We live in a time of great pressure, both externally from the world and internally in our churches, to be anything but gospel-centered. Externally we are undergoing a culture-shift away from Christian values and ideals. This is to be expected and is not unique in world history. Much more troubling, however, is the downplaying of the gospel - it’s necessity, centrality, and power - within our churches, especially our sermons. In the name of church growth, churches hire expert communicators who work hard each week to encourage the masses, hopefully share something about Jesus, but above all to keep them coming back the following week. Rather than asking, “How can we best honor and worship Christ?” we have become obsessed with technique and presentation. As pastors, leaders, and proclaimers of God’s Word, there is a great need for gospel-centered preaching in every sermon from every passage of Holy Scripture. Here are seven reasons why gospel-centered preaching is necessary for the church today:
1. Gospel-centered preaching focuses on Jesus.
First and foremost, gospel-centered preaching is necessary because it focuses on that which the entire Bible, as well as the universe itself, focuses on - Jesus. Emphasizing the preeminence of Christ over all things, Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16,17). After his resurrection, Jesus did a Bible study with two disciples during a seven-mile walk to Emmaus. Luke tells us that, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets (what we call the Old Testament), he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). To the Pharisees Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…” (Jn. 5:39). In other words, in every single passage of the Old and New Testaments, Christ can and should be preached. Or as Tim Keller puts it, “To preach the gospel every time is to preach Christ every time, from every passage.”
2. Gospel-centered preaching is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, our preaching will be ineffectual in bringing any spiritual and lasting transformation in the lives of the hearers. Therefore, it is imperative that we make much of Jesus and his gospel in our preaching since this is the very thing the Spirit loves to do (Jn. 16:14). We implore the Spirit throughout the whole process of sermon preparation, practice, and preaching, asking the Spirit, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus” (Acts 26:18).
3. Gospel-centered preaching is necessary for salvation.
At first glance, this point seems so obvious as to be unnecessarily included in this list. Yet we live in a time in which many churches have redefined the gospel or the gospel is merely assumed (and therefore missing). We need gospel-centered preaching because it is the only hope for lost people to hear, believe, and be saved (Romans 10:14-15). While our good works and our acts of love and compassion in our outreach events are good and worthy pursuits that may provide the opportunity to preach the gospel, in and of themselves they are insufficient means to nourish spiritually thirsty and hungry people. We can live in light of the gospel (and must), but we can’t “preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words,” as words are indeed always necessary.
4. Gospel-centered preaching is necessary for the believer.
The gospel is not just for the unbeliever’s salvation, but the gospel is necessary for our sanctification and perseverance as believers. Have you ever noticed that in Paul’s letters to the various New Testament churches, he proclaims the gospel to people who have already received, believed, and have been transformed by the gospel? After thanking God for the world-renowned faith in Jesus of the church at Rome (Rom. 1:8), Paul writes, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:15). Likewise, to the Corinthians he writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and which you are being saved…" (1 Cor. 15:1-2). The message and hope of the gospel is a constant call to both non-believers and believers in our churches to repent, believe, and remember the good news of Christ for our salvation—past (justification), present (sanctification), and future (glorification).
5. Gospel-centered preaching motivates the believer towards holy living.
Preaching devoid of gospel power and gospel motivation drifts toward what Christian Smith has called “moral therapeutic deism” - a type of religion that asks people to be moral, focuses on building up self-esteem, and essentially denies the reality of a holy and just God who is both transcendent and immanent. Pastors may enthusiastically call their people to live morally upright lives, which may have the appearance of godliness, but without gospel motivation will only produce self-righteous people who look down on others. Jesus often harshly confronted the Pharisees for such motivation, both through direct rebuke (see Mt. 23) and indirectly through parables (see Lk. 15:11-32). The gospel reminds us of who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming. We were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), yet saved by grace alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel humbles our prideful hearts by reminding us of the truth that our only righteousness is His righteousness, and our only power to live a holy life is His power in us (Php. 3:12-13). Through gospel-centered preaching we are reminded that the same power and grace that forgives our sins is also the power and grace that can keep us from continuing to sin. Our motivation for holy living shifts from duty to being motivated by love and gratitude toward God.
6. Gospel-centered preaching leads to acts of love and compassion.
Not only are we motivated to turn from sin through gospel-centered preaching, we are also motivated and empowered to be Jesus’ hands and feet as we love the world. We’re reminded that we were once blind, broken, hungry, and thirsty. Gospel-centered preaching gives us a lens through which to see the world’s brokenness and respond with the love of Christ. Indeed, we can love difficult people, needy people, selfish people, and the ‘least of these,’ because we know that we are actually loving Christ (Mt. 10:42) who first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).
7. Gospel-centered preaching equips and sends us out on mission.
Gospel-centered preaching is God-centered preaching that aligns us with God’s priorities and God’s purposes. The gospel does not end with our salvation alone. Incredibly, we have been invited by God to be a part of His global purposes in reconciling all things and all people to the Sovereign King of the Universe. As rescued saints, we have received a great commission (Mt. 28:18-20) and great power to be his witnesses amongst our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, cities, country, and to all people all over the world (Acts 1:8). Therefore gospel-centered preaching constantly reminds Christ followers that God will rescue and redeem people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev. 7:9) and equips them to be Christ’s ambassadors throughout the world to that end (2 Cor. 5:20).