How can a sinner preach repentance?

I was listening to a sermon by John Piper today when all of  a sudden the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me through His preached Word and brought me to tears of gratitude. The reason for my tears was the very present reminder of my own sin and tendency to be distracted from loving God by my flesh. The reason for my gratitude was the verse in 1 John 2:1, that Piper was at that moment reading, which says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

As he ministered to me (unbeknownst to him), Dr. Piper painted a picture of two conditions common to Christians. On the one hand are those born again Christians who have become too calloused toward their own ongoing sin, so that they need John’s reminder in 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” The born again Christian cannot ignore this verse or brush it off when he reads it. Because the Holy Spirit (the seed of God perhaps in this case?) uses it to convict him of his sin and need for humble repentance.

On the other hand is the born again Christian whose sin and sense of conviction has brought him to the brink of despair. Again, the Holy Spirit indwelling this imperfect Christian uses the Word of God to restore assurance, and more than that, to awaken a renewal of faith in Christ: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).  The born again Christian who is close to despair because of the weight of the guilt of his own sin does not go to 1 John 3:9 and use it to destroy his own hope in Christ. That’s not what the indwelling Holy Spirit does with the Word of God in the life of a Christian who is despairing. Rather, the Holy Spirit ministers to us in our despondent moments to establish our FAITH, to renew our HOPE and to inspire us to LOVE in and for Jesus Christ. We have an advocate with–the Judge, though John does not call him that in 1 John 2:1 but–the FATHER. We are His children. He gave us the right to become His children through faith in His only begotten Son (John 1:12-13).

I decided to blog about this because there are often times when I feel like I as a preacher cannot stand up and preach repentance because I myself am a sinner in my flesh. Now I am not side-stepping the importance of first submitting to the truth and God-intended message of the passage I am preparing to preach. The preacher must first let the text of Scripture preach to himself before he preaches it to others. This I believe. But in those times when our own indwelling sin causes us preachers to doubt our calling or wonder whether we shouldn’t quit the ministry because of our weakness, turn to the words contained in the Word that speak of our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and let the Spirit of God lift your eyes from your sin and questions of your own worthiness, to focus instead on His supreme worthiness and holiness and righteousness. He, not ourselves, is our hope.

If you want to listen to, watch or read the aforementioned sermon by John Piper, click here.