Grace is what God extends to sinners. So preaching grace can be a complex task: in order to proclaim grace, we must address sin.
We face two possible errors when addressing the doctrine of sin. One is to preach grace while neglecting sin. This we must not do. The doctrine of sin is of immeasurable value to our churches. We must never minimize its importance, nor should we apologize for preaching it. Our hearers must understand that sin is pervasive, subtle, deceptive, and deadly. Only then will grace have any meaning.
The other error, one to which many of us are prone, is to teach and apply the doctrine of sin while neglecting grace. It is possible to teach this doctrine and not reveal the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is also a sobering possibility, one we must avoid at all costs.
It takes great skill to teach the doctrine of sin in a way that reveals, rather than obscures, the grace of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson captures this challenge:
Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions.
Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.¹
Have you seen this weakness in your own life and ministry? In your church? When was the last time you thought deeply about it? We are all more familiar with sin than we are with grace—therein lies our weakness.
So we must handle the doctrine of sin with great care. We must teach it with humility and apply it with wisdom. Remember: this doctrine is a means, not an end. Preaching about sin is not the same as preaching grace. If we do not unveil and apply grace, our emphasis on the doctrine of sin will leave the members of our churches devoid of hope, without joy, and aware only of their sin, not of the grace of Christ.
Pastors, our goal is not simply to convict our hearers of sin, but to convince them of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. So which are you more aware of: the pervasiveness of sin, or the power of grace? Which is your church more aware of? If someone were to study your sermon notes, would he find more space devoted to exposing sin than to unveiling and applying grace?
It requires little skill merely to expose sin. But it takes great skill to unveil grace and apply it to the wide variety of spiritual conditions represented in our churches. Merely addressing sin or exposing sin is not sufficient; we must labor to show the stunning magnitude and power of the grace of Christ toward those he has redeemed. The message we deliver is the message of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which saves us from all our sin.
This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.