I’ve been pondering the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian of late, especially after preaching recently on Romans 15:14-24 (“Is God’s Mission our Ambition?”). Twice in that passage, we see the role of the Holy Spirit. Paul sought to offer the Gentiles as an acceptable offering, “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16). He sought, in a parallel thought, to “bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (v. 18-19).
As an offshoot of this passage, I revisited the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching. I have sat under preachers who believed it was simply their role to inform as to the content. The Holy Spirit’s job is to take that informative message and apply it to the listener’s heart for personal living. Few (if any) illustrations and even fewer application narratives made for a sermon all about content—but ruggedly absent in connection.
As a reactive (or maybe corrective) measure, the pendulum has swung the other way in that the Holy Spirit must be living and active in preparation as well as the presentation; along with this, He must move in the presentation along with the persuasion! In this mindset, its advocates note that we are working both on a rational and an existential/experiential level. A sermon should be content + compulsion—or as some would put this, “Preaching that’s from the heart!”
As a follower of Christ, my calling and ultimately my passion is preaching and teaching people the Word of God! My bookshelves in my office are lined with preaching books from various authors from varying backgrounds advocating expositional over topical (or vice versa), strong structure over fluidity and conversational approaches (or vice versa). One book suggests preaching with notes, another preaching without notes. One book is titled “Spirit-Led Preaching,” another “Spirit-Empowered Preaching“,” another “Biblical Preaching,” still another, “Christ-Centered Preaching,” still another, “Anointed Expository Preaching,” and yet another “The Supremacy of God in Preaching.” The most provocative one is entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Preach.”
Needless to say, it’s encouraging to see so many interact with this crucial topic. Yet, we must get back to the issue of this: should preaching be persuasive or merely inform?
If we are to look at the snippets of sermons found in the Scriptures, we see that they are not simply informative theological diatribes and treatises. In Ezra 7:10, we see that Ezra the priest’s heart was to “set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (ESV). Yet, Ezra was also persuasive when it came to teaching, to such a degree that he tore his garment and cloak and pulled hair from his head and his beard and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3).
Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) contains numerous imperatives:
- Do not be angry against your brother, but be reconciled to your brother and come to terms quickly—else you’ll be guilty of breaking the 6th commandment (Matthew 5:21-26).
- Do not lust, or you’ll be guilty of breaking the 7th commandment (and this is all forms of sexual lust—including fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia along with pornography).
- We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
- We are to give to the needy, pray, and fast (Matthew 6:1-18).
- We are to flee from anxiety and seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:25-34).
Chapter seven is chock full of examples as well, but you get the idea. Jesus wasn’t just informing, he was persuading with a holy authority.
In Acts 2:1-42, the apostle Peter persuaded the Jews to the point that they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and wanted to know how to respond. In Acts 17:17-34, the apostle Paul persuaded those on Mars Hill in the Areopagus, where he explained the true Creator who sent His resurrected Son. He called on them “to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (17:30b-31).
In each of Paul’s epistles is the thread of walking worthy of Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 3:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5; Titus 3:5-9). He bolsters these imperatives with the doctrine of the nature and work of God as brought forth in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I close with this passage from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” He persuades them in the assurance and conviction of what Christ accomplished at the cross, but also what He is accomplishing in His church from heaven through the Holy Spirit! He then presses everyone to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). This is the message to which he has been entrusted—and it’s a persuasive command he has laid out by the power of the Spirit.
So preach passionately! Let me (truly) close with a wonderful quote from Robert Smith, from the foreword of Greg Heisler’s, “Spirit-Led Preaching”:
The contemporary church suffers from the ache of memory that has resulted in pneumatological amputation and absence. In fact, the Holy Spirit has been demoted to the status of the stepchild of the Trinity, especially in preaching. . . . In these days of unprecedented fear and incomparable tragedies, the Spirit and the Word need to be married together in an inextricable bond so that the hearers of our gospel can be initiated into the faith through the gospel, instructed by the faith through the gospel, and be inspired to keep the faith through the gospel” (xi-xii).