How to listen to doctrinal sermons

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Sometimes the aim of a sermon is to help us grasp a specific Biblical truth more clearly. This should not surprise us. We keep insisting that what we believe affects how we live.  We may use a one off sermon or even a short series of sermons to teach on a particular doctrine. For example, I’ve preached doctrinal series on The Trinity and on The Atonement. Some people have preached their way through a creed or statement of faith.

We preach doctrinal sermons to put the focus on a particular truth which the church needs to know. This may be especially important when a specific error or heresy is being pushed either locally or on the wider Christian stage. For example, my series on the Atonement came about because some people were saying that Jesus did not bear the penalty for our sin on The Cross and to claim that he did was tantamount to “cosmic child abuse.”  However, we don’t just preach doctrine defensively. I preached on The Trinity because it is such a central tenant of our faith and yet very few Christians have a grasp of how wonderful this doctrine is.

The risk with a Doctrinal Sermon is that it can become a bit of a lecture. We can also end up with a kind of bible safari where we tour through the Bible finding relevant verses. I prefer not to do this even when speaking on topics and find benefit on sticking in one or maybe two Bible passages for each talk. This means that if I want to look at several passages then I find it better to preach several sermons. However, sometimes it is necessary to look at a number of passages.

A doctrinal sermon therefore should be rooted in Scripture. The preacher should still have done their exegesis on any Bible passages used. So just as with a normal expository sermon, you should be listening with your Bible open making sure that the speaker is doing justice to the natural meaning of passages referenced.

Think about how what you are hearing about the doctrine relates to other Biblical truths. It’s helpful (and a good preacher should do this) to draw the links in when looking at a passage. The Bible writers haven’t just given us a text book in systematic theology and so even as we discover something about God’s character or human nature when we look at the relevant passages, we will see that those things contribute to the particular point that the Biblical author is making about specific circumstances.

If what we believe affects how we live, then we should listen ready to act and obey. Doctrinal sermons should not just fill us with head knowledge. For example our sermons on The Trinity brought out some important applications about church life including the need to approach church as a family not as consumers as well as to avoid the twin traps of secularism and superstition. It was really encouraging when following the sermons on “God is Love” and “The Father and The Son” that we had people asking about how they could get more involved in “the family.”

Doctrine sermons will encourage us to ;love the truth. We should listen expecting to grow in discernment. Sometimes the preacher will deal head on, explicitly with an example of false teaching that the doctrine is designed to correct, sometimes this will be more implicit. As we listen, we should think through the implications, comparing and contrasting the truth with the lie. This will help us  to be on our guard against error. Watch to see how false teachers have twisted Scripture to make it looks like it supports their lie, try to identify the inconsistencies in their approach, consider how believing the lie would affect how you live.

Doctrine involves declaring the glories of God. We learn about his character, his names and his works. We are reminded of our own fallenness and finiteness. Doctrine pushes us towards grace. So we should listen with thanksgiving. Doctrine is part of worship and the preacher becomes our worship leader as our hearts overflow with joy and praise.

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