Two ways to be precise in applying grace

What does it take to reach people’s hearts with the grace of the gospel — so that by the power of the Spirit we see genuine life change?

Last week (on June 1, 2017), 45 women and men from a range of ministry backgrounds converged at Melbourne’s Ridley College to workshop this question over the course of a morning together.

We began by watching a model Tim Keller sermon. Then we then ‘popped the bonnet’ with the help of some expert analysis provided by Murray Capill (Principal of Reformed Theological College) and Andrew Katay (CEO of City to City Australia).

Murray and Andrew's lively and interactive analysis covered lots of ground — from Augustine and the Puritans through theological anthropology to the clever ways in which Keller connects moments in the biblical text to the cross of Jesus.

One particular point of focus that emerged was the two ways in which Keller’s preaching models being precise in applying the grace of Christ.

First, Keller models how to be precise in applying grace by identifying the heart as our target in preaching and word ministry.

Our hearts, and specifically the desires of our hearts, are core of who we are and how we live.

Our hearts, and specifically the desires of our hearts, are core of who we are and how we live. And so we need to apply the good news of Jesus precisely there — rather than our will, worldview, habits or emotions alone.

Deep repentance and lasting change come from being precise in matching how we see Christ’s gracious work with the particular way in which sin has captured our hearts and twisted our desires.

The second way in which Keller models how to be precise is in distinguishing between the gospel of grace and the reigning alternatives that compete with it to capture our hearts.

Again and again, Keller deftly shows not only what the gospel and grace-renewal driven change is, but also what it is not. In this way, he unmasks various alternative false gospels — like self-improvement and self-expression — disarming them by showing how Christ and what he offers is so much better.

While Keller’s cleverness and uncanny ability to ‘read’ his context and engage with the culture may be unique, these two ways to be precise are readily transferrable.

We concluded the morning by discussing in smaller groups how we can benefit from these two types of precision in our different ministry contexts — and praying together.

All told, it was a terrific and potentially transformative morning. The next City Lab is scheduled for November 2 in Melbourne.

But if you would like to find out how to pursue this kind of precision in your preaching, consider signing up for the Preaching Incubator — scheduled to be offered in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in semester 2, 2017.

Chris Swann
Director of Training