Thanks to Dave Bish for the following superb quote from T. David Gordon's Why Johnny Can't Preach:
"I know that there are those who are terribly afraid that such Christ-centered preaching will lead to licentiousness; but I categoricaly deny it. I've witnessed with my own eyes the difference between believers who suffer through moralistic preaching and those who experience Christological preaching. The former are never as strong or vibrant in their Christian discipleship as the latter. In theory, we all say we believe, for instance, that good works are the "inevitable" fruit of saving faith. I not only say this; I believe it.
I believe that as people's confidence in Christ goes they do, ordinarily and inevitably, bear fruit that accords with faith. Thus, there is no need for some trade-off here, or some alleged dichotomy suggesting that we need to preach morality if we are to have morality. No; preach Christ and you will have morality. Fill the sails of your hearers' souls with the wind of confidence in the Redeemer, and they will trust him as their Sanctifier, and long to see his fruit in their lives. Fill their minds and imaginations with a vision of the loveliness and perfection of Christ in his person, and the flock will long to be like him. Impress upon their weak and wavering hearts the utter competence of the mediation of the One who ever lives to make intercession for them, and they will long to serve and comfort others, even as Christ has served and comforted them."
Gordon gets it exactly right. The reason that preaching morality doesn't lead to morality is that there is no power in moral teaching for moral transformation. It assumes we have power for self-transformation which we don't. The only power for that is in Christ. Moralism preaching places the burden for our sanctification - and the glory for our sanctification - squarely on us. We make ourselves better, we get the praise. And therefore it produces two different forms of rebellion - a holy looking one and an unholy looking one, but both as bad as each other:
1. Trying to be moral as a result of the teaching but discovering the Romans truth that we just end up failing. Then we put on a big mask to cover up the fact that our hearts are not pure, and pretend to everyone else that we are. Whole churches get caught up in this. It is the ultimate way to superficiality in church life because nobody will ever be the first to admit that they struggle with sin.
2. We do the opposite of the moral command. Sin springs into life when we know what the moral command is and we do the opposite of what we want to do (Rom 7).
As Gordon so wonderfully points out, moral living is a by-product. Not a by-product of moralism preaching, but of knowing Christ. We are sanctified by grace. Its all of Jesus. If we don't get this it is so easy to assume that moral behaviour = faith, rather than moral behaviour flows from faith. Trying to get the outward conformity to moral principle without the inward transformation of the heart by grace is a hopelessly doomed exercise. Our hearts are hard-wired in exactly the opposite direction.
So Gordon's words made my heart sing. Real transformation is possible. It is promised. The Holy Spirit is real! Christ-centred, glory-centred preaching doesn't lead to immoral licentiousness. Ironically it is moralism preaching that inadvertantly does that. Preaching Christ, grace, the glory of the cross, the hope of Heaven, the fulness of the Spirit is preaching that promotes sanctification.
Hope you are filling your sails of your soul with the wind of confidence in the Redeemer.