Imagine the congregation filing into the sanctuary after navigating the minefield of the week. Mines of shame, regret, pain, and doubt have exploded and taken their toll on faith. There will be songs, prayers, and a sermon. Each of those aspects is important, but the sermon is a part of worship that brings God’s word to bear in live time for all who gather. Don’t underestimate its significance.
The pastor has also walked through a battlefield during the week. He’s navigated counseling, study, prayer, and planning with a view to pastoral care, and personal spiritual ebbs and flows. He’s decided the sermon content while drawing from training, study, and experience.
Let’s suppose the pastor is excited to use his seminary training and some applicable illustrations that have come to mind in sermon preparation. The background information is particularly insightful, the analysis of the passage is precise, and the application is relevant. He polishes off what is considered one of his best messages.
The songs have ended, prayers have concluded, and the preacher steps behind the pulpit to continue the worship service through the preached word. What is needed in the hour that follows? Marching orders, practical application, inspiration, theological commentary, biblical education, or an appeal to holiness? Each of those things can be helpful in its proper proportion. What is missing?
If you survey phrases connected to either preach or preaching in the New Testament, you see “the gospel,” “the good news,” “Jesus and the resurrection,” “the word,” “the kingdom of God,” and “Christ crucified.” While there is a large spectrum of beliefs on sermons, I’d like to highlight the tendency of many preachers to emphasize preaching the word to the point they either sidestep or relegate the Gospel. It is good to preach the word systematically, but minimizing or skipping the Gospel is disastrous. We understand this at some level, so preaching about the Gospel often replaces proclaiming it.
Preaching about the Gospel is like giving a theological TED talk to someone who is drowning. The talk may be informative and even eloquent, but it’s insufficient. Such a view of preaching often describes how the Gospel transforms our actions, emphasizing the impact on our lives. Preachers can also preach about the Gospel by merely alluding to it frequently while never actually proclaiming it. Such an allusion assumes the Gospel instead of announcing it to weary sinner-saints who need their hearts and minds reoriented once again to the kingdom paradigm where everything is gift and grace through Christ.
The apostle Paul appealed to the church at Corinth as one sent to preach the Gospel of Christ’s cross, which is the power of God to those “being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). He came to them as one deciding to know nothing except Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Preaching about the Gospel is reading aloud an instruction manual for a defibrillator while someone is in cardiac arrest. Sinners in cardiac arrest need the pads applied to our chests and the jolt of the Gospel to bring life. We sinner-saints struggle with Gospel arrhythmia and need the shock of the Good News regularly.
Is exposition good, theological clarity wise, and a call to holiness necessary? Yes! But each is individually and collectively insufficient apart from the declaration of forgiveness because of Christ’s perfection, crucifixion, and resurrection. Our ears need to hear the blood-soaked message of redemption so that our minds can be reoriented to the kingdom of God and our hearts brought back into Gospel rhythm.
Preaching about the Gospel and preaching the Gospel is not the same. One describes grace as a concept, and the other extends grace like a healing balm. A preacher might say the word Gospel fifty times throughout a sermon, but to what avail if they don’t proclaim the Good News to struggling saints and sinners? Our greatest need isn’t information, contemplation, or application. Our greatest need is a Savior.
Now imagine the congregation filing out of the sanctuary. Will biblical illiteracy have been dealt a blow? Has moral resolve been strengthened? Will they exit as absolved sinners resting in Christ and with nourished faith? It’s possible to answer with a collective yes. However, if yes is the answer to only one, it must be the last. Preaching about the Gospel won’t do no matter how theologically robust, personally applicable, or well delivered.
-Photo by Mitchell Leach on Unsplash
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