The Lordship of Christ in the life of the believer
A.J. de Visser
Biblical perspective: the fact of Jesus’ Lordship
On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter proclaimed to the Jews in Jerusalem that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36) This statement, made on ththe 50 day after Jesus‟ resurrection, reflects one of the most remarkable characteristics of early Christianity: Jesus of Nazareth was believed to be both Messiah and Lord.
Living many centuries later, we may easily fail to appreciate the extraordinary development which had taken place in such a short time. After all, the term kyrios (Greek for „lord‟) had been used by
Greek speaking Jews as an equivalent of the Hebrew adonay, the name which was used to refer
to God. If Jesus was called kyrios, Lord, it meant that He was given divine status. Given the fact that the faith of the Jews was monotheistic, it was quite amazing that the first believers, immediately after Jesus‟ resurrection, referred to Him as “the Lord”. In effect, this placed Jesus on the same level with God!
Indeed, this is so remarkable that the idea has been questioned by many. An influential
book in this regard has been W. Bousset‟s Kyrios Christos (German original, 1913). Bousset
claimed that the so-called „high Christology‟ of the NT emerged only gradually in Hellenistic
circles. The original Jesus, Bousset alleged, was just a Galilean rabbi. The Jesus whom we
find in the NT and who was called the Kyrios, was the product of later Hellenistic theology.
Bousset‟s hypothesis has always been rejected by orthodox Christians. Recently it has been
dealt a fatal blow by L.W. Hurtado in his massive book Lord Jesus Christ (2003). In this book
Hurtado shows that the rapid rise of belief in Jesus‟ divinity was not a later development but
that it was part and parcel of the faith of the earliest (Jewish) believers. Although worship
was reserved for God alone in Jewish faith, Jesus was worshipped by the first Christians as
well. Apparently these believers saw no contradiction in worshipping both God and Jesus.
They professed their faith by saying Kyrios Jesous, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9).
That Jesus was called „lord‟, was not only remarkable from a Jewish perspective. In the Graeco-
Roman society of those times the title „the kyrios‟ was a reference to the Roman emperor. To the Greek and Roman ear, then, it must have been startling, maybe even offensive, to hear Christians refer ro Jesus as their Lord. N.T. Wright asserts that “the early Christians declared that Jesus was
lord in such a way as to imply, over and over again, that Caesar was not.” (2003:568).
How could the early Christians be so sure that they were right in worshipping Jesus as the Lord? In the first place two events had taken place that made an enormous impression on them: the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension into heaven. The gospels do not hide the fact from us that Jesus‟ own disciples were initially unable to believe that their master had risen from the dead (see Mark 16:14). But once they were convinced that He was alive, it made such an impression on them that only one conclusion was possible: Jesus was both Lord and God, as the apostle Thomas indeed exclaimed (John 20:28).
The same applies to the ascension. This time the event was witnessed by the disciples, and when they had seen Jesus being taken up into heaven, it is mentioned that they worshiped him (Luke 24:52). Worship! They gave to Jesus the same glory that is given to God.
It is clear that Jesus‟ resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven, were the two
events that gave the early Christians the boldness to believe and to confess that Jesus was the Lord.
At the same time, their convictions were based on a fresh reading of the Old Testament. Many passages in the Old Testament which had indicated that the future Messiah would be a kingly figure from the line of David, suddenly came to light. A few examples of such passages are Psalm 2 with its reference to the son of God who will receive the nations as his heritage, Psalm 89 with its promises about the line of David that will continue forever, Isaiah 11 with its reference to the shoot from the stock of Jesse which will grow out and judge the earth with righteousness, Isaiah 42 with its reference to the Servant who will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. These and other passages indicated that the Messiah would be a royal figure whose kingship was going to have universal dimensions. The early Christians believed that these prophesies had been fulfilled in Jesus. For a clear example of this, see the prayer of the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 4:23-31).
From the earliest times Christians have believed that Jesus is the Lord. This title had enormous implications, because it put Jesus on a level that was higher than wordly rulers, even on the same level with God. The early Christians based their belief on the amazing events of Jesus‟ resurrection and ascension. They also saw it as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah-King.
Biblical perspective: the implications of Jesus’ Lordship
What are the implications of Jesus‟ Lordship, according to the Scriptures?
