Often in Scripture, the faithful falter. For example, Abraham is called “the man of faith” by Paul, and he is upheld as the model of justification by faith in all of the Bible. Yet, he sold his wife into defilement and adultery–twice. Or, consider the disciples. In the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they are hiding together in a room, terrified. What do we make of these things?
Semper Reformanda: The guys talk about preaching the Old Testament–and in particular, preaching on the lives of Old Testament saints. What are better and worse ways to do that? What are some common objections raised against redemptive-historical preaching?
Scripture references:Genesis 12:10-20John 20:19-23
Giveaway: “Night Driving” by Chad Bird
Semper Reformanda Transcripts
Jon Moffitt: Welcome to Semper Reformanda.
Justin Perdue: We’re going to talk about redemptive-historical preaching, and Christ-centered preaching even, and what that means when we preach the Old Testament. In particular, we’ll talk about what it means when we preach like I’m doing right now in Genesis where we are in narrative sections, where there are people who have been significant in redemptive history, and we see things about their lives, some of which are good and commendable, but many of these things are not.
I can at least say it this way for me, Jon, and I know that you had similar experiences, probably maybe even more extreme ones given that you grew up in fundamentalism and all that. There is a tendency in evangelicalism to moralize the Bible wholesale, but that certainly rears its head in an obvious way when it comes to preaching the Old Testament and preaching about the lives of Old Testament saints. There are a number of comments that I could make here. Two things immediately come to mind for me; one may be more fundamental than the other. I think when you preach the Old Testament in such a way where you’re going to study the lives of Old Testament saints, and we’re just going to look for ways that we can be like them, I think that’s a tremendous misunderstanding of the point of Scripture. I think that’s a very, in one sense, a law-centered mentality. We’re trying to look through every passage to determine what we need to do. I think that it ends up going in a number of bad directions because we end up having to whitewash the lives of Old Testament saints if we’re really gonna be able to say a ton of things about imitating them. What about all the ways that I really don’t want to be like Abraham and the other saints? Because those things are rarely, if ever at all, talked about. People don’t have a category for that because what we need to preach is faithfulness. That’s one significant issue.
Another issue that I want to touch on at some point is how even when you get into some circles where the theology is a little better, and we understand that Abraham was saved by Christ and his merits, there still is a tendency to preach 90% of your sermon about the life of Abraham and then just tack Jesus on, rather than having Christ and the plan of redemption being the focus, the foreground, and the lens through which you even see the whole thing. I think there’s just a fundamentally different orientation that we have as we come to the text.
So those are two different things that are in my mind. Let’s start off with the more obvious low hanging fruit thing. We’ve moralized the lives of these people and the bottom line is their lives, like ours, are quite mixed. Dare I say it, there are some men in my congregation that I could just as easily do a three lesson series at a men’s retreat on their life as I could Abraham. There are guys in my congregation who are super godly husbands and dads, and who are virtuous in their jobs, and have not committed some crazy heinous sin like Abraham did at multiple points. This is not to throw Abraham under the bus, but again, it’s just to ask what the point of Abraham is; the point of Abraham is Christ, the one who would come from him, his promised offspring, who would save him and us. And that’s what Abraham would be preaching—not his life but he’d be preaching Jesus.
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. And the argument that people throw back at that is that, “Well, they’re in the Bible and John Calvin or John Wilson and your church are not.” That’s the argument. They’re still humans whether they were put in there or not. Let me throw some psychology on this. I think that Jesus is unrelatable because he’s perfect. So we look at that and say nobody can be like Jesus so we need the next best thing. We need something that’s close. And we all love a personal redemption story. We all love to see that. In the movies, a guy destroys his life and then he rebuilds it back up, or someone else destroys his life and he builds something out of it.
I watched a movie recently with my wife called Fatherhood. It was this story of how he lost his wife and he was kind of a mess. Then he raises his daughter for seven years by himself. It literally was this personal redemption to prove to his mother-in-law that he is a good father. And we love that. We want to hear sermons that say, “Well, Daniel was human like I am. He struggled with sin, but he overcame his sin this way.” We like it because it’s relatable. The problem is when you allow the text of Scripture to drive the narrative, it doesn’t make that application; Paul makes application in the exact opposite. He said these were examples so that you don’t follow them. You don’t want to do what they did. And yet, somehow we miss 1 Corinthians 10, do the exact opposite, and use them as examples.
Justin Perdue: And it’s not that there are never commendable things that we would want to imitate. And when those are in the texts, we can happily talk about them.
