The following is an excerpt from Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness. You can go here for ordering information.
Lewis Allen both encourages and challenges pastors when he writes,
Preachers have a single calling, to express who and what God is. This is our mandate, to declare what God has revealed about himself. What could be a greater task than being called to preach God?
Pastors, preach God.
I don’t want to walk away from your sermon thinking about how funny or winsome you were. I don’t want to be amazed at your creativity and innovation. Show me the Holy, and He will suffice. Show me His worthiness in His Word. Show me how His holiness permeates the universe and is glorious enough to exact unceasing praise from all creation. You are not a match for the holiness of God. It’s wicked and foolish to attempt to be. Step out of the way by pointing us to a Holy God and the work of Christ.
I don’t need life hacks. I need to see the glory of the God of unmatchable holiness. Practical steps for Christian living have their place, but never let application overshadow exultation. Preach the Holy One. We were made by God for God and God is the One we need to see in your preaching.
I am not saying “practical application” is a bad thing. We should all eagerly desire to apply what the Bible teaches to every nook and cranny of our lives. But perhaps we would all be better served if we paused to humbly behold the matchless holiness of God before rushing on to practical application.
Furthermore, we don’t really need to pit the holiness of God against practicality anyway. The unmatchable holiness of God is practical. This conviction must drive our preaching. John Piper, in his book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, shares a powerful story from his ministry on this very matter:
Years ago during the January prayer week at our church, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. I resolved on the first Sunday of the year to unfold the vision of God’s holiness found in the first four verses of that chapter…
So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such a great and holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of our people. Application is essential in the normal course of preaching, but I felt led that day to make a test: Would the passionate portrayal of the greatness of God in and of itself meet the needs of the people?
I didn’t realize that not long before this Sunday one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. It was incredibly traumatic. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message. I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said, ‘Pastor Piper, can’t you see your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?’
Some weeks later I learned the story. The husband took me aside one Sunday after a service. ‘John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been the rock we could stand on.’ The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.
So, pastors, let us lead our churches in this way. Suppose you’re at a church that has gone the wrong way for many years in the way it thinks about worship and God’s holiness. Perhaps God has you there for the purpose of leading your church in repentance. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Don’t run from an opportunity to lead people in repentance for a faulty understanding of the majesty of God. But also remember that while calling the church to repentance is important, don’t berate the people. Show them the glories of God’s holy splendor. The true believers in your congregation are starving for God. Give Him to them.
After all, it’s beholding Him that results in transformation. We become like what we behold. Let us then behold the Lord and not you.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
 Lewis Allen. The Preacher’s Catechism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 35.
 John Piper. The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 13-14.
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