By way of introduction let me make two general observations.
First, the Lordship of Jesus implies that He is in a position of divine status, and that He is worthy to be worshiped. One well-known passage that refers to this aspect, is Phil. 2:10-11, which speaks about Jesus as having been exalted to the highest place and having received “the name that is above every name.” Consequently, it says that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now it would take the church centuries to think through the doctrinal implications of the fact that God is one, and yet, that Jesus is divine as well. The doctrine of the Trinity was formulated much later, but that did not prevent the early Christians from honoring Jesus as “the Lord”.
A further implication of Jesus‟ Lordship is his universal and unlimited authority and power. He is
the king of kings and the lord of lords. He has received all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). He is also the Head of the church and exercises his headship through his Word and Spirit. Much could be said about these aspects of Jesus‟ Lordship, but I will have to leave that to the other two speakers at this conference. At this point, I shall say no more than that it is extremely encouraging for the church to know that Jesus is the Lord. Our Savior is seated at the right hand of God. The One who paid the price for our sins, has been given all authority and power in the universe. No wonder, then, that the apostle Paul so often calls on the believers to set their hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1).
Now I have been asked to limit myself and concentrate on one specific aspect of the Lordship of Christ: his Lordship in the life of the believer.
There is good reason to deal with this aspect specifically. One of the amazing and awesome aspects of the gospel is that Jesus Christ, although He is so highly exalted, finds time to deal with every believer individually. He is not like worldly rulers who reside in their palaces and offices but find no time to have contact with ordinary citizens. Jesus is different, and we may summarize it in
this way: The One who is the Lord of the universe and the Head of the church, desires to be the Lord of our individual lives as well.
Every time when we think this through, it cannot fail to make a deep impression on us. Our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated on his heavenly throne, and who is the Ruler of the universe, is at the same time the Lord of our personal lives. The One who is so high and exalted, is at the same time so close to us. The one that rules the universe, desires to have an intimate bond with us.
That is such a great gift.
At the same it is such a great responsibility.
Let us look at the implications as they are drawn out in the Scriptures.
The basic truth which we need to take into account, is the fact that as individual believers we belong to Jesus Christ because He has bought us with his precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). As He has bought us, by implication He has become our owner. We do not belong to ourselves or to anybody else, but we belong to Him. We are his. “You are of Christ,” Paul tells the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:23).
The Scriptures also reveal to us what our Owner has in mind for us. It is his goal that we should be sanctified, renewed, purified (various images are used to describe it). One passage that brings it out clearly, is Phil. 2:14. There the apostle Paul explains that Christ gave himself for us “to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Here the ownership-aspect and the goal of purification go together clearly.
This brings us to the next aspect which we need to consider: The Lordship of Christ also implies that we are called to a new obedience. This obedience is not an outward obedience (as obeying a set of laws), but it is a heartfelt willingness to obey this loving Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life in order to save us and own us. So, it is an obedience which is characterized by love.
Already during his time on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that there is a lord/servant relationship between Himself and every individual believer. People were asked to follow Him, e.g. the young ruler (Matt. 19). Those who believed in Him are called „servants‟ and „followers‟:
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” (John 12:26) Followers of Jesus are expected to obey his commands: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) And: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father‟s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:10)
This obedience, then, which is directed towards the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, comes to us as a calling. This is illustrated by the fact that the apostle Paul, when he exhorts believers to a lifestyle of commitment and obedience (so-called paraenetic passages), he often places his exhortations it in the context of the Lordship of Christ.
One such passage is Col. 3:18-4:1 where the apostle Paul gives rules for Christian households. His commands to be submissive, loving, obedient, etc. are qualified by the phrase “in the Lord”. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, “as is fitting in the Lord.” Children are to be obedient to their parents “for this pleases the Lord.” Slaves are to obey their masters “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Masters are to treat their slaves fairly, “because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” In a summarizing statement, Paul reminds the
slaves (but this applies to the other categories as well) that “it is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:24). These exhortations convey the idea that the whole life, thought and conduct of believers is submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The exhortation which precedes the household rules also refers to the lordship of Christ: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17) The same had been
said earlier in the letter: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, (etc.)” (2:6)
The next aspect which we need to consider is that Jesus indicated that his lordship over the lives of believers was a spiritual lordship which would function in the context of a close relationship between Himself and the individual believer. Now as sinful people we are unable to establish such a relationship in our own hearts. But the Lord puts it there. The prophet Jeremiah had said: “I will
put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). And the Lord explained this further when He promised to send the Holy Spirit who “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). In that same context He illustrated the close union between Himself and the believers by using the metaphor of the vine and the branches: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus Christ, who is Lord of the universe and Head of the church, is also Lord of the individual lives of believers. He has bought them with his blood, so that they belong to Him. His aim is to purify their lives, and He takes care of this purification-process by entering into a close spiritual relationship with every believer and by giving every believer the gift of the Holy Spirit. As Lord, He has earned the right to govern the lives of believers. As a consequence, they are called to obey Him willingly and lovingly. In other words, the new obedience is both given (by the Lord) and expected (from the believers).