I made comments this past Sunday about how Abraham deals very equitably and fairly in the aftermath of the battle between the two different groups of Kings in Genesis 14. You get this whole situation where he takes 318 guys under the cover of darkness, rescues Lot, and brings back all the people in the stuff and everything. And then he’s talking to the king of Sodom and says, “I’m only going to take what I’m due. I don’t need to be given anything else.” He’s very equitable. He’s very fair. We can commend that. He’s going to obviously commit a deed of great faith in how he’s prepared to sacrifice Isaac. So it’s not like we can’t talk about that stuff, but we need to talk about all of it. We need to not only point out the virtuous pieces, but point out the failures, not to slam these people, but to actually, like I said earlier, to see the treasure that Scripture really is to those of us who want to be honest in our battle against sin. I take heart in observing Abraham’s life and how he absolutely blew it like mightily, but yet the Lord saved him and has kept him, and he is held up as the model for all of us of those who will be justified by faith in Christ. And he did this. It doesn’t make me want to go sell my wife out; it makes me thankful for God’s grace and for what Jesus did for me.
Jon Moffitt: This is dangerous. Who knows but we need to take this out: we do this in a modern day context.
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr., President Donald Trump. We tend to want to ignore that which is a massive failure in their life and uphold that which they have done good. They’re a sinner; you can’t ignore that fact.
Justin, let’s just be real. You and I have to keep our lives in order, otherwise we cannot be pastors.
Justin Perdue: We’re disqualified from office.
Jon Moffitt: We’re not like nonchalant and just doing whatever our hearts desire. We want to maintain the office of the Shepherd because we want to serve Christ in that way. But we don’t take pride in it. We don’t walk around our congregation and put our finger down their throats and say, “You better pay attention when I have to say, because I’m qualified and you’re not.”
Justin Perdue: Sure. And if there’s anything in my life or yours, Jon, that’s worthy of imitation, praise God for His grace to us. Because we are wretches just like anybody and granted the Lord has done something in us; not only has He gifted us to preach and teach the word of God, but also, in our lives, like the Lord has sanctified us and has worked in us in such a way that we meet the qualifications to be pastors—and praise the Lord for that. I never planned on being a pastor. May have for longer than me, but I never thought I would be, and here I am. And if anything, I find being a pastor is a means of God’s grace to me because it is yet one more thing that is in my mind all the time as a deterrent from sin. I speak for the Lord and this congregation, people’s lives are attached to me and the other elders of this church because we guide this church, and I don’t want to do anything that’s going to harm these saints.
Jon Moffitt: But every saint could say that. You realize that when Paul says consider how to build one another up to love and good works, or consider how to build one another up—Hebrews 3—that you may not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, if you’re given into sin and you’re not building your brother, you’re now affecting the church where Ephesians 4 says the body isn’t building itself up as it should. So not only the elders, but every person in the congregation sees that. I got to fight against sin because it doesn’t only hurt me, it hurts everybody around me. But we don’t think about it that way.
Justin Perdue: No, because we only think about ourselves. Even when it comes to our battle against sin, we only think about our own personal holiness. You need to open your eyes to the fact that when you sin, your neighbor, your wife, your kids, your husband, your brother, your sister suffer. Because you sin. And it’s terrible.
I think we’ve sort of answered, in one sense, the objection that we never make moral demands. That is just not true because we are clearly upholding things as warnings, and we are upholding things that are good. Even thinking about Abraham—take God at His word and believe the Lord like Abraham did. That’s something. And like I said, when it comes to some of these heinous sins, I’m not trying to be punchy or sarcastic or ridiculous in saying this, but for real, if you need a pastor to open up the Bible to Proverbs or wherever chapter and verse to demonstrate to you that you ought not sell your spouse out to adultery, then I don’t know what to say. We clearly need to have a different conversation because some of these things are just so obviously wrong. I don’t think we need to have two points in our five point sermon about the dangers of adultery. This is terrible. A man literally has sold his wife to adultery and defilement to protect himself and for his own personal profit. If you think that’s a good idea, then we need to have a conversation at the door after church.
The only explanation for such a thing, like we’ve already said, is that the flesh is real. And that we’re afraid sometimes and we’re selfish. We act out of those things. But what we want to be pointing people to is to trust Christ, believe God, and then live accordingly.
Jon Moffitt: I think that Justin, you and I, the way I would describe our mission, I feel like we’ve been commissioned by Scripture to preach in this manner: we want people to be daily putting less and less trust in their flesh and more and more trust in Christ. That’s all we’re doing. Abraham is a man of the flesh. The disciples are men of flesh. The flesh is weak; Christ is strong. Literally Paul says, “when I’m at my weakest moments,” his flesh is at the weakest moments, “then I am strong.” We don’t want to build confidence in discipline in self or flesh. What’s scary is that’s what people do. They build confidence in what they can do for God. They build confidence on what they have done for God or what they have not done in sin. I’m over here yelling, “Take heed in your confidence lest you fall.” Your confidence has to be in Christ. You should be terrified of your flesh. You should be terrified of your past. You should never point to your past. You should always point to Christ. And then people call me an antinomian. No, our confidence is always in Christ.
