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We who preach are called to preach everything, the "whole counsel of God." And that means talking about human sinfulness and depravity even as we're preaching about victory and triumph.
Remember the passage in the Bible where Moses comes down off the mountain and the people have made a golden calf? God prepared him with the information in advance: "Hey, when you get down there, don't be shocked, but here's what they've been doing ..."
When Moses saw the golden calf for himself, he was still utterly shocked at the insanity of their rebellion.
That's how we approach the subject of depravity—we can hardly believe it.
I mean, sure, people mess up, but totally wicked to the core from birth? Separated from God? Estranged from their Creator?
Yep. That's us.
The Struggle (With Depravity) Is Real
Every Sunday, in your desire to encourage and equip, you're ultimately preaching to people who either are or were lost.
And one of the worst, yet most common, solutions is to do what Moses attempted to do. We offer ourselves as the savior.
I don't mean we literally see ourselves in a messianic light, but rather that without realizing it, we often preach as those who have it figured out to those who don't. As experts to rookies.
This is where we can learn from Richard Baxter, who said he preached "as a dying man to dying men."
God rejected Moses' offer of himself as a sacrifice for the people. Why? Well, he was depraved.
Many skeptics of the Christian faith can buy the concept of a Creator but not the issue of depravity. They can embrace Jesus as humanitarian and all-around-good-guy, but not as the lamb who had to be offered to atone for our sinfulness.
Why is depravity such a hang-up for us? Maybe it's because, in our self-esteem-obsessed culture, the insinuation of moral badness in any of us from birth is just too counter-cultural. It's too offensive and shocking.
We say our greatest problem is a lack of self-esteem, while God says our biggest problem is too much self-esteem.
Now let me be clear. We are all of tremendous worth and value because of God's love for us and His willingness to exchange His own Son on our behalf. That's value!
Every life has inherent dignity and worth as a creation of God. Nothing changes that. Not our ethnicity, our birth place, our past, our personality or our national heritage. Not even the factors that may be seen as "defects" from a purely scientific point of view can subtract one iota of the value our Creator has assigned to us.
But we're still depraved.
So depravity is offensive, shocking and practically unbelievable. Yet we must preach it. How?
Preach Something Even More Shocking
This may sound strange, but while the truth of human depravity may be offensive to people who see themselves as righteous, there is actually something even more shocking, more offensive, and more unbelievable.
The truth about grace might seem positive at first glance, but in order to embrace it, we have to come to terms with our need for it. And that means acknowledging our own depravity.
Think about it. We're unfit for heaven and unable to save ourselves, but God's grace rules and reigns as He offers us eternal peace with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus died for our sins, for our depravity, so that we might be made righteous in Him—even righteous like Him.
As hard to believe as depravity might seem, grace is more so. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds (see Rom. 5:20).
I find preaching on depravity dark and depressing, yet I know that at the end of the message, I have the opportunity to extend hope.
Our fear is that if we preach about depravity, people won't come back. And perhaps some won't. But the truth of it is, if we are faithful to frame depravity in the light of the forgiving, renewing, healing, empowering grace of God, people will find hope.
And everybody needs hope.
Everybody needs grace.
So preach practical application—it's essential to helping people become doers of the Word and not hearers only (see James 1:22). But right in the middle of it, weave in the big truths of the gospel:
- We can't.
- He did.
- He died to forgive us.
- In His grace, we can again.
The secret to preaching about depravity and helping people see their own lostness lies in our willingness to faithfully conclude with the grace that saves—and changes everything.
Brandon Cox has been a pastor since he was 19 and has served churches, large and small, including serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church. Currently, he is planting a purpose-driven church in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as editor of pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders as well as a blog about men's issues, a blog about blogging and a blog about social media.
This article originally appeared on ministrypass.com.
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