Early church to Middle ages
It seems that the excitement which the early Christians experienced because they realized that their Savior Jesus Christ was the Lord of everything, including their own lives, soon lost it power and vigor. Already in the New Testament letters we see that the apostles had to urge the believers to persevere in the faith and to keep their eyes focused Christ seated in heaven. As the church became older, and especially when the position of the church in the society changed under emperor Constantine, much of the original perspective was lost. It is impossible to describe the developments, of course, but a few general observations may be helpful:
1. The Headship of Christ was gradually replaced by the headship of the bishop of Rome. A
host of other figures (deceased saints, Mary) entered the faith world of the believers. As a
result the Lord Jesus faded into the background.
2. The Lordship of Christ over the world, which had been such an encouraging aspect of the
faith for the early Christians, gradually lost its meaning as the church came to be well-
respected in the world. At the same time, the eschatological dimension of faith – the
looking forward to the return of Christ – lost its importance as the church became more
focused on the good things of this world.
3. Doctrinal developments also played a role. During the worship services the church
increasingly drew attention to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. During every Mass the
elements of bread and wine were consecrated and Christ was offered to the Father as
expiation for the sins. At the same time, less and less attention was given to the present
position of living Christ, seated in heaven.
4. In the day to day faith life all kinds of church rituals and regulations were added to the
expected Christian life. These regulations eventually became sets of laws. As a result
church members did not feel responsible towards the Lord anymore, but the focus was on
the rules and regulations of the church (and how to enjoy your life while still being a
member of the church). Instead of being followers of Christ, people became negotiators
with the priest.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages the Lord Jesus had become a vague and remote figure to many church members. The only thing that most of them knew, was that the priest offered him up to God during the Eucharist.
Reformation ndrdCalvin has dealt with the theme of the Lordship of Christ in the life of the believer in the 2 and 3 ndbook of his Institutes. The 2 book deals with “the knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ.” rdThe 3 book deals with “the way in which we receive the grace of Christ.” ndIn the 2 book of the Institutes Calvin discusses the Lordship of Christ within the context of the threefold office of Christ (Christ being prophet, king and priest), more specifically, under the heading of the kingship of Christ.
In Calvin‟s view the Lordship/kingship of Christ entails that He exercises authority over the world and, in a special way, over the church.
As far as the church is concerned, He acts both as the church‟s protector and as its master. Christ protects the church against its enemies. The faithful may have confidence in the face of their enemies, knowing that Christ will gather and protect his church until the number of the saved is full.
Christ also governs the church and its members. A quote from Calvin‟s Institutes (II, xv, 5):
“Scripture usually calls Christ “Lord” because the Father set Christ over us to exercise his dominion through his Son. Although there are many lordships celebrated in the world, for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we in him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him (1 Cor. 8:5,6), says Paul.”
Edmondson (2004:125) summarizes Calvin‟s view as follows: “Christ claims the title of Master over the Church so that believers are to obey him and subject themselves to his teaching as disciples.” Edmondson then points out that Christ‟s teaching office is relevant here as well. He continues to say: “What is of note at this point is that Christ, for Calvin, is not merely the Church‟s teacher, but is its Lord and king, so that he is not only to be heard, but obeyed. His authority extends beyond that of an ordinary teacher, in that he mediates God‟s rule of the Church. He is the Law‟s giver before he is its interpreter.”
