J.I. Packer died on July 17, 2020, five days before his 94th birthday. Four years before, having lost his sight due to macular degeneration, he gave an interview to The Gospel Coalition’s Ivan Mesa in which he addressed his outlook on disease, death, eternity, and the future of the church.[1] It is an outstanding look at one of evangelicalism’s premier theologians. Pointedly, at the end of the interview, Mesa asked Packer for his final words to the church. Packer responded briefly, “I think I can boil it down to four words: ‘Glorify Christ every way.’”

Packer’s parting message to the church is a call to action and a profound challenge and responsibility for her shepherds. It prompts pastors to reflect on how they can lead their congregations to glorify Christ in every way and personally embody this in their lives. This task demands not just zeal but dedication from every pastor. He doesn’t provide practical implications in the interview, but pastors can glean valuable insights from his extensive, church-focused work. Indeed, in many places, Packer told pastors to glorify Christ in three key ways: sanctity, theology, and preaching.

Sanctity: Gifts are Secondary

In Rediscovering Holiness, Packer warns those with ambitions for effective ministry that the danger of pride often lurks behind that ambition. He notes, “God does not value us primarily in terms of what we can do—even what we can do in His strength. He values us primarily in terms of what He makes us, character-wise, as He conforms us to Christ by his grace.”[2] He then paraphrases the words of Christ to his disciples in Luke 10:17-20 when they exuberantly returned from a preaching tour.

Very good. But do not rejoice that the demons are subject to you. That is not the truly important thing. Rejoice, rather, that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice in your salvation. Rejoice in what you are by the grace of God, rather than in the way God uses you. Rejoice in being his children, and in entering upon your destiny of being transformed into my image.

Then, pointedly, he adds, “Gifts are secondary. Sanctity is primary.” A pastor glorifies Christ by pursuing his holiness and grounding his identity in his union with Christ rather than in ministry success.

Theology: Servants of the King

Packer somewhat cheekily called himself a servant of the Queen—that is, of theology, the true Queen of the sciences.[3] Elsewhere, he humorously described theologians as the church’s plumbers and sewage men, “securing a flow of pure truth and eliminating theological effluent.”[4] As a theology instructor, he naturally saw it as a valuable discipline, but more importantly, as a churchman, he believed it was essential for all believers. In his landmark work, Knowing God, he wrote, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”[5]

In Packer’s writing, the study of God is essential for the Christian life, and a pastor knows that every time he mentions God before a congregation, he speaks as a theologian. “The only question,” he clarifies, “is whether we are going to be good ones or bad ones.”[6] In his office, the pastor is “the principal agent in the theological and spiritual formation of those to whom he regularly preaches.”[7]

He points to two methodological means for distributing doctrine: theologically robust preaching (below) and faithful catechesis. He notes that catechesis “consists of intentional, orderly instruction in the truths that Christians are called to live by, linked with equally intentional and orderly instruction on how they are to do this.”[8] Thus, a pastor glorifies Christ in every way by committing to a theologically-centered ministry.

Preaching: Speaking for God

Packer defines a sermon as “an applicatory declaration, spoken in God’s name and for his praise, in which some part of the written Word of God delivers through the preacher some part of its message about God and godliness in relation to those whom the preacher addresses.”[9]

The preacher’s task is thus grounded in the nature of Scripture. He continues, “All that Bible writers tell us about God and man, God himself tells us; for the sacred text is not just man’s witness to God, but is also, and indeed primarily, God’s own witness to himself, given us in this human form.” Simply put, as Scripture speaks, God speaks. The preacher stands “behind and below” the text of Scripture, letting it deliver its message through him. That message, simply put, is Christ. Packer believed that Scripture bears a Christo-centric witness to witness the Father’s plan of redemption. So, a pastor glorifies Christ in every way as he sets the message of the biblical gospel before people in his preaching.

God Knows What He’s Up To

Pastors can get discouraged as they investigate current cultural and church conflicts. We are often challenged to engage each conflict with an open letter, an official statement, or a sermon series. Social media clamors, “If you aren’t preaching about ____________, you’re part of the problem!” However, Packer would encourage modern pastors not to panic and pander to every objection. He would encourage pastors to mind their sanctity, theology, and preaching and trust God to preserve and protect the church. In his final interview with Mesa, he said, “God knows what he’s up to, and I’ve had enough experiences of his goodness in all sorts of ways not to have any doubt about the present circumstances.” God knows what he’s up to, pastor. Glorify Christ…every way.


[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/j-i-packer-89-on-losing-sight-but-seeing-christ/

[2] J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 246.

[3] J. I. Packer, Engaging the Written Word of God (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 283.

[4] J. I. Packer, Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, & Culture, Best of Christianity Today (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2021), 66.

[5] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 5.

[6] J.I. Packer, Honouring the Written Word of God: Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture, ed. Jim Lyster (Regent College Publishing, 2008), 305.

[7] Packer, Honouring the Written Word of God, 310.

[8] J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 10.

[9] J. I. Packer, Engaging the Written Word of God (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012), 310.