Preaching for Holiness

In my previous post, I shared the convicting and informative teaching I received from reading Joel Beeke’s, Reformed Preaching, in the chapter on Major Elements in Reformed Experiential Preaching.   There, he dealt with the holiness of the preacher. For today’s post, I want to share with you 10 points of holiness or spirituality that Beeke suggests the preacher ought to be working toward in the lives of the congregation, those listening to the sermons.

Have you ever thought about why preaching the Word of God is at the very center of Reformed Worship?  Our coming together on Sunday isn’t merely to get recharged and energized for the week, nor is it all about fellowship with other saints in Christ.  These are blessings, to be sure. Rather, our time of worship together is primarily about glorifying God in praise and in the hearing and obeying of His Word. The sermon is central to worship because it is in the faithful and regular hearing of the Word, read and proclaimed, that we mature into the likeness of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here are, then, the 10 things that the reformed preacher ought to be working toward in His congregation.


The Holiness of the People

What kind of spirituality does Reformed preaching aim to produce by the power of the Spirit? It is spiritually rooted in faith in Christ as the only Mediator and fruitful in reverential love for the sovereign God. To draw out what this looks like in more detail, I will follow the outline that Hughes Oliphant Old offers in his sketch of reformed spirituality. These are the sorts of things that Reformed preaching cultivates in the life of the people.

  1. The Spirituality of the Word.  When you preach the Word, call people to immerse themselves in it. Exhort them to become Psalm 1 Christians, who meditate on the Bible day and night, and walk in its ways with delight.
  2. The Spirituality of Praying the Psalms. Reformed spirituality is a spirituality of the Psalter… praying the psalms, singing and meditating on them, not only at Church but at family prayers every day of the week.” Preachers should constantly hold up to the church a lifestyle of continual prayer and praise.
  3. The Spirituality of the Lord’s Day. The sanctification of the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbatarian legalism; rather, it secures a day of peace, rest, refreshment, prayer and love for God’s people. Teach people to “call the sabbath a delight” so that they can “delight [themselves] in the Lord” (Isa. 58:13-14).
  4. The Spirituality of Works of Mercy. Apply the sweet and amazing love of God to our duty to love our fellow human beings at the point of physical suffering and spiritual ministry. Build bridges between heavenly doctrine and earthly mercy.
  5. The Spirituality of the Lord’s Supper. The rich piety of the Table is nurtured first of all through meditation leading up to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is not automatic conferral of grace, but an exercise of faith. Let your preaching before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper call believers to a rich feast in Jesus Christ. Help them to look through the bread and wine as through a window into heaven to see the love, forgiveness, and empowering grace of God for them.
  6. The Spirituality of Stewardship.  In the Reformation, the idea of stewardship transformed believers’ views of money and work. Businessmen, housewives, farmers, bankers, those caring for the elderly, and craftsmen came to see themselves as entrusted with a sacred vocation or calling to serve the Lord. Teach the congregation to rule their money, time, and talents for the Lord, and not to let their resources rule them.
  7. The Spirituality of Meditating on God’s Ways. This refers not just to meditating on Scripture, but to meditating on God’s works in our lives through the lens of Scripture. If you guide your flock to think often about God’s gracious ways with them, they will find much comfort in trials.
  8. The Spirituality of Evangelism and Missions.  The spirituality of God’s eternal purposes has often let to an evangelistic, missionary spirituality. The covenant blesses us to be a blessing to the world.
  9. The Spirituality of Godly Fellowship. Reformed spirituality encourages fellowship among the godly for mutual encouragement. It is relational, not individualistic. Teach the people the privileges of being active members of the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Warn them against isolating themselves or trying to go it alone. Encourage spiritual friendships and mutual accountability.
  10. The Spirituality of Heavenly-Minded Obedience. Reformed spirituality produces zeal for obeying God’s laws and standing against worldliness.  Preachers must show people that his is not legalism because it is rooted in love for God. To obey God’s laws is to follow Jesus in the pathway of rejoicing in and walking according to divine love. Preach obedience to the law by the grace of Christ. The law is not means for sinners to find justification before God, but it is also no enemy of grace.
* Beeke, Joel R. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People. (Crossway Publishers; Wheaton, Ill, 2018) pgs 67-69.

