In his 1957 crusade in Madison Square Garden in New York City, Billy Graham urged those in attendance to devote themselves to reading Scripture. The reason, according to Graham, was simple: “The purpose of the Bible is to testify of Jesus Christ. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, points to Christ!” Of course, this is exactly what Jesus said about Himself: “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me” (John 5:39). Herein is the mandate for a gospel-centered pulpit ministry. Any sermon that does not point to Christ is not a biblically faithful sermon. The most effective preaching is preaching that is grounded in and focused upon the gospel.
What happens when you commit yourself to a gospel-centered preaching ministry? There are several practical benefits.
First, gospel preaching will help your church members understand how to read the Bible. The article on Scripture in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” If church members are reading the Bible without seeing how it fits together and ultimately points to the gospel, they are reading the Bible incorrectly. Through Christ-centered expository preaching you will model for the church over time how to interpret the Bible in such a way that Christ is the focus. Many people read the Bible as a book of rules, about what we ought to do to please God. By having a gospel-focused preaching ministry, you will show the people that the Bible is a story of how God rescues us from our inability to please Him, and how Christ has done everything necessary to please God on our behalf.
Second, gospel preaching leads to gospel-formed lives. Preaching should not merely convince the intellect and move the will but stir the affections for Christ. A gospel-centered preaching ministry will lead the people to see the beauty of Christ and stir their love for Him. As the people journey through the Scripture and see how Noah’s ark points to the refuge we have in Christ, and the sacrificial lamb points to the substitutionary work of Christ, and the young prince who slayed Goliath points us to the victory of Christ, their affections for Jesus will begin to be agitated and they will see how Jesus is better than anyone and anything else. As they see that Jesus is better than our idols, they will begin to live cruciform lives.
Third, gospel preaching leads to properly motivated Christian obedience. Paul said the purpose of his apostleship was “to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). Paul speaks of the obedience that flows from faith. That order is not accidental. We do not obey in order to have a relationship with the Lord. We have a relationship with the Lord through faith in Christ; therefore, we obey. Any motivation for obedience severed from the work of Christ will not last. The only sustainable motivation for long-term, life-time obedience to Christ is Christ’s work for us. Obedience motivated by grace keeps us from bending or breaking underneath the weight of legalistic expectation. The gospel frees us to obey from the place of joy rather than burden.
Fourth, gospel preaching keeps the focus of the church’s theology on God rather than man. There is no faster way to a man-centered theology than to make the Bible primarily about us and what we should be doing. Gospel preaching teaches the people to be God-centered not only in their lives but in their theology. When we have a God-centered theology, it drives us toward God-centered orthopraxy, and God-centered doxology, and God-centered methodology. This begins by making the gospel the main thing in your preaching. As someone once said, the gospel is the only thing that can bear the weight of being the one main thing in the church. Preaching Christ-centered sermons demonstrates for the people the primacy of God-centeredness in our theology.
Fifth, gospel preaching will edify, refresh, and cause rest, both for the people and the preacher. Rather than burdening yourself and your people with the weight of legalistic expectation, leading inevitably to spiritual burnout and death, gospel preaching breathes life into the church. You will find yourself resting in, being refreshed by, and being edified through Christ’s work as you preach gospel-focused sermons week in and week out. Your people will feel the same way. After a few years of gospel-centered preaching you will likely notice people giving more joyfully, serving more whole-heartedly, and laughing more frequently than ever before. Truly, gospel preaching will lead to a more cheerful church. Hebrews contrasts Sinai and Zion, representing the law and the gospel respectively. Sinai is marked by fearful cowering, but Zion is marked by festive celebration. If you feel burned out and joyless, it is likely your church feels that way as well. The antidote is gospel preaching.
Romans 6:23 tells us the work of Christ is a gift. Similarly, gospel preaching is a gift to the church. You will serve the church well by consistently lifting up Christ to the people and urging them to lift their eyes up to see Him in all of His beauty. Nothing will make a greater impact in your church than this.
Dr. Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He and his wife Amy have four children. Andrew is a graduate of Criswell College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.