Sermon illustrations


The Eyes and Defining Worthless Things

Psalm 101:3: “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” The term here—worthless—is a compound, literally: without profit. It is “the quality of being useless, good for nothing.”  

…The resolve to turn away from worthless things is a pointed way of asking: What really brings value, meaning, and purpose to our lives? Biblical ethics is not about simply avoiding corrupting things, but learning to see and enjoy and embrace eternal things that truly bring meaning and purpose and joy into our lives.

My conscience must be calibrated to Scripture so that I will firmly resolve not to set my eyes on worthless things. But I must also resolve to know that worthless things will allure me in those moments when I need God to act on my behalf. A V-chip embedded in TVs once blacked out lewd media.

Perhaps we now need a W-chip, to blank-screen worthless things. But such technology does not exist. It may never exist. We need God to turn our heads. Like a father gently holding his overstimulated son’s face until he can regain his gaze, God must divert our eyes in another direction away from empty things. And we have such a Father, whom we can ask to fill our hearts with what is eternally valuable.

Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, p.114. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.


I Couldn’t in Good Conscience…

The British poet Thomas Campbell, attending a horse race with some friends, bet one of them  (Thomas Wilson)  £50 that the horse Yellow Cap, would come in first place. After the race ended, Campbell, thinking his horse had lost the race, turned to his friend Wilson and said, “I owe you fifty pounds; but really, when I reflect that you are a professor of moral philosophy, and that betting is a sort of gambling only fit for blacklegs, I cannot bring my conscience to pay the bet.”  “I very much approve of your principles,” replied Wilson, “and I mean to act upon them. In point of fact, Yellow Cap has won the race, and, but for conscience, I ought to pay you the fifty pounds. But you will excuse me.”

Stuart R Strachan Jr.

The Real Scandal of Jesus’s Ministry

In these acts of love Jesus created a scandal for devout, religious Palestinian Jews. The absolutely unpardonable thing was not his concern for the sick, the cripples, the lepers, the possessed . . . nor even his partisanship for the poor, humble people. The real trouble was that he got involved with moral failures, with obviously irreligious and immoral people: people morally and politically suspect, so many dubious, obscure, abandoned, hopeless types existing as an eradicable evil on the fringe of every society.

This was the real scandal. Did he really have to go so far? . . . What kind of naive and dangerous love is this, which does not know its limits: the frontiers between fellow countrymen and foreigners, party members and non-members, between neighbors and distant people, between honorable and dishonorable callings, between moral and immoral, good and bad people? As if dissociation were not absolutely necessary here. As if we ought not to judge in these cases. As if we could always forgive in these circumstances.

Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, Doubleday, 1976, 32.

Replacing Morality with Psychology

Christian morality has fallen on hard times these days. No one seems to believe in it, least of all Christians. Even the word “morality” is dropping out of our vocabulary—and I do mean the vocabulary of Christians. More importantly, the words the Bible uses to describe the moral life—obedience, virtue, good works, commandments, good and evil—are words you no longer hear very much when Christians talk about their lives. Instead you run into a different set of words and concepts, which sound more spiritual but are in reality more psychological, having the effect of getting us worried about what’s going on inside our hearts.

The problem is, healthy hearts are focused not on themselves but on what’s outside themselves, such as their neighbors and the people they love. Christian morality used to help us focus in that outward direction, but it’s being replaced by these new, more psychological concepts, which form the backbone of the new evangelical theology. Perhaps the most important replacement for Christian morality in today’s churches is the idea that you’re supposed to “give God control” of your life. An older way of saying pretty much the same thing was that you’re supposed to “yield your heart to God.” And then there’s the motto, “Let go and let God,” …

The crucial difference is in who’s doing the doing. Obedience means doing what God says. “Giving God control” means letting God do it, not us. That’s a fundamentally different notion from obedience, and it undermines the very idea of moral responsibility. You’re not morally responsible for what’s done if you’re not the one doing it. So to the extent that it’s God doing it, not you, you’re not a responsible moral agent.

Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians, Baker Publishing Group.

A Seared Conscience

During my college years—in my infinite wisdom—it occurred to me that it made no sense to stop at red traffic lights when there was clearly no traffic around. So I began to stop only briefly—just long enough to check for cars—and then proceed. My stops became shorter and shorter, and eventually I no longer stopped at all. I simply checked out the landscape well in advance and—if no cars were coming— proceeded full speed through the red light.

One day something changed all of that, and I’ve never run a red light since. I was approaching an isolated light in an area where there was rarely traffic in the busiest of times. I had already checked out the landscape and was near the empty intersection when a car topped the hill to my left. It was too far away to pose any threat, but it did pose a problem: it was a police car. But that is not what changed my ways, because I got the car stopped and received no more punishment than a dirty glance.

What scared me enough to put an end to that practice was what occurred in the split seconds between spotting the patrol car and getting the car stopped. In that instant, my foot moved from the gas pedal to the brake pedal, and then back to the gas pedal! I did not will it to do that; my foot just did it.

My foot did that because that is how I had trained my mind to respond. I had continually ignored what had once been a clear signal to stop—a red light—and as a result that signal was no longer clear. The same occurs with sin. Our God-given conscience gives us warning signals, and we can heed those signals or ignore them. If we ignore them often enough, we may eventually fail to recognize them as signals at all.

J. Douglas Burford, Mission, Kansas.

The Success of Every Culture Hinges…

The success of every culture hinges not on big points of morality—there will always be issues like abortion or school prayer over which people differ—but on smaller values, like being considerate of others and pulling your weight. These values are neither legally enforceable nor purely private, but constitute the connective tissue of people interacting in a healthy society.

Philip K. Howard, The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far, Random House.

Why Can’t We Be Good?

Jacob Needleman has been a secular philosopher and a professor of philosophy of religion for many years at San Francisco State University. Some years ago he wrote a remarkable book called Why Can’t We Be Good? His thesis is that even though social theorists, therapists, politicians, and everybody else are working like crazy to write books about how people should live, there’s just one thing they’re forgetting: everybody basically knows how he or she ought to live, and we just can’t do it.

Nobody’s got the strength to do what we know we should. This, says Needleman, is the biggest mystery and problem of the human race. Why are we writing all these books telling people how they ought to live? People know what they ought to do, but they just won’t and can’t do it. It’s impossible. And people know they should not do certain things, but they do them anyway. That’s our problem, Needleman says. Human beings know how they should live but they can’t and they won’t, and he has no idea why.

Taken from Timothy Keller in Coming Home edited by D.A. Carson, © 2017, pp. 18-19. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

See also illustrations on CharacterIntegrity, Justice, Morality, Value, Virtue

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Ethics. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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