I’m going to just go to 1 John: what we are, we are not yet. We will be one day and while we wait, what does he say? We focus our eyes on Christ. We then are transformed into the image of what he is. The emphasis is not on self; the emphasis is on Christ.
Justin Perdue: And the emphasis is not on Abraham or David or Daniel or Jeremiah or Isaiah. The emphasis is on Christ always because that’s what those people were about. Like I said in the regular portion of the show, and I said this on Sunday, if Abraham were alive today and we’re talking, he would be like, “First of all, if you want to be like me, I don’t think that’s a good idea in so many ways. But if you want to be like me, there’s maybe one thing worthy of imitation and that’s to believe God; believe in my promised offspring who has rescued us from our sins.” I think that would be his message. And that’s what David would be saying: trust in the one that he wrote about. “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,’ who is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Trust him because that’s what I’m doing.” And David, “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” Not that there isn’t any, but the Lord doesn’t count it. That’s the testimony.
Jon Moffitt: We’re demonstrating how if you want to talk about a faithful person, faithful people faltered all throughout Scripture and Christ never did. So what are the New Testament writers doing? They point you to not your flesh, but they point you to Christ. Here’s an example: at the end of the Colossians 3, he says all of these things that are being handed to them, this asceticism, beating of their body, and starving yourself, they all have an appearance of being beneficial but they’re of no value of stopping the indulgence of the flesh. What does he say? Look to Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. “Seated at the right hand of God” means redemption’s over. There’s nothing left for you to do. But he isn’t saying give into sin; he’s talking about how you battle sin.
I think what people hear us saying is rest in Christ means sitting down and not fighting sin; no, resting in Christ is the only power you have to fight sin. So when I say things like, “Be careful of spiritual disciplines,” it’s mostly because they’re all fleshly in nature. They’re pointing you to fleshly things that have nothing to do with Christ. Your focus is on your quietness, your journaling. And you can say, “Well, I’m thinking about Jesus in these moments.” Yeah, but you’re really trusting in the moment that you were quiet or that you did something. This is why we have our ordinary means. This is why we’re Reformed Baptists. We trust in the ordinary means of grace to be that which helps us fight against the flesh—and it’s been that way for hundreds of years within the church.
I know I’m a little worked up right now. People call me crazy, but the entire Bible says not to trust the flesh and trust the preaching of the gospel administered to you in the sacraments and building one another up in love, and through singing and fellowship. That’s how our church fathers did it.
Justin Perdue: Trust the ministry of the Spirit through the means of the church. And yet trust Christ; don’t trust yourself.
Jon Moffitt: I could go on and on, but hopefully the listener is hearing that the emphasis the Scripture presents us is humans should never trust their flesh; they falter. We should always trust Christ in the Spirit.
Last thing I’ll say about John 20: right after he’s commissioned, he says, “Peace be to you. I’m going to send you out to do my work.” What does he do? He gives them the Spirit. And what did the disciples point to as the reason why they’re successful? They point to the power of the Spirit.
Justin Perdue: They boast in the Lord, which is what God has always told us we’re to boast.
Good conversation. I feel like there’s a lot more to say. I know that we went a little bit here, there, and everywhere, but that’s sort of what we do in SR—we just talk. Hope that this is useful to you. This is Jon and myself. We’re pretty unfiltered here. This was a good conversation, at least for me, just thinking about the legitimacy of preaching Christ from all of Scripture and the foolishness, frankly, of preaching human models as the thing we need to strive after. No, Christ is it.
Jon Moffitt: Do not let the world convince you that Christ alone is not enough. People are going to go out there and say you’re antinomian—don’t listen to that; listen to Paul, listen to Peter, listen to 1 John. “I write these things that you may not sin, but if you do sin, you have an Advocate with the Father.” The Scripture’s clear. Don’t be afraid to trust in Christ alone. Don’t let people come rob you of that and tell you to go back to the flesh.
Justin Perdue: Or go back to the law. The letter of Hebrews is about that—don’t neglect the great salvation that Christ has accomplished and go back to the things that were just pointers and shadows. Don’t do that.
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. And Justin may fail and I may fail because we’re men, but Christ will not fail.
Justin Perdue: He’s paid for every failing. Amen.
Friends, we appreciate you. We appreciate you more than you know. We even appreciate the ways that you reach out to us personally and send us emails and encouraging things. Life in this fallen world is no joke, and the battle against the flesh and sin is real. We all know that. And we all, I think, have bonded together from near and far because we know that Christ is our only hope.
We love you. Continue to partner with us, we ask, and pray for this ministry. Pray for the Lord to spread this message of the sufficiency of Christ; Christ alone being the good news. That’s what we want to see. We know you do too.
As SR is really getting going and the groups are happening, we hope there’s a lot of encouragement and sharpening that can occur. We’ll talk with you guys again next week.