Preaching the Gospel from Every TextBy Jason Draper
April 17, 2020
Let’s be honest. As pastors we often worry about our preaching. We worry about connecting well with our listeners. Maybe we worry about being interesting enough or passionate enough. Maybe we worry about being humorous enough. With the unending hours that pastors spend working on sermons, I’m guessing that all sincere pastors want to know if their work is actually making a difference in people’s lives. So, what is it that truly empowers our preaching? While it’s certainly helpful to work on being an engaging communicator, it is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in dependence on the Holy Spirit that truly changes lives. The apostle Paul, longing to see substantial transformation in the Corinthian church, said:
[I] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5 ESV)
The true power of transformative preaching rests in Jesus Christ and him crucified. Merely preaching standards of holiness and moralistic improvement lacks real power. If the texts we preach don’t rest in the Gospel, then our teaching becomes indistinguishable from any other non-Christian moralistic lesson. Further, without a strong Gospel foundation our listeners will hear about righteous standards they haven’t met and can’t seem to measure up to. This will diminish their hope or even lead to a duplicitous lifestyle based on the temptation to falsely present a version of one’s self that measures up to the preaching. In other words, our hearers desperately need to know that God has provided forgiveness for their failures and the power and means for the transformation He calls them to. Consider Paul’s words:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved. (1 Cor 15:1-2b ESV)
The Gospel is not merely our ticket into heaven. It is not merely the means of our forgiveness. Altar calls can be great, but they do not cover a full proclamation of the Gospel. Here’s why: the Gospel is not merely the message that saved us. It is also the message by which we are being saved. I don’t mean to say that we are not eternally secured by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. What I do mean to say is that the same Good News that delivers us from the penalty of sin is also progressively delivering us from the power of sin. We are becoming less like the person we once were and more like the person God is transforming to be. We are continually reminded of an all-covering redemption in Christ and are less and less hiding in shame.
I understand some of the objections. Preaching the gospel in every text can come off as forced and clumsy. It can be a crutch for lazy exegesis. It can cause one to preach the same sermon over and over. So, we must do the work. We must ground the message in the literary and historical context as well as have a competent grasp on the genre of literature that we are preaching from. The Gospel message does not replace or take away from the meaning of any passage of scripture—it completes it. We are not merely looking for a vague correlation to the cross in every passage. We are, from the author’s original intent, asking what difference the redemptive work of Christ makes on the meaning of the given passage. In one of his many appearances after He had risen, Jesus said this:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
There you have it. Jesus plainly taught that every Old Testament text pointed to his redemptive work. This also means that every text should exalt him. Consider Christ’s words to the Pharisees:You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.(John 5:39 ESV)
All of Scripture points to Christ and His glorious work of salvation. For the sake of his glory we proclaim the Gospel in every message. The aim of our preaching is even greater than transformation—it is worship. The reason we preachers do the hard work of study and proclamation is that we want to glorify Jesus Christ. In one sense then, the pressure is off. We don’t have to care about what people think about our preaching. But in another sense, we devote ourselves to making much of the One who called us to herald his amazing Gospel.