The immediate cause of all aspects of church life, growth and development is the
Gospel (Romans 1:16). Paul, in a prayer of thanksgiving for the Colossian church
(Colossians 1:3-6) expresses gratitude to God for the way in which the Gospel had
come to them bearing fruit and growing among them. The fruit the Gospel produced
was “faith in Jesus Christ, love for the saints and hope laid up for you in heaven”
(Colossians 1:4). Paul credits the Colossian churches understanding of the grace of God in truth as the cause of their fruitfulness. This understanding was something heard initially through Paul’s Gospel preaching but also something learned continually through the ministry of Epaphras. It is clear that the Gospel both creates the church and matures the church. At Spring Meadows we have a strong commitment to and passion for Gospel preaching. Well, you may say, doesn’t every church have that? To answer that let’s look at what Gospel preaching means.
First, the goal of Gospel preaching is to make “new” people not “nice” people (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Gospel is not good advice that attempts to reform people. The Gospel is very powerful good news that transforms people. The Gospel does not pressure people externally to change their ways. The Gospel changes people internally, from the inside out. The Gospel does not produces duty-driven people who obey because they “have to”. The Gospel produces new people who obey because they “want to”. Churches that preach for a positive attitude or behavior reformation tend to elevate traditional, middle-class values to the level of biblical norms and focus on external change. This kind of preaching believes that moral exhortation or positive reinforcement will really bring about the desired change. Truthfully, it only hardens people with pride if they are successful and brings despair if they are unsuccessful. This kind of preaching produces shallow, superficial, skin-deep change that won’t sustain a person through suffering, trial and hardship. Gospel preaching transforms the heart at the motivational level where fear, pride, despair and hate are changed into faith, humility, hope and love.
The second thing we mean by Gospel preaching is that it is for both unbelievers and believers. The Gospel is not merely entry-level-101 stuff but it is graduate school and postgraduate school, as well as continuing education. The only people who “get the Gospel” are the ones who know that they really “don’t get it most of the time”. We do not preach the Gospel for justification and then biblical principles for sanctification, i.e. the Christian life. We are not justified by the power of the Gospel and sanctified by something else. The Gospel sanctifies us as well. The primary and most desperate need of both unbelievers and believers each and every Sunday is to hear and appropriate the Gospel to their lives. You should feel something is missing if you don’t hear it.
The third thing we mean by Gospel preaching is that it motivates with grace, not guilt. The Gospel is the power of God to motivate us. People gripped by the Gospel are motivated by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14) to serve others, to spend and be spent and to witness to the beauty, glory and honor of Christ. Therefore we do not motivate people through guilt trips driving them to obey out of fear of punishment, pride or competitiveness. You can get a lot done this way but at the end of the day it is “dead works,” “wood, hay and stubble” for which there is no reward. But instead we motivate through the Gospel that melts our hearts and sets us free to love unconditionally out of gratitude for God’s grace. This inevitably produces good works.
The fourth thing we mean by Gospel preaching is how we measure success. Success as defined by the Gospel is not numbers attending, dollars given or effective programs. Success when measured by the Gospel is one thing…changed lives. The early church worshipped and celebrated Christ for His power to
bring about life change. This gives us unity for it reminds us that we have a purpose much bigger than our own personal agendas. As we see lives being changed it strengthens us and energizes our faith for bold prayer and daring ministry in the face of opposition. Our churches spend so much time, effort and resources to do everything but the one thing that is necessary, Gospel preaching. Are you being changed by the Gospel as you grow in your understanding of its grace and truth?
The fifth thing that Gospel preaching means is that we solve our personal problems and pathologies with the Gospel not moralistic principles or humanistic psychology. Moralistic preaching produces a “sola bootstrapus” mindset, making me believe I can change myself and others through a rigorous application of good principles. If I can get it right God will bless me. Humanistic psychology attempts to either blame others or to discover how great I really am and that God must love me because I am basically good at heart. Moralistic preaching minimizes the depth of our sin and overestimates the strength of our flesh. Humanistic psychology overestimates our goodness and perceives us as good people who occasionally make mistakes rather than sinners who have no health in us. Neither gets at the heart of the problem. The root of all of our problems is that something others than Christ is serving as our functional savior. Therefore we neither tell people, “You shouldn’t act or feel that way…stop it!” nor, “You need to accept yourself and feel good about yourself as you are!” Rather, we call them to repent of their idols and trust in Christ who through His life and death is the only One who can give them what they are longing for. The freedom, joy and release that we long for as we worship idols and false saviors can only be found in our union with the person of Christ.
The sixth thing Gospel preaching means is that we believe the Gospel can change anyone. Anyone? That’s right, anyone! There are no hopeless, beyond the pale cases. The most hopeless case ever, Saul of Tarsus, became through the Gospel the greatest advocate for it. Since we are saved by grace, there are no hopeless cases. Knowing that we are saved by grace gives us great respect for every unbeliever for we know our being Christians is not because of anything special in and of ourselves. When we see the most despicable person, we can say to ourselves, “There go I but for the grace of God”. This gives us both a humility that is winsome and a boldness that rests in the power of the Gospel to change anyone.
The seventh thing Gospel preaching means is seeing the Gospel as the key to igniting and sustaining a movement. As the church grows there is a danger of diluting the Gospel distinctives that gripped the initial leaders. We see this danger reflected in the New Testament epistles. Therefore the Gospel must be especially preached to new and emerging leaders so that they can preach it to themselves and to others. That is why we are so committed to Gospel centrality in everything we do and say. As Spring Meadows grows we must understand that theological vision is the destination for which we are headed and contextualized strategy is the vehicle we are traveling in but most importantly, the Gospel is the fuel. Nothing less than the Gospel can enable us to accomplish the things He has called us to do.