The Difference Between Self-Help and Biblical Preaching
By Pierre Eade
word count: 750  read time: approx. 2-3 minutes
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

Our culture is inundated with a deluge of self-help philosophy that has deceptively taken over many pulpits. “What’s in it for me?” is the heart cry of our culture today.  The temptation for preachers is to feel compelled to answer this question and make the message of the Gospel conform to the need.  Instead, the preacher should seek to graciously challenge his listeners to flip their entire philosophy on its head and ask a different question that focuses on the person and nature of Christ and his message to all who choose to follow Him.   Over time, a consistent diet of self-help preaching produces anemic Christians who are always looking out for themselves and unwilling to make even the smallest sacrifice for Christ. 

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Here are three ways to distinguish between self-help preaching and biblical preaching: 

1.Self-Help preaching focuses on the listener. Biblical preaching focuses on God, Jesus and the Spirit. When you listen to a self-help message, the essence of the message from start to finish is about you.  If you drew a picture of the message, you would be standing in the middle and all the stories, biblical text and message center around one person – you!  On the contrary, Biblical preaching focuses on one or more members of the Trinity.  Biblical preaching will have an application that relates to the listener’s life, but this portion will be the topping on the cake, not the cake itself.  Jesus Christ is the substance of our message, not a peripheral addition to the message. (Colossians 1:28)

2.Self-Help preaching urges listeners to adhere to the message because it will help them. Biblical preaching urges listeners to obey because in doing so they will glorify GodForgiveness is one great example of this point.  Self-Help preaching will tell us to forgive because in doing so, we will be set free spiritually, have better physical health and not be enslaved by the wrong doing of others.  On the contrary, Biblical preaching on forgiveness will focus on the cross of Christ and how Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins is the true reason that we should forgive every offense regardless of the severity and whether or not we see any personal advantages in doing so.  The benefits of forgiveness are no less true, but the motive of forgiving is entirely different.  Instead of looking to receive, the forgiving party seeks to give back what has already been afforded to him through God in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)  

3.Self-Help preaching tells you how your life can improve as a result of the Gospel.  Biblical preaching tells us how the Gospel requires a complete change of attitude (repentance) so God can empower us to live right.  Self-Help preaching will give you a list of items you must do in order to see your life and relationships improved.  You control your own destiny and you just need a few “godly” principles to get you there.  Biblical preaching exposes the sinful nature of all listeners (believers and unbelievers) and directs us to the cross for repentance and the power of God that raised Christ from the dead to give us victory over our struggles and sins.  (Matthew 4:17)   

As followers of Christ, we must remember that Jesus required anyone who wanted to come after Him to deny himself, take up his cross and follow him.  (Luke 9:23)  This message is contrary to the world’s message of self-improvement.   The Gospel teaches that we are sinners saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  (Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8-9) Salvation is nothing we can earn on our own merit or by improving ourselves.  God's grace not only saves us, but transforms us (sanctification) into the image and likeness of His Son. (Titus 2:11-14, Romans 8:29)  

In a day and age when self-help preaching is running rampant, we need to examine the food we are eating (or feeding others) and ask ourselves whether the message is Christ-centered or people-centered, whether it is one of self-improvement or one of self-denial.  God's people will become spiritually stronger and the Body of Christ will be empowered afresh if we stick to the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2) 
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