As text-driven preachers, we long to “rightly divide” the Word from the pulpit. We go deep into the structure of the text, analyzing the syntax and semantics, longing for the truth of God’s inspired Word to awake our souls as we aim to awake those of our hearers. I believe this is due to the fact that text-driven preaching aims at exposing the substance and structure of the text, making the meaning of the passage clear. As such, contrary to some forms of preaching, we trust that the sermon is built on clear and absolute truth. Whether the sermon is presented inductively or deductively, truth statements provide the congregation with clear and absolute confidence.
But the question is: how do you turn true statements into truth nuggets that transform lives? It is one thing to “read” that God is love. But how do you expound it in such a way that impacts the lives of our hearers? I want to recount three ways you can move from true statements to truth nuggets.
From Text to Gospel Reality
John Piper in his recent book Expository Exultation states, “Beware of making textual structure the climax of preaching. Always keep before you the summons of the reality factor.”John Piper, Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship (Grand Rapids: Crossway, 2018), 162. This doesn’t mean we dismiss our discourse analysis model or hermeneutics; rather we are looking for the truth of the text. One way we can take true statements and make them into truth nuggets is by aiming at the reality factor of the text. Now what do I mean by “reality factor?” This reality factor is the truthfulness of a textual claim expressed in exposition of its meaning. We claim “this is what the Bible says now let me explain what it means.” This is not to say we go beyond the text to some hidden meaning, rather, we show from the text the reality contained in it. It is one thing to read what the text says but another thing to show what it actually means.
As expositors we don’t simply read what the Bible says but we explain what the Bible means. We do this by showing the people the relationship between words, clauses, and concepts keeping in view the ultimate reality of God in Christ. So for example, we can read that God is love and by doing so we expound the reality of God, the type of love that is expressed in His character, and the relationship we now possess because God so loved us in Christ.Ibid., 161. We penetrate the reality of what the text is communicating by believing the transformative reality of God’s Word.
From Reality to Gospel Transformation
The Bible was given to us not simply as a means of information but for transformation. As we explore the reality of the text we must keep in mind this truth: God desires to transform people through His Word. We can communication transformative truth by explaining the text is clear and concrete statements. We might say that this is moving from an exegetical outline to a preaching outline.
For example in Acts 3 after the healing of the lame man, Peter explains the miracle (v. 11–26). In verses 11–16 Peter shows that the healing was a result of the risen Christ. This is a true statement because the text clearly says this (specifically v. 16). However our preaching would be dull if we just left the statement as “Peter show that the healing was a result of the Risen Christ.” Therefore we can take our exegetical discovery and turn it into a transformative reality – Our Personal Transformation Testifies to the Power of the Risen Christ. In the same way the lame man experienced personal transformation by faith in Jesus, we do as well, since Jesus is raised from the dead. Our own personal transformation testifies to the power of the Risen Christ. At this point we are inviting the congregation not only hear the Word (the lame man’s healing…) but also experience the transformative reality of the truth in their own lives (Our personal transformation…). This may take time and creatively on the part of the pastor. It isn’t about “turning a phrase” or making a cute alliterated outline rather it is about remaining true to the text and allowing its truth to transform us.
From Transformation to Gospel Impact
Preaching is about declaring God’s truth to God’s people. We would all agree but it is so much more. It is seeing the transformational realty of God’s Word make a lasting impact upon our hearers. Abstract true statements are good but concrete truth nuggets create lasting gospel impact. The “concreteness” of truth nuggets comes in the form of real world impact. Some call it “application” but I choose to use the word “impact.” Impact is about the lasting effect in the lives of the hearers that should result from the transformational reality of the Word. This impact can be aimed at the mind, will, and emotion.
As an example, take the transformative truth from Acts 3:11–16 “Our Personal Transformation Testifies to the Power of the Risen Christ.” This transformative truth should impact our hearers in various ways. First, our minds should be changed. Christ is raised from the dead and desires to transform our lives and those around us. Second, our wills are impacted. If we have experienced personal transformation we should continue to live more faithfully as to experience more transformation. Third, our emotions can be challenged. We can rejoice because the power of the Risen Christ won’t leave us the same. While in exposition we can expound the impact more, suffice to say that transformational realities in God’s Word ought to make a gospel impact.
As text-driven preachers we move from true statements to truth nuggets by looking at the reality of the text, the transformative nature of the text, and the impact of the text. Ultimately, this is why pastors preach. We long to see the words we communicate have a lasting impact as a result of the transformative reality of God’s Word.