The Aproachable John Calvin

As a good Presbyterian, my first exposure to classic Systematic Theology was reading John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. At first, I wondered if I really wanted to study theology. The two-volume systematic was a different kind of reading. It wasn’t overly complicated, but it was exhaustive. Written in the 16th century, it was foreign to me culturally and methodically.  I still have the highlights and notes in the margins from my first reading, but those treasures then were rare.  After the first reading, I hoped that the readings would get better, and I purposely kept Calvin at arm’s length.

Then I came across something called The Golden Book of the True Christian Life.*  It is a sampling from Calvin’s Institutes that focuses in specifically on the meaning of the Christian life. This booklet completely changed my view of Calvin, and sent me back to the Institutes. It wasn’t that I needed to find better writing, but that I needed a better understanding of what was written.

I wanted to share with you excerpts from the opening chapter of the Golden Book, that you too may find the always approachable nature of John Calvin’s teaching on the meaning of the Christian life.


Scripture is the Rule of Life

The goal of the new life is that God’s children exhibit melody and harmony in their conduct. What melody? The song of God’s justice. What harmony? The harmony between God’s righteousness and our obedience. Only if we walk in the beauty of God’s law do we become sure of our adoption as children of the Father. The law of God contains in itself the dynamic of the new life by which his image is fully restored in us; but by nature we are sluggish, and, therefore, we need to be stimulated, aided in our efforts by a guiding principle.

Holiness is the key Principle

The plan of Scripture for a Christian walk is twofold: first, that we be instructed in the law to love righteousness, because by nature we are not inclined to do so; second, that we be shown a simple rule that we may not waver in our race. Of the many excellent recommendations, is there any better than the key principle: Be thou Holy, for I am holy? Holiness is not a merit by which we can attain communion with God, but a gift of Christ, which enables us to cling to him and to follow him.

Holiness means full obedience to Christ

Scripture does not only show the principle of holiness, but also that Christ is the way to it. Because the Father has reconciled us to himself in Christ, therefore he commands us to be conformed to Christ as to our pattern.  The Lord has adopted us to be his children on this condition that we reveal an imitation of Christ who is the mediator of our adoption. Therefore:

  • Since God has revealed himself as a Father, we would be guilty of the basest ingratitude if we did not behave as his children.
  • Since Christ has purified us through the baptism in his blood, we should not become defiled by fresh pollution.
  • Since Christ has united us to his body as his members, we should be anxious not to disgrace him by any blemish.
  • Since Christ, our head, has ascended into heaven, we should leave our carnal desires behind and lift our hearts upward to him.
  • Since the Holy Spirit has dedicated us as temples of God, we should exert ourselves not to profane his sanctuary, but to display his glory.
  • Since both our soul and body are destined to inherit an incorruptible and never-fading crown, we should keep them pure and undefiled till the day of our Lord.

External Christianity is not enough

Let us ask those who possess nothing but church membership, and yet want to be called Christians, how they can glory in the sacred name of Christ? External knowledge of Christ is found to be only false and dangerous make-believe, however eloquently and freely lip servants may talk about the gospel. The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. Let nominal Christians cease from insulting God by boasting themselves to be what they are not, and let them show themselves disciples not unworthy of Christ, their Master. Our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.

Spiritual Progress is necessary

We should not insist on absolute perfection of the gospel in our fellow Christians, however much we may strive for it ourselves. There would be no church if we set a standard of absolute perfection, for the best of us are still far from the ideal, and we would have to reject many who have made only small progress. Perfection must be the final mark at which we aim, and the goal for which we strive. But let everyone proceed according to his given ability and continue the journey he has begun. Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment.  Though we fall short, our labor is not lost if this day surpasses the preceding one. The one condition for spiritual progress is that we remain sincere and humble. Let us keep our end in view, let us press forward to our goal. Let us steadily exert ourselves to reach a higher degree of holiness till we shall finally arrive at a perfection of goodness which we seek and pursue as long as we live, but which we shall attain then only, when, freed from all earthly infirmity, we shall be admitted by God into his full communion.


* Calvin, Jean. Golden Book of the True Christian Life; a modern translation from the French and the Latin by Henry J. Van Andel. (Baker Book House; Grand Rapids, MI, 1952).