In his discussion of the kingly office of Christ in the Institutes Calvin emphasizes that Christ‟s
kingship is spiritual in nature (Inst. II, xv, 3). Christ furnishes us with “the gifts of the Spirit which we lack by nature” (II, xv, 4). His Kingdom “lies in the Spirit” (II, xv, 5). This is an important insight.
In a sense the Lordship of Christ could also be called the Lordship of the Spirit!
rdIn the 3 book of the Institutes Calvin emphasizes the communion of Christ and the believers. An important quote in this regard: “Christ is not outside us but dwells within us. Not only does he
cleave to us by an indivisible bond of fellowship, but with a wonderful communion, day by day, he grows more and more into one body with us, until he becomes completely one with us.” (Inst. III, ii, 24).
W. Niesel points out that Calvin‟s view of our union with Christ does not imply a merging of our being with His own. “We remain what we are: men. And Jesus Christ remains what He is: the divinely appointed human Mediator.” (1980:124) But there is a strong union between us and
Christ, and this bond which unites us with Christ, is the Holy Spirit. This union is very strong indeed. Niesel observes: “It is in this sense that Calvin teaches the communion of the Head with the members, the indwelling of Christ in our hearts, the hidden union and the sacred marriage between Him and ourselves, as the basis of our appropriation of the salvation which He has won for us. Again and again we find in the writings of Calvin the image of incorporation in the body of Christ. He lays all possible stress upon that as the essence of salvation. By affirming that the
process takes place through the activity of the Holy Spirit, he intends not to diminish but to secure our communion with Christ.” (:125)
Calvin has fleshed out the practical implications of this union with Christ for the Christian life in various ways. As could be expected, he discusses the Ten Commandments in his Institutes (in
book II, chapter viii). But then in book III he discusses a few themes which, in my opinion, have not received the same attention in the Reformed tradition after Calvin. Taking Mat. 16:24 as a guideline (“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”), Calvin identifies three important aspects of following Christ: the denial of self, the bearing of
one‟s cross, and the meditation on the future life (III, vii-ix.).
Reformed and Presbyterian confessions
Among the Reformed confessions the Lordship of Christ in the life of the believer is confessed most clearly in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Lord‟s Day 12 deals with the three offices of Christ, and in the explanation of the kingship of Christ it is confessed that He “governs us by His Word and Spirit”. This combination of Word and Spirit is used again in Lord‟s Day 48 where the second petition (“Thy kingdom come”) is explained. “That is: So rule us by Thy Word and Spirit that more and more we submit to Thee.”
The union with Christ, as realized through the Holy Spirit, is discussed Lord‟s Day 28 which deals with the Lord‟s Supper. There we read that taking part in the Lord‟s Supper reflects that we are “united more and more to His sacred body through the Holy Spirit who lives both in Christ and in us.” It goes on to say that “although Christ is in heaven and we are on earth, yet we are flesh of
His flesh and bone of His bones, and we forever live and are governed by one Spirit…”
The Lordship of Christ is also reflected in Lord‟s Day 1 where the believer confesses that our main comfort in this life is the fact that we belong to Jesus Christ. Further, Christ by His Holy Spirit “also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
That Christian obedience is something which is worked out in the believer‟s life by Christ himself,
through the Holy Spirit, is again confessed in Lord‟s Day 32: “Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits, and He may be praised by us.”
The Westminster Larger Catechism deals with the kingship of Christ in Q&A 45. There the church
confesses that “Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.”
That this kingship of Christ implies a governing in the individual believer‟s life, is confessed more
clearly in Q&A 191 where the second petition (“Thy kingdom come”) is explained as requesting, among other things, “that Christ would rule in our hearts.”
This very short look at the history of the church, shows that – like other aspects of the Christian
faith – the Lordship of Christ is an aspect that has been neglected and recovered as the church went through times of deformation and reformation. One important lesson to be learned from church history, is that if the Lord Jesus moves out of the centre of people‟s faith focus, the general quality of Christian life will go down considerably.
stIntermezzo: the church in the 21 century
At a forum as this (the ICRC) we need to ask the question how we are doing as church today. Have the heirs of Calvin been able to keep the perspective which he gave us back in his writings? Does the life of our churches reflect something of that original vigor and being focused on the Lord Jesus Christ? Would present day Reformed and Presbyterian believers, summarize their faith by proclaiming that “Jesus is the Kyrios,” as the early Christians did?
