When I hear an essentially law-driven sermon, asking the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, I am immediately concerned about the preacher. I wonder about his view of himself, because if you have any self-consciousness about your own weakness and sin, you find little hope and comfort for yourself and your hearers in that kind of sermon.
You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law-keepers, they had no problem laying unbearable burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology, but also in ugly human pride. They saw the law as keepable, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought others should keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, and judgmental. They were not part of what God was doing at the moment—no, they were in the way of it.
Whole Lot of Pride
I am afraid there is a whole lot of pride in the modern pulpit. There is a whole lot of pride in the seminary classroom. There is a whole lot of pride in the church staff. It is one of the reasons for all the relational conflict in the church. It is why we are often better theological gatekeepers than tender and humble spokesmen for the gospel. It is why pastors often seem unapproachable. It is why we get angry in meetings or defensive when someone disagrees with us or points out a wrong.
We are too self-assured. We are too confident. We too quickly assess that we are okay. We too quickly make heroes out of ourselves and others. We too often take credit for what sovereign grace produced. We too often think we don’t need the help the normal believer needs. We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We too often take as personal affronts what is not personal. We quit being students too soon. We have too little time for meditative communion with Christ nailed into our schedules. We confidently assign to ourselves more ministry work than we can do. We live in more isolation than is spiritually healthy.
Not Yet Free
You are not yet free of sin and all its attendant dangers. You are capable of giving way to disastrous things. You are capable of losing your way. You are capable of ungodly attitudes and dark desires. You have not been completely delivered from pride, greed, lust, anger, and bitterness. Sometimes you minister with the attitude of a king, rather than one called to represent the King. You do not always love God above all else. You do not always love your neighbor as yourself. You are not always kind and compassionate. You are not always patient and forgiving. Sometimes you love your little kingdom of one more than you love God’s kingdom.
There are times when you love comfort and pleasure more than you love redemption. There are times when pride renders you unkind and unapproachable. There are times when you want your ministry to be about you. There are times when your’re irritated by the very people you’ve been called to pastor. You are not proud of all your thoughts. You would not want your congregation to hear all of your words. You do things in private moments that you would not want to be seen publicly.
These things are true of me as well. And they testify to the fact that we who are called to provide and lead ministry desperately need ministry ourselves. We who proclaim the message of grace deeply need grace ourselves. We have not arrived. We have not moved beyond a moment-by-moment need for grace. We are not yet out of danger. We are not yet free from temptation. The war for our hearts still rages. We still fail and fall.
But we have been blessed with the same grace we offer others. This grace humbles us as it exposes in us the very sin we are tempted to deny or minimize. Isn’t it good to know we rest not in our perfection, but Christ’s? We do not promote our reputation but his. The Savior uses people in process as tools of his process of grace in others, so we need not deny our neediness.