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Preaching on Grace

An interview with Kyle Idleman.
Preaching on Grace

Editor's Note: This is part two of an interview Kyle Rohane, Managing Editor for CT Pastors, and Andrew Finch, Associate Editor for Preaching Today, had with Kyle Idleman. You can find part one here.

What are some of the misunderstandings of grace that our people enter church with?

I think that a lot of us grew up in homes and churches where what we tied to grace or what we tied to forgiveness, whether that is the grace and forgiveness we received or the grace and forgiveness we were to give, is this idea that we have to make it right in order for it to count. So when I was a kid and I would do something wrong against one of my sisters, my parents would rightly teach me you need to go and make it right. But that was very much connected to forgiveness. When you make it right then they need to forgive you. Or if they've made it right and they say they're sorry and they've made it right, then you need to forgive them.

A lot of people have come into church with this mindset of, "Hey, God will forgive me when I make it right, when I get the score, I catch up a little bit here," or "I will forgive someone else when they make it right." There's this need to understand that grace and forgiveness is not based upon us making it right with God. That's what Jesus did for us, and now we've been called to give that kind of forgiveness and grace to other people. What we offer is not dependent upon them making it right. That's the biggest obstacle, with so many coming into church with that perspective.

When you're talking about grace and you don't come off as very gracious, it's like talking about thanksgiving without sounding grateful.

There are two other dominant misconceptions. On one end of the scale you have some people who come in to church and they're really sick but they don't want to admit that they have an illness. It's hard to help people experience grace when they won't acknowledge their sin. Pretending you're not sick is not an effective way to get better, but that tends to be how a lot of us approach an illness. Then on the other end of the spectrum you have people who think they're too sick. It's too late. I might have gone too far. So you have people thinking—I'm not sick; I don't really need it or I'm too sick; I can't get better. I think that oftentimes you can put new people, especially those that come to church, in one of those two categories.

How is the grace you write about in Grace is Greater different than cheap grace? How can pastors better explain and experience full grace, while also focusing on repentance and sanctification?

I think the way that we avoid the danger of a cheap grace message is by constantly highlighting the pain and price of Calvary. If we continually point back to how much was paid for us, to be forgiven and for us to be able to forgive, that is the answer to the risk or the concern of cheap grace. As long as I keep pointing back to the price that was paid it's not going to be cheap. If I'm constantly focusing on what we've been given without talking about what was paid, then that becomes a little bit more dangerous.

To answer your question on the tension and why sanctification gets overlooked or skipped. People often think, Hey, I've been given this by God, so I can live how I want and do what I want. I don't know how you read through the New Testament and come away with that conclusion. So I feel like if we're teaching what Scripture teaches about grace and sanctification, that those two things come together.

I love Titus 2 as a connector to grace and sanctification. It specifically says it's God's grace that teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live with self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. Romans 2:4 shows us that God's kindness, God's grace is meant to lead you to repentance. Romans 6:14 talks about that sin doesn't have dominion over us because we're not under the Law anymore; we're under grace. We can run a much higher risk of missing the sanctification message by failing to highlight and to celebrate grace than we do by overly celebrating it.

Can you give us an example of how you continue to highlight grace in your sermons?

I would say that our preaching team has been intentional to not stop offering an invitation in our sermons. Many churches that I visit to preach and teach, that is not necessarily part of the sermon. I have found that by always having an invitation it forces you with every message to bring these things together—what God has done for us and what God has called us to. So, as a preacher, if it's not an invitation, I want to have some sort of concluding implication of what this means to me. Because we are in the practice of always offering an invitation; the invitation forces us to make sure we've built that bridge.

How can preachers better preach on grace, about grace, and apply grace both to themselves and to their congregation?

I love this definition of preaching: It's God's truth through personality. I love that definition, especially when we're talking about grace. There is room when you're teaching on grace, for lack of a better term, for personality. That when you're talking about grace and you don't come off as very gracious it's like talking about thanksgiving without sounding grateful. It doesn't work very well.

I need help with that sometimes as a preacher. My wife will call me on it, certainly. But I need some people to tell me when I'm not sounding gracious as a communicator. Most of us can probably relate to being under a preacher who could be a lot of fun and pleasant and then they get up to preach and they seem angry and upset. We need to bring the personal impact that grace has had on our lives into the tone of our sermons. I think that should be something we strive for. I know that's a little more intangible, but I think most communicators understand that tension.

Kyle Idleman is teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Grace is Greater

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