I am not in a position to evaluate or to judge the quality of faith life which is found in Reformed and Presbyterian congregations across the world. But as church leaders we are called to evaluate the faith life in our churches as well as our own preaching and teaching.
One challenge is posed by the fact that the churches, even the member churches of the ICRC, are so diverse. By way of intermezzo, let me take you on a quick tour around three imaginary congregations in different parts of the world. This means that you would not find these congregations, but you may find some of their characteristics in churches around the globe.
Our first congregation is the church in Tokologo, a township somewhere in Africa. The members of this church are mostly new to the Christian faith. They are first or generation Christians. Many of them still have relatives that adhere to the traditional African faith. It is a real joy to these Christians that they have been liberated from the bondage of paganism. They have broken with the old ways of ancestor veneration, and most of them do not visit the traditional medicine men anymore, although some might still do so in times of crisis. Despite the enthusiasm about the new found salvation, however, all is not well in the Tokologo congregation. There are jealousies and divisions between groups in the church. A form of worldliness is creeping into the church. It seems that many members are more focused on becoming rich and gaining status in society, than on devoting their lives to the Lord. Some disturbing things also happen during parties. Drunkenness is not uncommon. Some of the brothers are addicted to gambling.
The pastor of the church is worried. He wonders: What has become of the initial joy in the faith and the initial dedication to the Lord? He asks himself the question: Why aren‟t saved more sanctified?
Our next congregation is in Torenvliet, a small town in the Netherlands. Or maybe it is Thornview, a small town somewhere in Scotland.
If you look at the life of these people, you see a strange mix of traditionalism and modernity. If you look at the machinery people have, there is nothing lacking – they have cell-phones, PC‟s,
internet, cars, you name it. Whatever becomes available on the market, they have it soon and they keep up with all the innovations. In the church, however, there is a lot less excitement. There are difficult discussions about whether minor things should be changed or not. There seems to be little happening in terms of evangelism. This church apparently has little attraction to outsiders. Members get along quite well with each other, although there are underlying tensions between certain families. One gets the impression that people go through the motions here, and that they continue to live in a pattern which they have inherited from previous generations. But if you look at them during the service, they do not seem to be excited about what they are doing. And if you see what some of them are doing in their spare time, you wonder how they are able to combine these lifestyles. There are concerns about the younger generation who hang out in bars and get drunk over the weekends.
The pastor of the church is uncomfortable. He wonders: This church should have been much more mature in the faith by now. Why aren‟t the saved more sanctified?
Our third congregation is located in downtown Toronto (Canada), one of the largest cities in the world. Unlike the suburban areas of the city, where you would find families with children, here in
the downtown area you find a pleasant mix of people: some older people who have always lived in the city and never moved, many young professionals who live in elite condominiums, a few families with children, many university students, and also some refugees from countries in Africa and Asia.
These believers experience their faith together during the Sunday services. There is a small but very committed group of members that keep the church together. Most of the members seem to prefer a connection to the church that is more free. During the week they do not have much contact. They all have their own lives. With the different cultural backgrounds it would not be easy to build closer relationships anyway.
Many members are highly educated (at secular universities), well-read and well-informed about many issues. They love to look at things from a meta-level and they feel that the church in may ways is too narrow-minded. Some of them have hesitations about some of the church‟s doctrines, but they would not want to make a fuss about it. Generally speaking they dislike a doctrinal approach (as in Catechism sermons for example). Instead, they appreciate high-class liturgy with good music and quality signing.
There are concerns about the lifestyle of some members, but they are unwilling to submit to the authority of the elders. Another cause for concern is that some members regularly visit the services of other denominations. The consistory would like to improve the unity and bonding within the congregation, but they realize: If we push them too hard, they may leave. The pastor of the church sometimes wonders: Why aren‟t the saved more committed?
Relevance of the Lordship of Christ for the Christian life
We need to get back to our subject and ask ourselves what the practical relevance of the Lordship of Christ might be for the practice of the Christian life.
In the light of the fact that our theme deals with matters of the believer‟s obedience and Christ‟s
authority over the lives of Christians, I suggest that our theme offers a helpful antidote against two evils which have always threatened the Christian faith: antinomianism and legalism.
