|Taking Every Thought Captive|
Preaching to the Inner Man
and Preaching for Conversion
Adapted from a Lecture by Hywel Jones, Banner of Truth Conf., 1997
Jay Wegter, Editor
There is a Great Need to Learn How to Preach to the Inner Man.
As preachers we are in need of a “fresh anointing.” We need to be reinvigorated and empowered anew (Ps 92:10-15). God’s anointing is needed because we are called to a ministry that is impossible apart from divine enablement – we are called to make a vital connection between the Word of God and our hearers.
Our preaching is intended by God to connect two worlds; the world of the Bible to the world of our listeners. In order to do so, it must impinge upon our hearers where they are.
So often we fall short of making this connection. There is a kind of preaching that is clear and perspicuous, faithful to the narrow and wider context of the canon, doctrinally accurate, BUT inadequate at reaching the inner man.
We must strive to preach to the inner man. Many expositors focus almost totally on the meaning of the text, but do not set their sights on targeting the inner man. We must not satisfy ourselves with the thought that our listeners “have learned something.” We must aim at reaching the inner man. We must preach so that our listeners’ reflection and conviction is, “This is what God is saying to me today.”
If reaching the inner man is not the goal of our exposition, our preaching will seldom rise above the didactic. This is a cause for serious self-examination. Our messages tend to be too “lecture-like.” They have a term paper feel to them, but they are not nearly prophetic enough in character. They are “atomistic” in the sense that they are consistently precept oriented, but lacking in the ability to stick in the conscience and the affections.
We must develop a deeper awareness of the prophetic character of preaching.
A prophetic thrust to preaching begins in the prayer closet and in the study. Our tendency is to tackle our text with this goal in mind, “I’ve got to deal with this passage.” If our preaching is to be prophetic, we will have to ask the question, “How is this passage dealing with me?” “What on earth has this to do with me?”
Our goal is not just to reach our hearers, but the inner man of our hearers. The inner man cannot be reached unless the mind and conscience is jabbed. Have we allowed the biblical passage to deal with us; has it jabbed our own mind and conscience? We must have the text deal with us first before we can reach the inner man in our hearers.
We must preach with the intent of bringing God into the view of our hearers.
The inner man is transformed by beholding God (2 Cor 3:16-18). We are able to preach with the confidence that we have a new covenant ministry; the wall (veil) between our believing hearers and our message is gone. That is the assurance given in 2 Cor 3:12-4:6. It is a cause for great boldness in our preaching (3:12).
This passage in 2 Corinthians gives us an analysis of our believing hearers: their hardness of heart has been removed (3:16); they are beholding the glory of the Lord (3:18); they have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ(4:6); they are ready to have their consciences addressed (4:2).
Now that the veil is gone (3:16), we can devote ourselves to preaching a life toward God; a life of towardness to God.
Preaching to the outer man is common in contemporary Evangelicalism. But true preaching is not merely focusing upon what we have found in the Word and have mined from Scripture. True preaching brings the inner man to his senses and to his knees. It does so because it touches the conscience in a profound manner (4:2). In true preaching, God comes into the view of the hearer in a life-transforming manner (3:18).
What kind of preacher can preach to the inner man? It is but one man in a thousand who can preach this way. A portrait of this kind of man can be found in John Bunyan. He was grave, serious, earnest in habit, not flippant. His constant mindset was to begat, bring forth, and nurse.
Bunyan matched the description given of the teaching Levite priest in Malachi 2:5-7. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My Name. True instruction was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”
The man who is able to preach to the inner man must be in the habit of hearing in his own inner man. He must see himself as a “beggar” speaking to other beggars. We must experience birth pangs and growing pangs in our own life if we are to reach the inner man in other individuals.
There is a Great Need to Preach for Growth in the Inner Man.
The image of God in man is hopelessly defaced by sin; men are beyond human repair. Yet people tend to live as if the power of repair is under their control. The knowledge of God’s truth is preached in order to transform and repair. The righteousness of God is preached that men might know the sinfulness of sin and the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s righteousness was evinced in His love for God, by His fulfilling of the Law in the place of the sinner.
God alone gives the increase in spiritual growth that we are preaching to induce.
