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Category: Preaching

Sourced by The Gospel Coalition

Every Christian loves the gospel. By definition, you cannot have a Christian who isn’t shaped by and saved by the gospel.

So three cheers for the gospel. Make that 3 million cheers.

But let’s preach the gospel the way Jesus and the apostles did. Theirs was not a message of unconditional affirmation. They showed no interest in helping people find the hidden and beautiful self deep inside. They did not herald the good news that God likes you just the way you are.

Too much “gospel” preaching sounds like a slightly spiritualized version of that old Christina Aguilera song:

You are beautiful no matter what they say.
Words can’t bring you down.
You are beautiful in every single way.
Yes, words can’t bring you down.
So don’t bring me down today.

I don’t doubt that many of us feel beat up and put down. We struggle with shame and self-loathing. We need to know we can be okay, even when we don’t feel okay. It is good news to hear, then, that God loves us in Christ and that we are precious in his sight.

But the gospel is more than positive self-talk, and the gospel Jesus and the apostles preached was more than a warm, “don’t let anybody tell you you’re not special” bear hug.

There’s a word missing from the presentation of our modern gospel. It’s the word repent.

Yeah, I know, that sounds old school, like an embarrassing sidewalk preacher with a sandwich board and cheap tracts with bad graphics and lots of exclamation points. And yet, even a cursory glance at the New Testament demonstrates that we haven’t understood the message of the gospel if we never talk about repentance.

When John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord, he preached repentance (Matt. 3:811), just as Jesus launched his Galilean ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus understood the purpose of his ministry to be calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Just before his ascension, the resurrected Christ implored the disciples to be his witnesses, that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” would be preached in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47). In fact, if there is a one-sentence summary of Jesus’s preaching, Mark gives it at the beginning of his Gospel: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15).

Notice that pair: repent and believe. The two are virtually synonymous in the New Testament, not that the words mean the same thing, but that they are signs of the same Spirit-prompted work and lead to the same end times inheritance. Strictly speaking, the proper response to the gospel is twofold: repent and believe (Matt. 21:32Acts 20:21). If only one item in the pair is mentioned—which happens often in the New Testament—we should realize that the other half is assumed. You can’t really believe without also repenting, and you haven’t really repented if you don’t also believe.

You can’t really believe without also repenting, and you haven’t really repented if you don’t also believe.

The gospel message is sometimes presented as a straightforward summons to repent (Acts 3:18-19). Other times, forgiveness is linked to a singular act of repentance (Acts 5:31Rom. 2:42 Cor. 7:10). The message of the apostolic good news is that God will be merciful when we repent and that repentance leads to life (Acts 11:18). Simply put: repent, that your sins may be wiped out (Acts 3:19).

If the call to repentance is a necessary part of faithful gospel preaching, then maybe we don’t have as much of it as we think. The summons to turn from sin, die to self, and turn to Christ is missing from prosperity preachers, from preachers in step with the sexual revolution, and from not a few gospel-centered preachers, too. It’s certainly missing from most of our worship services that long ago did away with a deliberate confession of sin.

To be sure, we aren’t called to beat people up Sunday after Sunday. Many folks stumble into church in desperate need of the Balm of Gilead. I get that. I think anyone who listens to several weeks of my sermons will hear that I’m not a finger-wagging scolder. And yet, if I never call people, with God’s authority, “to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 89), then I’m not doing the work a gospel preacher should do.

The unpopular fact remains that the ungrateful and impenitent will not be saved (1 Cor. 6:9-10Gal. 5:19-21Eph. 5:1-201 John 3:14). The New Testament has nothing to say about building the kingdom, but it does have everything to say about how we can enter into the kingdom. The coming of the King is only good news for those who turn from sin and turn to God.

If we want to give people a message that saves, instead of one that only soothes, we must preach more like Jesus and less like our pop stars.

Over the past couple of months, I have been studying under a well-known pastor. Before this, I was getting my sermons from a local Christian which preached topically. From this, you couldn't really grasp the full context of what is going on within the scriptures. But after leaving that church and studying under this new gentlemen I can honestly say I have learned a lot more regarding the scriptures and the Christian faith in the past 8 months than I did in my previous 2 years under the local minister. This alone is concerning to me. Which has lead me to look into others thoughts.

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There is perhaps no more hotly debated issue in the church today than the issue of women serving as pastors/preachers. As a result, it is very important to not see this issue as men versus women. There are women who believe women should not serve as pastors and that the Bible places restrictions on the ministry of women, and there are men who believe women can serve as preachers and that there are no restrictions on women in ministry. This is not an issue of chauvinism or discrimination. It is an issue of biblical interpretation.

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A call is going out to the pastors in America. Don't give in to the temptation to compromise the Word of God for a greater following. Don't allow the allure of the platform to distract you from preaching righteousness and holiness. There is a warning being issued from heaven to remain steadfast, be faithful to the Word of God and speak the truth. If you give in to the "spirit of the age" (2 Cor. 4:4), you may not lose your platform, following, or popularity—but you may lose your mind.

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Puritan theologian William Perkins wrote that preaching “has four great principles: to read the text distinctly, from canonical Scripture; to give it sense and understanding according to the Scripture itself; to collect a few profitable points of doctrine out of its natural sense; and to apply, if you have the gift, the doctrines to the life and manner of men in a simple and plain speech.”

There is something refreshingly simple about that description. Our aim as preachers is not to be the most erudite scholar of the age. Our aim is not to titillate and amuse. Our aim is not to build a big church.

Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies. What better way to accomplish this end than through expository preaching?

Benefits of Exposition

Some use the category “expository preaching” for all preaching that is faithful to Scripture. I distinguish expository preaching from topical preaching, textual preaching, and others, for the expository sermon must be controlled by a Scripture text or texts. Expository preaching emerges directly and demonstrably from a passage or passages of Scripture.

There are a number of reasons why expository preaching deserves to be our primary method of proclamation.

1. It is the method least likely to stray from Scripture. If you are preaching on what the Bible says about self-esteem, for example, undoubtedly you can find some useful insights. But even when you say entirely true things, you will likely abstract them from the Bible's central story line. Expository preaching keeps you to the main thing.

2. It teaches people how to read their Bibles. Especially if you're preaching a long passage, expository preaching teaches people how to think through a passage, how to understand and apply God's Word to their lives.

3. It gives confidence to the preacher and authorizes the sermon. If you are faithful to the text, you are certain your message is God's message. Regardless of what is going on in the church—whether it is growing or whether people like you—you know you are proclaiming God's truth. That is wonderfully freeing.

4. It meets the need for relevance without letting the clamor for relevance dictate the message. All true preaching is properly applied. That is of extraordinary importance in our generation. But expository preaching keeps the eternal central to the discussion.

5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough questions. You start working through text after text, and soon you hit passages on divorce, on homosexuality, on women in ministry, and you have to deal with the text.

6. It enables the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God.  In the last 15 years of his life, John Calvin expounded Genesis, Deuteronomy, Judges, Job, some psalms, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, the major and minor prophets, the Gospels in a harmony, Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and the pastoral epistles. I'm not suggesting we organize ourselves exactly the same way. But if we are to preach the whole counsel of God, we must teach the whole Bible. Other sermonic structures have their merits, but none offers our congregations more, week after week, than careful, faithful exposition of the Word of God.

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