Antinomianism and legalism
Although I trust that these terms are fairly well known, it may be helpful to give a bit of background. Both terms have the word „law‟ in them. In „antinomianism‟ we see the word „nomos‟ (Greek for „law‟) and in „legalism‟ we see the word „lex‟ (Latin for „law‟). Legalism is sometimes called
„neonomism.‟ Antinomianism is sometimes called „relativism‟.
W.R. Godfrey describes antinomianism as follows: “It so stresses Christian freedom from the
condemnation of the law that it underemphasizes the need of the believer to confess sin daily and to pursue sanctification earnestly.” (1988:379) In other words, it is a gospel without law, faith without works.
Legalism is the opposite danger. If legalism becomes dominant in the church, obedience becomes more than the fruit or evidence of faith. “Rather obedience comes to be seen as a
constituent element of justifying faith.” (Godfrey 1988:379) The preaching becomes moralistic, there is no Christian assurance and joy anymore, and what is left is a self-centred, introspective kind of piety. In other words, it is a law without gospel, works without grace.
If the gospel is understood rightly, the Christian believer says: “I have been saved through
Christ, therefore I obey Him.”
If antinomianism dominates, you would hear: “I am saved, so I do not need to obey
If legalism dominates, it would be: “I must obey in order to be saved.”
man (in the original German: “Das geforderte Tun wird eindeutig als Tun des Menschen verstanden.”, p. 95)
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, has published regularly on the subject of preaching the gospel to post-modern people.
In his articles Keller regularly uses Tertullian‟s image of the two thieves as he believes that these two „criminals‟ are still very much active in current preaching in the USA. He often refers to the two types of preaching as „moralist‟ and „relativist‟ respectively. In one of his articles he illustrates this by taking the problem of dishonesty and lying as a case study. (Keller 2004) The moralist approach would be to preach against dishonesty and lying, to tell people about Jesus, how totally honest and truthful He was, and then to encourage the hearers to follow Christ‟s example and try harder than they did before.
The relativist approach could start in the same fashion, but having shown that we are dishonest and truthful, the preacher would comfort the hearers by saying that our sins have been forgiven, especially if we try hard, and that the Lord will help us to do better.
Essentially, Keller says, both ways tell people to sanctify themselves.
How should we then preach? Keller describes a „third way‟. We should not urge people to try
harder (the moralist approach). Neither should we tell people that they should not worry because God loves them anyway (the relativist approach). Instead we must begin with preaching deep, heartfelt, below-the-surface repentance. And then we must preach salvation in Christ and end with rejoicing, since the thing we must repent of is always a failure to enjoy, delight in, and relish the grace and provision of Christ's work.
3. The Netherlands thDuring the second part of the 20 century the preaching in the Reformed Churches (liberated)
had a strong covenantal character - “covenantal” in the sense that we need to take into account
that God speaks to us as his covenant people, and that there are promises and demands in the covenant. Interestingly, this approach of preaching was born as a reaction against perceived legalistic and moralistic preaching.
Yet, even the covenantal approach is no guarantee that legalism will not occur. There is a kind of covenantal preaching which applies the „promise & demand‟ structure in a legalistic way: The preacher first proclaims God‟s promises to the people, and then he proclaims God‟s demands. It is a kind of „yes – but‟ structure: “Yes, you are saved by grace, but now you are demanded to
obey God‟s commands.”
It is not difficult to see how this approach may become dominant in preaching. The serious preacher does not want to preach “cheap grace”, so he emphasizes the obligations of the covenant strongly. Moreover, his elders urge him to be practical and clear, and tell the people what is good and what is wrong. The sermon should be a double-edged sword! The minister may easily cave in to this pressure and over-emphasize the demands of the covenant. The result is legalism and moralism.
C. Trimp (1989:55-56) laments the fact that the Christian life is often characterized as “living according to the demand of God‟s covenant.” He reports having read an article in which the Christian life is describe in terms of duty. It is our covenant „duty‟ to do this and that. We „must‟ do
this and we „must‟ not do that.
Trimp suggests that the problem lies in a schematic view of the „promise & demand‟ structure of the covenant. It appears that many preachers think in terms of a balance between the two. You have to preach the promise and you have to preach the demand, and you should make sure that the two are in balance. The result, however, will be a legalistic type of preaching, because the preacher first proclaims salvation for free, but then there is a demand: you have to show real faith by works, otherwise it implies that you are not saved after all.