Should we preach only the gospel? Whatever the starting-point of the sermon, should we always make a beeline for Calvary and issue an appeal to the unconverted?
It is tempting to answer with an unqualified ‘Yes’. After all, there is little enough faithful preaching of the gospel these days, so shouldn’t we take every opportunity to do so? And did not the apostle Paul write, ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2).
To be sure, the preaching of the gospel is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3). And, yes, it is of huge importance to show how any text in the Bible either points forward to, or flows from, God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.
But it is possible to focus too narrowly on the gospel, as popularly conceived. If every sermon ends in the same way, with a formulaic appeal to the lost (example: Acknowledge that you are a sinner, Believe in Jesus, Confess him as your Lord), then we shall be neither faithful to Scripture nor to our hearers.
For one thing, our church services are not primarily intended for the conversion of sinners, but for the edification of saints. The church comes together to be built up, and then is sent out to proclaim the gospel.
For another thing, neither Jesus nor the apostles preached only the gospel. For them, the gospel was the sun, the gravitational centre of the Solar System and the source of its light and life. But they did not neglect those things that orbit around the centre – marriage, family relationships, prayer, and so on. Did not Paul say, as he left Ephesis, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26f)? And did our Lord himself not send out his disciples with a commission to “teach everything” he had commanded them (Matthew 28:20)? Are there not ‘weightier matters of the law’ to be taught and observed – mercy, justice and steadfastness (Matthew 23:23)?
For yet another thing, sticking too narrowly and rigidly to the gospel can create a paralysing predictability about our preaching. It leads, leading our hearers to switch off because, whatever the text, they know what’s coming.
Then again, too narrow a focus can result in filtering out of those parts of Scripture that don’t sit neatly within our simple gospel scheme. Judgement according to works? I’m not preaching that! That doesn’t fit with my gospel! Paul must have been having a bad moment when he wrote Romans 2:1-16!
But no: I’m not really suggesting that we don’t preach the gospel. What we should do, rather, is present the gospel in its full ‘biblical relations and proportions’ (to borrow Dabney’s fine phrase) so as to show its many-faceted aspects and implications.
Let us, by all means preach the simple gospel. But, equally, let us preach the full gospel.
See this by Thabiti Anyabwile