What if someone told your preaching was missing one critical ingredient that could undermine the effectiveness of your entire ministry?
That is unfortunately the state of much evangelical preaching today—preaching that aims to be biblical, but is dangerously close to presenting a distorted, anemic view of God—or at worst an unbiblical view that can only be described as something other than true biblical Christianity.
This missing ingredient for many evangelical preachers today is the judgment of God.
Some preachers who want to be faithful to Scripture avoid preaching judgment unconsciously because of an underlying framework; others avoid it consciously as a “service” to their listeners who don’t want to hear about judgment.
Below are five reasons that keep preachers (either consciously or unconsciously) from preaching judgment and cause them to stray from the straight path of Scripture to the peril of themselves and those in their congregation.
First, many have bought into a version of the prosperity gospel.
Even pastors who consciously reject the prosperity gospel face the temptation to subtly believe it in their hearts and proclaim it from the pulpit. The American, materialistic culture compounds this. Instead of preaching judgment, preachers blunt the sharp edge of God's wrath because their hearts (and the hearts of those they minister to) desire more what they can get out of Christianity instead of being totally faithful to God’s call to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).
Second, many idolize the love of God to the neglect—or flat out denial—of other attributes.
While Scripture is clear that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), it is also clear that He is holy, righteous, jealous, and the just judge of the entire universe—the One to whom we must all give account. Our "feel good" culture of positive thinking doesn’t like to talk about negative things like death or judgment—but Scripture does.
An example of this is when some wanted to change the lyrics of “In Christ Alone” for a PCUSA hymnal in 2013. Those compiling the hymnal wanted to remove the line "The wrath of God was satisfied" in favor of "The love of God was magnified."
Often times ignoring God's wrath to more fully present God's love does the opposite of what it is trying to accomplish; in diminishing (or avoiding) the bad news, they make the good news optional. That is one reason why starting gospel presentations by saying "God loves you" can be largely unhelpful. Many in our egoistic culture would quickly respond, "Well of course God loves me, I'm pretty awesome!"—and then close themselves off to hearing and responding to the gospel of God saving us from His wrath.
Third, the church has a tragically diminished view of God's holiness.
The holiness of God is one of the tragically neglected doctrines today in much evangelical belief and practice. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 and the apostle John in Revelation both received a special glimpse into the heavenly throne room and witnessed the content of heavenly worship. In both instances, the cry of worshippers was, "Holy, Holy, Holy".
Only when we see God in light of His holiness and perfection can we understand how imperfect sinners like us deserve His righteous wrath. When we lose God's holiness, His judgment seems optional.
Fourth, a pragmatic view of ministry supersedes biblical truth in order to fill pews.
Many churches today are run like businesses, basing their definition of success in metrics. Instead of prioritizing faithfulness to Scripture and making disciples, they care more about weekly attendance, bigger and better programs, and how much was put into the offering plate. When the goal is padding numbers for a strictly human definition of success, it is not surprising if some of the more "unsavory" doctrines—like judgment—get left by the wayside.
Fifth, preachers fear man over God.
Once we begin to fear man more than God, the desires of sinful man will shape our preaching instead of God's desires as revealed in His Word. Preachers need to pursue the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), and let him define ministry success. In ministry and in everything else, Proverbs 29:25 rings true, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe."
May our attitudes echo that of Paul in Galatians 1:10:
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."
What Are Some Consequences of Neglecting Judgment in Preaching?
J.I. Packer writes in A Quest for Godliness that if we neglect to preach God's judgment on sin,
…we cannot present Christ as a Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are, in effect, bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is “another gospel”, which is not another. (164-165)
A false Christ cannot save sinners from God’s wrath. Preaching a false Christ will cause some to not be genuinely converted and can give false assurance to many who are still unconverted. Preaching the "good news" while neglecting the bad undercuts the goodness and glory of the good news by removing a reference point of the wrath that is due to us.
This also makes it impossible to truly understand the horror or the beauty of the cross— that simultaneously God could satisfy His wrath against sinful humanity and forgive us from our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son.
This falling short of God's truth comes with stricter judgment for teachers and preachers (James 3:1). Not only do they damage their hearers by presenting a diminished view of God (or a different God altogether), they store up a special judgment for themselves, since they serve as God's spokesmen.
Where do we go from here?
It is often easier for us to see where others ignore the obvious in Scripture than see where we do. Do you preach God's judgment as it is clear in Scripture? Do you, like Paul, preach the kindness and severity of God (Romans 11:22), or preach Christ as Savior and the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42)? This isn’t to say judgment needs to fill every sermon—I’m calling for the same balance the Scriptures present.
If you have neglected presenting a biblically balanced message of God's judgment, confess it to God. Believe in the God of judgment who is also the One who extends mercy to us in Christ. Preach and read Scripture expositionally to give weight to everything God so graciously communicates to us.
Cultural pressures and itching ears can make us forget the great privilege and joy that comes with preaching judgment—the opportunity to proclaim the excellencies of the One who took the judgment that we deserve upon Himself, making the true life we all long for available to us.
Let us faithfully proclaim His gospel and pray our listeners would look upon the Savior in faith to escape the wrath to come.