I am just returning from vacation today, which means that I did not preach yesterday. It is good from time to time for my heart to take time to listen to the preaching of God's Word. As I have had a chance to sit and listen to preaching at Grace Bible Church last Sunday and Harvest Bible Chapel yesterday, I could not help but reflect back upon my book Helping Johnny Listen, which is my book on listening to preaching.
Probably the most important part of the book is the fourth chapter: Live the Preaching of God's Word. In that chapter, I tried to show the importance of actually allowing the preaching of God's Word to do something in our life. If we are good listeners, we will be changed by the sermon. The following are a few excerpts from the book on the issue of living the preached word, particularly as it has to deal with our faith.
"Living any preaching of God's word begins with our faith. It starts with us believing something. When Paul told the people of Thessalonica to 'hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil' (1 Thess 5:21-22), he meant that if they found the teaching to be true, they were to make it part of their lives. Another way to say this is given in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 when Paul commended them: "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." Notice that not only did they receive the word of God but also accepted it. On the surface, it may seem that Paul was saying the same thing; but there is a slight difference between receiving and accepting the word preached. When you received (external reception) from us 'the word of hearing' (meaning: the word which you heard), which was nothing less than God's own word, you accepted (inward welcoming) it as such, that is, as a word of God and not as a word of men. At what point do people internalize a message and make it their own? It is at the point of faith. It is at the point that they believe the message.
There is a very clear distinction that needs to be made at this point. As Christians, we often see faith as a means to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe what he says about himself. we believe what he has done for us. We believe and trust him to save us from our sins. But then we forget about the issue of faith. We need to understand that faith and action in obedience must be hand in hand. If we walk out of any sermon and try to obey the sermon apart from faith, we are living a works-based religion. Our obedience begins with faith; and, in reality, our obedience is an act of faith" (102-103).
I wrote that a couple years ago and I probably believe that more today. I wonder how many times people walk out of church thinking they must do such and such as some sort of duty to fulfill the calling of the preacher that Sunday. When what they really needed at that time was to believe and trust God. I continued . . .
"This issue of faith is everything. We can look at every sin and come to the same result. Do we really believe what the Lord says is more important than our own comfortable situations in life? Do we really believe that if we obey God and do what he has told us to do, our lives will be better, even if it means that the external parts of our lives will be worse? We all need faith every single day of our lives. We will never respond to the preaching of God's word if we do not cultivate hearts of faith every single day" (108).
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