Note: Adrian Warnock preaches the Gospel. He also made a great picture
In a few days, I’ll gather my chapel preachers together for our orientation to the preaching work of the year. As I do every year, I’ll tell them to preach the Gospel. I’ll hand out “Two Ways To Live” and talk about the difference between preaching morality and preaching the Good News of Jesus.
Most of these men know and understand my burden that our students, many of whom we will only have for a year, get a clear and Biblical presentation of the Gospel throughout the year. They may consider me a bit of a “Johnny One Note,” but they want our kids to hear the Gospel as well. All of us, however, will use some of our preaching time to emphasize other messages in the Bible: moral lessons, character qualities, lessons to apply while a student, relationship wisdom, etc.
As important as it is to preach the Gospel, the fact is that there is more than the Gospel in the scriptures. When we are in the business of teaching the scriptures, we need to know how to preach the Gospel, and how to preach it from anywhere in the scriptures. But we also need to know how to preach what is NOT the Gospel, but is still of value.
1. We must preach what is not the Gospel in a way that doesn’t obscure the Gospel. My greatest concern is that my preachers understand that if they preach the story of Samson, they must preach the Gospel of Jesus and not the Gospel of making good decisions. The relationship between the Gospel and the law is basic here. Those good things in all of those stories are easy to preach and easy to apply, but in the scheme of the Gospel, they can benefit our lives temporally, but they cannot save. No amount of principles or lessons will deliver us from our inability to keep the law.
It’s important to let the law be true and helpful without letting it begin to sound like the “Good News” of obedience. It’s essential for a preacher or teacher know how to move from law to Gospel without contradiction or confusion.
2. We must preach what is not the Gospel in a way that points to Jesus. David, Moses and Samson have lessons for us. But where they fall short, Jesus perfectly fulfills all they tried to be. The lessons in Biblical stories are seen in their characters, but they are seen in the Gospel only in Jesus. One greater than David or Moses or Abraham is here.
This means we need to develop a skill that preachers of another era prized and practiced: connecting Biblical characters and stories to Christ. I can offer no one better than the Puritans or Spurgeon. Read Thomas Watson, for example, and watch how his mind is always moving through whatever part of the Bible he is using toward Jesus. How can these characters illuminate Jesus and the Gospel?
3. We must preach what is not the Gospel in a way that recognizes the power of the Gospel. There is power in lessons and examples: namely, my power to follow them. That means, of course, a very imperfect and inconsistent power. There is power in the Gospel: the power that saves, that raises the dead, that remakes the world. God’s power. The power of the Holy Spirit.
How do I get my students to appreciate that only God can save them, change them, raise them and finish all the work that he started? One way is by not leading them to believe that wisdom, proverbs, lessons, principles and other things of value can bring the power of God in the same way.
4. We must preach what is not the Gospel in a way that shows the difference between human effort and faith. Faith is resting upon God’s promise. It is receiving the gift of God. Faith is placing hope in God himself and what he alone has done and will do. In following any lesson in scripture, we are urging obedience, often on the premise of the necessity of faith. But with the Gospel, if we are Protestants, we are urging faith alone in Christ and his grace alone.
The preacher wants to fuel and fire up faith, but faith rests and believes at a level much deeper and fundamental than it imitates, works or obeys. Our preaching should never discourage obedience, but the lasting quality we want to build up is faith first, and everything else later.
We also must be sure not to confuse faith and works, faith and obedience, faith and repentance or faith and intention. While there is a proper emphasis on practice as a path of faith, the Bible goes to great lengths to declare the nature of faith distinctively, even as it recognizes that faith always exists, in an imperfect relationship to, obedience, repentance and so forth.
5. We must preach what is not the Gospel in a way that does not distort or neglect the proper role of what is not the Gospel. There is a proper place for all of the Bible that is not, in itself, the Gospel. We don’t want to lose the characters, the lessons (which the New Testament says are there to help us), the law or anything else in a constant emphasis on Jesus and the Gospel. We want the scriptures to honestly be what they are and say what they say. I am surprised how some preachers will defend the distortion of a text if they are bending it toward Jesus in some way. We must be good workmen with the text and allow the text to say what it says and be what it is. Properly understood, it will testify to Christ and the Gospel without efforts on our part that damage the plain meaning of the scripture.
One last note: The emphasis on expository, verse by verse preaching raises many of these same concerns. If we stake out a book that is mostly law, we must know how to keep the Gospel primary and not spend 6 months in the law without reference to the only one who keeps the law, the only one who fulfills the law and the only one who forgives the law.