Our preaching cannot produce regeneration or sanctification apart from the Spirit’s work. We must maintain dependence upon God in our preaching for growth. We tend to regard growth as conformity to truth and principles – this is certainly true in part, but there is a dimension we tend to ignore. Growth is the new man asserting itself more and more by the power of the Spirit.
Great care is needed when handling the subjects of the law and sin. If growth is to be equated with more life, freedom and righteousness, then we must not communicate that growth is merely mastering a code (God’s law).
Our emphasis should not be upon keeping the creed or the law, but upon living the life in the Son. It is so easy to burden and to deaden. Christ said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light. The child of God by definition is not under sin and law as a dominating, controlling, condemning force. He has passed from death to life – he is free from the law of sin and death.
In order to preach for growth in the inner man, we must deal with our listeners in their being alive! We must not make the Christian life a burden. Avoid generating a sense of condemnation. We must steer clear of forever talking about duty, focusing on failure, intensifying a sense of grievous disobedience, and deepening a sense of condemnation. This doesn’t promote growth.
If we hammer duty too much it can be a symptom of imbalance in our own ministry. Are we trying to make up for our lack of preaching to unbelievers? Are we seeking to assuage our sense of evangelistic failure by muscling in on believers and imparting our sense of failure to them?
Great transparency before the throne of God is needed in the life and ministry of the preacher. Are we piling up precepts on our people? We must guard against “be good” sermons that leave the listener with the impression, “You have so many commissions to fulfill, so many duties to accomplish.” To preach in this manner is to make them far from grace – it is to place them back under law. It builds a wall to separate them from the fullness of Christ.
Our entire eligibility for God’s favor is Christ; we have the Savior’s blessed availability -- all by gracious donation. We must avoid grieving the hearts of the righteous. Sanctification is relational; it is living the life of toward-ness to God in Christ as His beloved possession.
When promoting growth in the inner man, we are to press down the die of truth on the understanding and the affections. There are particular truths that promote growth. Make much of the love of Christ. The truth concerning His love is a constraining truth that promotes likeness to Him and conformity to His commands. Our obedience is achievable by virtue of His energy. When we deepen these “indentations” by means of the die of truth, growth will result.
How easy it is to lose sight of the Lord Jesus Christ. Other things become central and He is marginalized in the process. Beloved, the Church thrives only when Christ has preeminence in all things.
Christian people are right and correct when they hunger to hear how perfectly suited Christ is for their every need (Heb 7:26, 27). Our preaching must hold Him before Christian people. Set Him before them as their “Source Person” and it will cause them to be like Him.
Our motivation for obedience is the love of Christ. Our framework is His law (Christ holds the law in His hands as a placated Mediator of the new covenant who rules His people by love). Our strength and energy for obedience is His Person.
Christ is to be preeminent and central in all of ministry. He is to have preeminence in everything. Don’t talk more about God than Christ (1 Cor 2:1-3).
The motivation for growth is the Gospel, not the Law. Use the Gospel to keep your people aware of what they owe, who they are, what they were, and where they are headed. The precepts and laws of God must be filtered through Christ and Him crucified. Are we consciously seeking to bring our listeners to delight to receive Christ’s love and law in their hearts? Our tendency as ministers is to make biblical commands stand alone from Christ’s finished work and present power. But, it is the experimental knowledge of Christ’s love that gives us the disposition to love one another, and to bear one another’s burdens. His love gives us the disposition to please. His precepts give us the specifics of how to please God; He directs our love by His precepts. (We need to view our living the Christian life in this way instead of merely adherence to a code.)
We must understand that our being “in Christ” is our strength. Our union with Christ is vital, living, and organic; it is not merely federal representation. The mind of Christ is available, the might of Christ is available – we don’t have to fulfill a single command by ourselves, in our own strength. We operate in the realm of grace full and free. We cannot barter for God’s infinite goodness in Christ, we cannot exchange anything for it; it is still for nothing, it is still all of grace (Rom 5:1, 2).
How do we press down these truths upon the minds and hearts of our hearers? This ministry of pressing down the die of truth has three “tones” or “strands” that function together. The Apostle Paul used them in conjunction (1 Thess 2:11). “Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.”
Exhorting: is to appeal by argument. It is not the same as laying down the law. It is face to face, side by side ministry as when the Apostle Paul acted as a spiritual father and mother. Laying down the law is not as effective, though it might seem so. By contrast, the exhorting pastor asks the question, “What will make people rise up, want to be more like Christ, and want to obey?” “What will make them more like Christ in attitude, word, and deed?”
