address the issue. Tim Keller's Book: "Walking with God through pain and suffering" is about the best book out there on dealing with these issues.

    What Jesus did in defeating Satan in the wilderness demonstrates He came as the second Adam to achieve where the first Adam had failed. He not only gives believers saved by grace alone through faith alone access to the tree of life - He Himself is such!

    I praise God for whatever benefit you have gained from this blog. Praise be to God you find it an oasis.

  3. "We know that Adam and Eve had all of the graces they needed to overcome the serpent's offer.."

    I think most times I don't see that. I guess, through my own "fallen" eyes used for interpretation of Scripture, I see them as being more vulnerable than they actually were. One wonders then how or why the temptation was able to "get through" -- that it was able to be that attractional. I wonder if they fell for the "I can be god" syndrome. It is a mystery to me.


  4. Truly the events of the garden of Eden, and the whole question of the origins of evil and suffering continue to be discussed among theologians. Though no one can ever come up with a comprehensive answer, yet we can articulate a coherent one. I'll give you mine and then close with a scripture that to me gives the clearest explanation as to how God could will to include evil and suffering without being its author.

    First, God is Sovereign. (Genesis 50:20; Ecc 3:14-16; Daniel 2:44-45; isaiah 6; Romans 8:28; 11:33-36). God as Sovereign has an Ultimate will that includes His unrevealed will (Dt 29:29); His Permissive Will (Genesis 50:20; Rom 8:28) and His revealed will (Ephesians 1:10; 2 Timothy 3:15-16). In scripture God will often permit what he hates in order to accomplish the good He intends.

    Second, God is good. That is to say, He is Perfectly Holy (Habakkuk 1:13) and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5-7). Being that God is perfectly Good and Holy, then evil's origin necessarily derives from one source - the creature. In heaven there was a cosmic rebellion instituted by Lucifer (Ezekiel 28) who became Satan, the Father of lies (John 8:44). We are not told how Lucifer, being created good, could do what he did, all we know is that pride was found in him (Isaiah 14) and he got His eyes off of God's infinite goodness and focused on his lesser creaturely beauty (isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28). His fall led to swaying 1/3 of the angelic host (Revelation 12). This cosmic fall led to Satan tempting our original parents. Though they had ever available inducement of God's grace, nonetheless they chose freely and willingly to sin. Through one man sin entered into the world, and thus death on all. (Romans 5)

    Thirdly, the cross. The fact God ordained the cross in history tells us He already knew the fall was going to occur and that He and the Son ordained the cross to be the means through which evil and suffering would be defeated. (Acts 2:22-24) The theology of the cross is a powerful point in this discussion, reminding us that outside the cross, the God of the Bible cannot be known. Any response to the problem of evil and suffering that bypasses the cross is not a Christian response, nor effective.

    Then finally, God's glory is the purpose for which he made the world.(Rom 11:33-36) In making the world, which included the cross. God also, for reasons known mostly to Himself but yet in no ultimate conflict with Who He is as the Good, Sovereign God, chose to include evil. (Isaiah 45) Like a black cloth that brings out the brilliant facets of a diamond at a jeweler, evil and suffering in the plan of God function in His purpose to accomplish His ends. (Acts 4:27-28; Rom 3:25-26) God permits what He hates in order to achieve His most gracious ends. (Gen 50:20; Ro 8:28)

    We can never comprehend God's purposes in their entirety, however in what we do know, there is never any conflict within God. Let me close with a text that brings home to us everything mentioned above. Romans 8:20-25 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.