Preaching to the Affections


Guest Post by Rick McKinley

When I first started preaching I spent a lot of time pointing out what we did wrong and what we should do right. This approach starts with the assumption that Jesus died for us, rose for us, and reigns for us, and if he did all that then we should obey him. If we replace the bad things we do with the right things he calls us to do then we should be ok. But Jesus doesn’t work like that.

I think a lot of preaching goes in the direction of focusing on behavior even if we don’t intend it to. The central task of preaching is to see hearts changed by Jesus. That means that the heart is the core of the matter. If we want to see lives remade by Jesus, then we can’t simply preach behaviors or we will create a new breed of Pharisees.

If we are going to preach to the heart then we need to preach to the affections. The affections are the desires longings and appetites that produce the behaviors that we call sin. But sin is much bigger than our behaviors. So we have to dig a little deeper to get to the affections, but if we do, it will not only change how we preach but how our preaching changes others and us through Christ.

There are a few things I have learned about preaching to the affections.

1. We have a worship problem, not a will problem

We are all worshipers and we all worship someone or something other than Jesus.  If we are going to preach to the affections, then we have to hold that as a conviction. The heart wants what it wants and the will follows. That is why it can be dangerous to preach to the will because people begin to worship their own correct behavior and not Jesus. They will trust in doing the right things instead of trusting in the One who is righteous. When that happens, a very good thing like right behavior becomes a very bad thing like an idol. If you start with a worship problem, not only do you avoid creating Pharisees, but you capture the heart and can help people see Jesus as the best object of worship.

 2. Confront sin as self-love

Whenever we confront sin as a behavior problem we miss the sin beneath the sin. At the core of the problem is love of self over love for God and that is a huge problem. When preaching to the affections we will need to redefine sin for ourselves. It is not just a moral failure, but at its center is an absence of love for God and the belief that I have to love myself through this or that thing. Take the rich young ruler as an example. You could preach that as don’t put money before Jesus. But you would miss the bigger issue and totally miss the affections. Love of money was the manifestation of the rich young ruler’s love of self. It gave him security and identity and power – all of the things that he ultimately believed Jesus couldn’t give him. So he walked away. Because our affections are just as strong as the rich young ruler’s, we will always be tempted to believe that money is better than Jesus, but it’s not. Love of money is the love of self, and only Jesus can set us free from that by changing our hearts so we are free to love him.

3. Preach the beauty of the Triune God, the face of Jesus

Preaching to the affections will require the preacher to believe that Jesus is more beautiful and satisfying than all of our lesser loves. And we get the privilege of delving into the mystery of the God who is love within the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, then proclaiming the goodness of that God in the face of Jesus. We are called to the type of joy that gets to point out the all-surpassing beauty of Jesus week in and week out. He is not only better than say, money, but he is the object our hearts were made to behold. When we show people the attractiveness of this God, then we show them the best and most beautiful and most life-giving One to worship and to love because he is so desirable. Strong attraction to Jesus should be the aim of our preaching to the affection. Jesus is so much better.

4. Compel with Love

The love of God is the center of our Bible and of God’s very being. The good news is that we get in on that by being united with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. It is a white-hot, furious love but it is safe and good. Show them the deception that hides behind the lies of lesser loves, but doesn’t stop there. Compel them with the love of Christ. The Christ who loves the Father, the Christ who loves them with relentless love, the Christ who loves their spouses and children and coworkers and neighbors, the Christ who loves the least of these. Preach that love.

Rick McKinley 



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