Encouraging: is to comfort humans in their frailty. Distressed minds and hearts need to be consoled. So many are distressed within and without. They are living with turmoil of soul, with stress, fear, anxiety, and condemnation. Even under the Old Covenant, the Levitical priest exemplified compassion and empathy (Heb 5:2, 3). How much more do we, under the new covenant, need to show compassion and empathy – we must not send the message that we have arrived spiritually. We can be too hard. Our own infirmities are always with us. Let us not be too censorious, too overbearing, or too demanding.
Imploring: is to warn the indifferent; it is to withstand the rebellious face to face. It is to confront in specific areas where obedience is lacking. We implore in the context of a “spiritual family.” We are to implore our people to go to perfection. Yet, some are not of us. If individuals persevere in disobedience, that sin might bring them to a point of irrevocable apostasy.
Disobedient believers must be taught to submit to the Heavenly Father’s discipline. In some cases of protracted disobedience in a believer, that correction from God may claim the health and life of the individual that their spirit may be saved in the day of Christ Jesus.
In all three of these tones (exhorting, encouraging and imploring), God is the One who is ultimately speaking. He is the One who calls us to call His people into His glorious kingdom. We are called to communion with Christ. We are called up into the light, even at death.
Christ is the gift of all gifts. We need to inculcate more longing and more yearning to know Christ and to be like Christ in Immanuel’s land. In order to preach to the life of God in the soul, we must preach and speak in all three tones: in speaking truth, we exhort, in communicating compassion, we comfort, in exercising firmness we warn.
The Apostle Paul spoke in all three of these tones (1 Thess 2:11).
There is a Great Need of Preaching for Conversion.
Of course it is only the believer that has an inner man. We will be preaching to many unregenerate men in our congregations. The decay of the outward man is a sad spectacle because in the unsaved man, it is the decay of all that is there. (By contrast, the Apostle Paul did not lose heart amidst the decay of his outer man because his inner man was being renewed day by day – 2 Cor 4:16.)
Preaching evangelically is a serious weakness in Reformed preaching. Not only should we be preaching to produce growth, we should be preaching to produce a birth (James 1:18).
In the Gospel idea of preaching, one takes a “die” into his hand in order to form impressions. The impression is the divine image of the knowledge of God and true holiness. God made the soul. Our task is not to criticize it, reform it, or alter it. We are simply to take the die and press it down.
The preacher’s business is simply to take what he finds in the Scriptures and press it down on the heart, conscience, and understanding of men. The die is perfect to produce the impression God desires. We must press down this die as those who have had the selfsame die pressed on us in the sight of God (see Dabney, Theological Discussions, pp. 596-601).
There is a morphology in preaching to bring for the new birth. The planting of life (regeneration) takes place beforehand. We do not preach in order to regenerate. The dead sinner’s heart is not reached by our appeals, pleas, and reasons. We preach to bring out the babe that God has conceived. Our task is more of a midwife than a mother or a father (1 Cor 4:15).
We are to harmonize with, as much as possible, the effectual calling of God, so that a healthy birth takes place. What lines of truth are necessary so as to produce the inner man? What truths does God utilize to bring forth life? (James 1:18). (The issue here is the Gospel truths, not just selective texts.)
We must major on the truth of Christ’s cross and the significance of His death. This is our canon within the canon. For in the cross and the Gospel is the message of the love of God providing an escape from the enslaving, corrupting power of sin and from the condemning power of God (in the Law).
Our mission is to press down these truths upon the mind, affections, and conscience. This means we will have to deal with personal sin. We need to bring to bear on our listeners that they have to come to terms with God’s Law. They are dealing with the Holy One of the universe. They must come to term with God’s love. They will have to come to terms with what God has done for sinners.
In order to press down these truths, we will have to preach so as to produce the following:
· a proper recognition of sin (CONVICTION).
· a proper repudiation of sin (REPENTANCE).
· a proper reception of the Savior (FAITH).
To receive Christ’s person is to receive His righteousness in His life and in His vicarious death; it is to receive His perfect satisfaction on behalf of believing sinners. To preach the recognition and repudiation of sin is to exhort the sinner to recognize his personal sin and create an antipathy toward it.
