Years ago, a high-school student stayed behind after a Bible study to talk with me one-on-one. The lesson that evening had been on the importance of a consistent prayer life. The young man was a growing Christian leader, and yet, he confessed how badly he struggled with prayer. He knew he was supposed to pray. He admitted how many times he had rekindled his commitment to prayer only to stumble, grow frustrated, and eventually give up. He said to me, “You tell us to pray more, and I want a strong prayer life so bad! Why is it so hard?”
A decade later and this conversation still haunts me. I recognize now that rather than helping my youth find joy in obeying the Lord through prayer, I had made obedience a burden that seemed impossible. Was it wrong for me to call them to obey the commands of Scripture? Absolutely not! But my pleas for them to strive for obedience in all aspects of their Christian walk lacked any power or motivation for them because my pleas for obedience were not grounded in the truths of the gospel. Calls for obedience were only half of what they needed to hear from God’s Word. What I had failed to give them were the precious gospel truths of Scripture that would help them to obey.
As preachers, we stand before our congregations every week to herald the Word of God. The Scriptures we proclaim contain truths about God—who He is and what He has done for us in Christ Jesus—and commands for God’s people to obey. And just as the Bible contains both gospel truths and commands, our sermons must contain both.
Gospel Truths and Biblical Commands
We find important gospel truths throughout the Bible, and our sermons need to emphasize these truths. Whether we are preaching from the Old or New Testament, our congregations need to hear what the Bible teaches about God, salvation, eternal life, and who Christians are in Jesus Christ. When a preacher faithfully shares these gospel truths week after week, they become a firm foundation for Christian living.
Similarly, we find commands throughout Scripture. To be in a relationship with God means following Him in obedience. It is through obedience to the commands of Scripture that Christians grow in Christlikeness and demonstrate that they know and love the Lord. In their sermons, preachers must call God’s people to obey biblical commands.
Why Our Sermons Need Gospel Truth and Biblical Commands
As pastors, if we want our congregation to know God, believe the gospel truths of the Bible, and follow the Lord in joyful obedience, our sermons must emphasize biblical commands and gospel truths together. A sermon with no biblical commands means we have failed to apply our passage. We may have powerfully proclaimed the glorious truths of Scripture, but we have failed to call our hearers to believe and act on those truths. A sermon with no gospel truths means we have placed a heavy burden on our congregation, giving them commands to obey without pointing them to the truths that can motivate and empower them to obey.
Consider these three reasons why preachers must ground biblical commands in gospel truths:
It’s the Pattern We Find in Scripture
Throughout Scripture, we find biblical truths and commands connected. Before God gives Israel the law to obey, He reminds them that it was He who rescued them out of slavery and brought them to Himself (Ex. 19–20). Before giving His disciples the Great Commission, Jesus declares that “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Him (Matt. 28:18–20). When Paul urges the Romans “to present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), his appeal is based on the mercies of God which he has elaborated on for eleven previous chapters. When preachers ground the commands of Scripture in the truths of Scripture, they are simply following the pattern found in the Bible.
It Helps Christians Obey for the Right Reason
As pastors, we not only want our members to obey the commands of Scripture, we want them to obey for the right reasons. To obey for the wrong reasons never brings God honor. When we faithfully ground the commands of our preaching passage in the gospel truths of the Bible, we help our people to obey out of God’s love. As we consistently remind our congregations in our sermons of who God is and the love He has demonstrated in the cross of Christ, our hope is that obedience becomes a joy and not a burden—a privilege, and not a dreaded duty. But if our sermons are always filled with commands to obey with no hint of gospel truths, there will always be a danger of our people falling into legalism and obedience for the wrong reasons.
It Enables and Empowers Christians to Obey
Every sermon is an opportunity to enable and empower our congregation to be obedient. But apart from connecting biblical commands to biblical truths, our people will find no foundation or power for obeying the commands of Scripture. Even in our sincerest attempts to lead our people to obedience through our preaching, we can inadvertently hinder our people if we fail to provide them with the motivation and the power to obey. While our congregation might be tempted to try and obey biblical commands in their own power—which always leads to exhaustion and frustration—preaching gospel truths helps remind them that the power they need to obey is already theirs in the person of the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Christians often try to muster up the motivation to persevere in obedience. However, the gospel truths in a sermon can remind Christians that they are sons and daughters of the King, loved perfectly by the Father in the Son. Being told in a sermon to obey is not enough. Hearers also need to be told the glorious truths of Scripture that become their motivation and power for obedience.
If we truly desire for our people to obey the commands of God and to do so in a way that honors God and avoids frustration and burnout, we must remember to connect the commands of God’s Word in the glorious truths of God’s Word.