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Ten Big Ideas of Christian Faith

by Tim Isbell

A long time ago I realized that it is too difficult for parishioners to get the top-level view of God's story by listening to weekly sermons from bite-sized scriptures every week. Even adding to this their reading of scripture through the week, they still have a hard time assembling the grand trajectory of God's story.

Somewhere in the past, I heard Haddon Robinson say something like, "You know, there really are only about 8 big ideas in Christian faith people really need to grasp." I realized that having this understanding might make it easier for parishioners to understand the larger picture. But he didn't say what these were! I looked for them in a few places, without success. So I invited the Mandarin and Cantonese pastors who work with me at New Life to take on the project of generating our own list. We didn't get it down to eight, but we did get it to ten. 

Then we set out to preach one sermon on each of our 10 Big Ideas, one at a time, distributed over about 3 years. We preached these on Sundays where our sermon text could match the Revised Common Lectionary. Some of these Big Ideas fall right no Christian holidays, but even these can fit many other places in your preaching calendar.

One other pastor, David Hoi, worked through the entire list with me. Along the way, Samuel Ng, Mike Whitten, and John Yiu also contributed their insights to the project.

One last item: there is no meaning to the order of the 10 sermons posted below. Number 10 is as "big" an idea as number 1. This just happens to be the order in which we preached them at New Life.



Introductory sermon: The Result of Right Worship

Jer 2.5 (… They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves.)2 Cor 3.18(And we… are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.), Ps 115.8 (And those who make idols are just like them...)

Thesis: Understanding the 10 big ideas of Christian faith helps us build a prevailing life, grow a heart like God’s, and witness more fruitfully. (or, if used as a stand-alone sermon: We become like what we worship.)

This sermon serves two purposes. It is the introductory sermon for the series: The 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith. Or you can also easily adapt it as an extraordinarily strong stand-alone sermon to make the point that we become what we worship. It's one of the very best sermons God ever gave me. It includes great stories to make an incredibly important point. While editing it for posting on this site I ended up in tears of joy.

1. Trinity – the Divine Team

Romans 5.1-5 (C Trinity)... Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand...

Thesis: The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a key differentiator from other faith religions, and it affirms that God is beyond us, beside us, and within us.

2. Go, Multiply – Sharing the Good News

2 Tim 2.8-10 (RCL C Proper 23) ... because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal.

Thesis: Our assignment to Go Multiply is easier than people think because God does the work, mostly through the willing (but often unknowing) ordinary intersections Christians have with unchurched people.

3. Incarnation – God Among Us

John 1.1-14 (ABC Christmas Day), John's poetic telling of the incarnation. , also can be revised to fit Matt 1.18-25, (A Advent 4).

Thesis: From the beginning, God has desired to live among his people.

This sermon leverages off of a question an inquirer asked me after reading Exodus: "Why does God only allow Moses to see Him and why does God perform miracles and teachings only through Moses? Could God teach the Israelites more directly so ordinary people will not sin? I think there were possibly people that just didn’t trust Moses from time to time. If these people saw or heard God directly, they would not have turned away from God.”

The sermon responds to the question by tracing the desire of God to be with his people in the Moses story and on into the Jesus story in the New Testament. Through our work together on reading the Bible using the Story Line Method, he did indeed become a Christian.

4. Sin – Distrusting God

Gen 2.15-17, 3.1-7 (A Lent 1)

Thesis: Satan’s primary objective is to shift our center from God to anything else.

The sermon begins with an anecdote from an internment camp that the Japenese set up in China during the 2nd World War to hold internationals they found throughout China. Then it moves on to unpack the Genesis 3 story, especially in terms of Satan's strategies.

5. Grace

Rom 3.21-28 (A Proper 4)

Thesis: Grace is not cheap; offering it is very costly to God but necessary if we are ever to have an intimate relationship with him.

This is a theologically deep sermon while remaining understandable to the average parishioner. It deals with the dilemma of God sometimes overlooking sin in the Old Testament, and in today's world. It's the complaint in the middle of suffering when someone asks, "Why did God let this happen? Doesn't he care? Is he impotent?..." The sermon offers a biblically and intellectually solid rational regarding why a holy and just God would put up with sin as long as he does. It leads to a fresh understanding of the crucifixion - the work of God the Son on the cross. It also draws the listener towards a deeper intimacy with a God who values his relationship with us even above his demand for justice.

Even if you never preach this sort of thing, I hope you will read it. It's essential understanding when dealing with secular people who are investigating - or cynical about - God's nature.

6. Salvation by Faith

Rom 10.1-17 (A Proper 14)

Thesis: We will never find salvation, let alone soul satisfaction, by working for God – we can receive these as a gift from God.

This sermon makes clear that it takes more than having some sort of faith in spiritual things; the Bible calls that "misdirected zeal." And it unpacks the message that salvation is by grace and not works. Our part is to receive God's gift of salvation, and then put it on and wear it.

7. It's God's Initiative – History Is Going Somewhere

Both this sermon and the next one eventually led to several ways to package messages around a concept that I call: the Alternate Life. So if either of these sermons intrigues you at all, please check out the Alternate Life Collection.

Rev 21.1-6a (ABC New Year, B All Saints, C Easter 5)

Thesis: God’s primary mission in human history is to redeem people into a Kingdom community suitable to live with him forever.

Several world religions and many private spiritualities carry the concept that the world is somehow circular. The naturalists tend to see the world as having no real purpose. Other religious traditions teach that it is the job of humans to take the initiative in finding gods or God.

In contrast, this sermon presents the Christian worldview that the world and the people in it are created for a purpose, a very relationship purpose along with the creator and that whether we realized it or not the Creator is not finished with his creation yet. Indeed, history is going someplace. It is going toward the fulfillment of God's intention in creation: an eternal Kingdom of God. Scripture claims that someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is, indeed, Lord. He always was; is today, and will always be so.

8. Living in God's Kingdom - Now

Mark 2.1-12 (B 7 Epiphany). Jesus heals a paralyzed man.

Thesis: The Kingdom of God is here, now, with outposts all over the world.  And the Kingdom has a name and a face, the name and the face of Jesus.

This sermon carries the concepts of the previous sermon farther. It describes God's eventual Kingdom heading and especially makes the point that our privilege now is to live in the first-fruits of the Kingdom. The role of Christians is to understand this and live as citizens of this Alternate Kingdom while residing at postal addresses in the kingdoms of this world. In living transparently as resident aliens, it is our privilege to demonstrate Kingdom life and invite whosoever will to join us in this Alternate Life.

9. Resurrection

Mark 16.1-8 (B Easter)

Thesis:  Though the cross is a peculiar logo for Christian faith, nonetheless the cross simultaneously communicates the pain Christ suffered and the power that it offers to us.

10. Life in the Spirit

Acts 2.1-21 (RCL ABC Pentecost)

Thesis:  Pentecost means there’s a new mountain, new ministry, and a new people.  (For additional material on this theme, see the series The Alternate Life).

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