The other day I was reading through a book that Mike Horton gave me last time I was in San Diego–a relatively new book that he edited and contributed to entitled Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification. At the end of the book Mike outlines six-core beliefs that define the mission of Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn (his weekly radio broadcast). While all six of the core-beliefs are foundational, I was struck by the gripping clarity of belief number two on the importance of Gospel-centered preaching. Everything he writes here not only defines my theology of preaching but is, in my opinion, the only type of preaching that will rescue the church from Christless Christianity. He writes:
Scripture is of no use to us if we read it merely as a handbook for daily living without recognizing that its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ and his gospel for the salvation of sinners. All Scripture coalesces in Christ, anticipated in the OT and appearing in the flesh in the NT. In Scripture, God issues commands and threatens judgment for transgressors as well as direction for the lives of his people. Yet the greatest treasure buried in the Scriptures is the good news of the promised Messiah. Everything in the Bible that tells us what to do is “law”, and everything in the Bible that tells us what God has done in Christ to save us is “gospel.” Much like medieval piety, the emphasis in much Christian teaching today is on what we are to do without adequate grounding in the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. “What would Jesus do?” becomes more important than “What has Jesus done?” The gospel, however, is not just something we needed at conversion so we can spend the rest of our Christian life obsessed with performance; it is something we need every day–the only source of our sanctification as well as our justification. The law guides, but only the gospel gives. We are declared righteous–justified–not by anything that happens within us or done by us, but solely by God’s act of crediting us with Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith alone.
Preachers, read that paragraph over and over.
As I’ve said here before, don’t make the mistake of assuming that people understand the radical nature of what Jesus has done so that your preaching ministry is focused primarily on what people need to do.
The “what we need to do” portions of the Bible are good, perfect, and true–but apart from the “what Jesus has already done” portions of the Bible, we lack the power to do what we’re called to do. The good commands of God, in other words, do not have the power to engender what they command. They show us what a sanctified life looks like but they have no sanctifying power. Only the gospel has the power to move us forward. This is why the Bible never tells us what to do before first soaking our hearts and minds in what God in Christ has already done.
The fact is, that any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. No matter how hard you try, how radical you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you’re depending on for power to obey will conk out in due time.
So, preach the gospel!
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