The preacher faces two obstacles in his task to produce conviction: the nature of the sin, and the condition of the sinner. The nature of sin can be described as blinding, enslaving, and deceiving. The condition of the sinner is as follows: his inability lies in his corrupt nature, his inability is traceable to his darkened understanding, his inability lies in the corruption of his affections, and his inability resides in the total perversity of his will (Arthur Pink, Obstacles to Coming to Christ).
Sin lives, rules, and reigns in the sinner. Sin is beyond all human knowing. It is so deceitful one cannot know it comprehensively. It is impossible to run an objective analysis upon it. It is not superficial. It has literally captured the heart and made the sinner a willing hostage. “Dead in sin” can be defined as that which disables and blinds (see Lloyd Jones, Ephesians Commentary, Eph 4:17-19).
To get the sinner to identify his sin, and reject his sin goes against his whole nature. He is willing to die for his sin, he loves it. If he could plunge a knife into the heart of God in order to keep sin, he would do so.
Sin makes one daring to commit high crimes against heaven. It destroys the fear of God; it is presumption. It is spiritual insanity. It is suicidal in its course. The false prophet Balaam pursued the object of his lust with abandon and “madness” (2 Pet 2:15, 16).
Sin is deceitful because its father is a liar (Jn 8:44). Sin promises, but never delivers what it promises. We must show its deceitful character by unmasking its true colors. We are preaching to sinners who are blinded to what sin is and what it does to the sinner and to God.
We are to depend upon the Word and the Spirit in order to explain what sin is. The law is a standard, a yardstick expressed in specific commandments, each of which is “exceedingly broad” (Ps 119:96).
Romans 7:9 declares, “when the commandment came sin became alive.” That is the Spirit taking up the commandment and bringing it home to the mind, affections, and conscience. The Spirit makes a man realize the inward influence of sin (subjectively). The sinner has to be brought to that level. The Spirit will take it infinitely deeper than we can take it so that the sinner will know sin and feel death.
Prior to the Spirit’s conviction, the sinner thinks that he can ingratiate himself to God. He imagines he can obligate God with a little moral exertion. People need to die to their pride, their confidence, their hope. They need to die to everything but an ever-increasing comprehension of the nature of sin. As preachers we must deal with sin and death. We must make people aware of what wretched men they are.
Jesus called sinners, not the righteous. He alone is fit to handle our ruin. He is perfectly suited (Heb 7:25-28). He kept the Law, and bore its curse.
When we preach, we are to call for the obedience of faith. In saving faith there is a giving of oneself away to God; it is casting one’s entire welfare upon the Lord.
God justifies the ungodly. We are to call upon people to turn, to flee, to look past themselves upon Christ who lived, and died, and rose again.
So great a salvation, full and free, was at the behest of the Father. Command them to come, command them to repent. Assure them that they won’t be cast out. If they will but call, He hears, He will answer. Like the father of the prodigal son, He will run and meet him, He will kiss him and clothe him, and reinstate him.
As preachers, we have to plead. We’re better at commanding than pleading, better at assuring than pleading. If we do not plead, we are not proper ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20). There must be pleading and beseeching in Christ’s stead. He is speaking through us. Our listeners must know that God wants them saved and Satan doesn’t.
The ambassador maintains dignity, but descends to entreaty – he communicates God’s condescending grace. God is Savior. He goes before us to regenerate. He takes the poor soul from darkness to light, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of His dear Son.
Once the spiritual infant is produced by God, the inner work will become visible (Jn 3:7, 8). There may be a difference of degree of vigor in the life principle imparted. It may be a whimper, or a cry, but in regeneration, new life is present (see Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, p. 23).
Your view on God’s regenerating work will affect your ecclesiology. Do you lean toward a position of decisional regeneration in which man’s decision initiates regeneration? Then you may focus more on faith made visible in a decision.
Pastors operating from that perspective may assume a higher number of their parishioners to be saved. They will tend to not expect too much of everybody.
There is another view of the regenerating work of God. Do you regard the regenerating power of God to be of the same magnitude of might God exercised in the resurrection of Christ? (see Eph 1:19, 20). If that is your position, then you will correctly expect some degree of vital faith, life, light and love to be evident in each and everyone of those spiritually newborn. You will preach to that new life accordingly – as a newly conceived inner man whose life needs to be asserted by the Spirit’s power.