In the children’s Bible we read to our children at night, Sally Lloyd Jones rightly says, “The Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what He has done.” This simple statement defines the crux of a Christ-centered approach to understanding and preaching the Bible. Christ-centered preaching is preaching where Jesus is the hero of the sermon. Sadly, this is something my preaching missed in the early part of my ministry.
I found that many of my sermons focused more on what my hearers should be doing for Christ rather than on what Christ had done for them. This showed itself especially during the “invitation” time after each message. Most Sundays, the invitation could be characterized by the words “Do” or “Do not.” I wanted the people to sin less, to obey God more, to be more committed, to be less apathetic.
I found this to be the case even when preaching so-called “evangelistic” sermons. The stress in some of those sermons (rightly) was on the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. I would talk about Christ’s work on the cross and about the forgiveness He offered. But too many of these sermons ended with an invitation that wrongly gave the people the impression that their acceptance by God was based on their ability to obey Him. My stress on the listeners’ responsibility to obey entirely missed one of the most foundational truths of the gospel itself: I do not obey in order to be accepted by God. I do not have the ability to gain acceptance by my obedience. Rather, I am accepted solely on the basis of what Christ has done for me. Therefore, I respond in obedience. My obedience does not earn but rather is a response to His acceptance of me.
In missing this point I made man, rather than Christ, the hero of the sermon. Every time I made the listeners believe that their acceptance by God was based on their ability to obey Him rightly, I put an impossible burden on them that they could in no way carry.
It is possible, if we are not careful, to preach even “evangelistic” sermons that are not Christ-centered. In order to avoid this, there are a couple of things we must keep in mind.
- Christ-centered preaching magnifies Jesus and His work on our behalf. Any sermon that focuses on man’s effort without grounding it in the work of Christ misses the good news of the gospel. We must get the “do” and the “done” of the sermon in the right order. We do not “do” for God in order to receive what He has “done.” In the work of His Son on the cross, God has done everything necessary to make us acceptable to Himself. Anything we do for Him is simply a response to what He has already done for us. Make sure Jesus is the hero of the sermon. Focus on His performance rather than the performance of your listeners. Ground the imperatives of Scripture in the indicatives of the gospel.
- Think about the implications of the language you use in your invitation. Do your listeners leave with the impression that their salvation is in any way dependent on them? Do they think more highly of Jesus and His work for them when they leave the worship service than when they came? Do they leave feeling burdened under a weight of legalistic expectation, or do they leave feeling free to joyfully obey Christ in response to His grace? If the only thing your listener carries away from your sermon is a list of “Do’s” and “Do Not’s,” it is unlikely that you have shown them how Christ is the hero of the story. Christ-centered preaching instead will use more careful language to urge listeners to “rest in” and “respond to” the work of Christ for them.
If an evangelistic sermon is not Christ-centered, in what sense can that sermon be considered a true declaration of the evangel? Evangelistic preaching misses the gospel entirely unless the preacher shows the listeners that the gospel is something that is earned for them rather than by them. The gospel is something received rather than rewarded. The gospel has Jesus, rather than man, for its hero.
About Dr. Andrew Hebert: 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.