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Rev. Daniel Jarstfer | Charlestown, Rhode Island
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Christ Our Hope Presbyterian Church
4080 South County Trail
Charlestown, Rhode Island 02813
Christ Our Hope Presbyterian Church
4080 South County Trail
Suite 3
Charlestown RI 02813
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Preaching Christ 2.0 - Application & the Third Use of the Law
Posted by: Christ Our Hope Presbyterian Church | more..
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The following text is originally from a letter Pastor Tony Phelps sent to a dear brother in Christ. In it, Pastor Phelps explains his aims in preaching and addresses the matter of application. Brackets indicate additions made to the original letter.

[I would describe my preaching as Christ-centered, expositional, Law and Gospel proclamation. According to Jesus in John 5, Luke 24, etc, all of the Scripture centers on Him. Further, Jesus’ mandate for His Church in Luke 24 is to preach His Cross and resurrection from all the Scriptures – and that repentance (Law) and forgiveness of sins (Gospel) should be proclaimed in His name to all nations. The apostolic sermons in the book of Acts model this pattern. The apostle Paul resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified in his apostolic Word ministry among the Corinthians. He summarized his ministry to the Colossians in these words: “[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Christ-centered, expositional, Law and Gospel preaching is a means of grace. It is the means by which God the Father, by His Word and Spirit, grows us in the grace and knowledge of His Son. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.]

...I aim to preach Christ from all of Scripture. I aim to preach the Law (you are a sinner) and the Gospel (Jesus lived, died, rose, reigns, and will return – for you and your salvation). In fact, these are the primary applications that I aim for in the sermon. [Two basic questions guide these applications: How does this passage show me my sin? Bryan Chapell calls this the “Fallen Condition Focus.” Secondly, How does this passage show me my Savior?] The Law is applied as you hear it in all its severity, see your sin, and are driven to Christ. The Gospel is applied as you hear it in all its sweetness, see your Savior, and receive Him as crucified and risen for you. And so you are strengthened to walk in the newness of life, in the power of His resurrection. Your faith is energized to work through love [i.e., to walk in good works]. You walk in this new life in your ordinary vocations – your varied callings in this world in your family, your church, your neighborhood, your workplace, your role as a citizen in society at large. Vocation is the sphere in which you walk in the good works God has prepared for you beforehand. This is where we find the imperatives of Scripture – always grounded in Gospel indicatives – working themselves out (a.k.a., the third use of the Law). This is how I approach preaching...

It is Christ-centered, Law & Gospel, means of grace preaching. I believe it is through these means that Christ, by His Word and Spirit, to the glory of His Father, sanctifies us. Preaching, like the sacraments, is a means of grace. Through the Law, Christ kills the old man. Through the Gospel, Christ raises and strengthens the new man to walk in newness of life.

Repentance is deepened, faith is strengthened – and that faith works through love. And all of this takes a very long view of sanctification. People will still sin, do stupid things, and disappoint us – our own selves, most of all!

Admittedly, the emphasis in this kind of preaching is more on Christ and His work for us, rather than the Christian and his works for Christ. This, of course, is not what you will typically hear in wider evangelicalism. And it is clearly a minority report even among the Reformed today...

...I’ve explained my convictions regarding application above. [So how do we preach imperatives? The third use of the Law?] Imperatives found in a given passage of Scripture must always be grounded in the indicatives of the Gospel – as the Scripture itself does. Again, my primary aim in preaching is to apply Law & Gospel – to apply Christ to the Christian – for his or her sanctification. Faith comes by hearing – and hearing by the Word of God. Sermons are to be heard with faith – and all the “action” is in that hearing, counter-intuitive as it may seem. [The “new obedience” of the Christian life is driven not by the Law, but by the Gospel – as faith works through love. The Law is the standard of our obedience {third use}, and must be preached as such. But it does not provide the power for that obedience. Only the Gospel does.]

The “to do list” for the Christian is not found in a preacher creatively enumerating action items (I would cite the sermons of Charles Stanley as the extreme example of this – what human being has enough hours in the day to DO all the “applications” he spins out of a typical sermon?). In fact, preachers must beware of binding consciences beyond what the Scripture says. Our “to do list,” lived out of gratitude for God’s grace to us in Christ, is at the same time profoundly simple & completely impossible. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Need more specifics? You know the Ten Commandments. These are your duties. Walk in them. See how you fail. Repent. Believe the Gospel. See how He loves you and forgives you in His Cross – sinful as you are. [Consider the Gospel-grounded imperatives of the New Testament.] You love because He has first loved you. You love your undeserving neighbor because He has loved you, the undeserving sinner. You forgive because He forgives you, the worst sinner you know. You serve because He has served you, the self-centered, self-righteous jerk you really are in your flesh.

[I am convinced that all of the above is in full accord with the Reformation tradition at large, and the Westminster Standards in particular.]
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