This morning I ran across a good concise post by Nicholas McDonald through Trevin Wax’s blog. Nicholas is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In this post McDonald outlines the “heart-diagnostic approach” to sermon application that Tim Keller has made famous. The full text of his points are below…
1. Show people what they’re doing wrong. The key for unbelievers here is to find common ground. After hearing these lectures, I was amazed at how much secular culture points to common-grace morality. Every week I’ve been able to find something in culture that points to the moral application. The other key is to be able to describe what it feels like to sin. Sinning is miserable, Christian or no – describe sin in such a way that people are anxious for a solution.
2. Explain to people why they do it. Keller’s a specialist at this – maybe the only one I know. In order to unearth people’s aberrant behavior, we need to get to the root. The root, as Christ has said, is the heart – the desires and longings we imagine our idols can fulfill. The key here is to know the idols of your culture – is it education? Family? Safety? Sex? Fun? This has added a level of penetrating depth to my preaching I’ve never had before – tell people what desires cause them to pursue their sin, and the soil will be fully dug for Christ to enter in.
3. Show how Christ satisfies those desires. Tullian Tchividjian said it best: “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” This is the point in your sermon where people are on the edge of their seats, waiting for an answer – “Then how can I change!?” This is where you lead them to Christ. Keller says this kind of preaching “sanctifies people on the spot”. By pointing to Christ, we’re appealing to the deepest need of believers – we disobey the gospel because we fail to believe the gospel. We’re also pointing to the deepest needs of unbelievers – to see that their sin problem can only be taken care of through faith in Christ. Keller recommends using a secular story as an analogy (rather than a strictly doctrinal explanation) to penetrate the heart of your culture.
4. Paint a picture of a gospel-filled life. The most beautiful, helpful one-word phrase I’ve ever learned, I learned in this series: “If you really believed, you would…” This is what your congregants need to hear every week. Show them what it means to really believe the gospel, deep down, and let it penetrate every portion of our hearts. Point them to the spiritual disciplines that foster this kind of faith. Show them what it means to be a radical disciple in your culture, time and place. Let them walk away knowing for sure whether they are being obedient to God or not. Show them precisely where they need to become less, and Christ needs to become more.