Preaching the gospel faithfully should be the number one concern of all serious Christians and churches, and especially of those set apart as ministers of the gospel.
I want to call on all such to proclaim a full-blooded gospel message and to use a biblical methodology in outreach. That way our efforts will be owned by the Holy Spirit to the conversion of souls.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:16, ‘For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!’ Consider then the responsibilities of preachers as they relate to gospel preaching.
First, they are responsible to preach a distinct gospel message. Before we even begin preaching, we must be clear what the true gospel is.
In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul summarises his message as ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. 1 Corinthians 1:1 speaks of ‘the message of the cross’, regarded as foolishness to those perishing but the power of God to those being saved. So ‘the message of the cross’ is the message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. The essence of the gospel is the person and work of Christ.
The person of Christ must be proclaimed; our hearers need to know who he is. Paul says, ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?’ (Romans 10:14).
Jesus Christ must be proclaimed as the one God; the appointed Saviour of the world; the one prophesied in the Old Testament; and the Son of God who took to himself perfect human nature while remaining divine.
He alone is mediator between God and man, and prophet, priest and king over his church. Christ is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’, without whom no one can come to the Father. The Father said of him, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him’ (Matthew 17:5).
Secondly, we must preach the work of Jesus Christ. He came to fulfill the law of God perfectly on behalf of his people. He died as their perfect substitute to redeem them from their sins. His blood was shed for their cleansing and his resurrection from the dead shows that the work of redemption is accomplished.
Through repentance from sins and faith in Christ, the sinner is justified before God. His sins are imputed to Christ who died on the cross, whilst Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believing sinner.
In Romans, Paul explains that our justification before God is by faith in Christ, not by our own good works. In Ephesians 2:8-9, he says, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’.
All these elements constitute a basic theology which every Reformed preacher ought to know. The gospel of Christ and him crucified was the same message preached by our Lord on earth.
For example, he said to the Jews, ‘You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins … When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he’ (John 8:23-24, 28).
Thirdly, preachers should preach the gospel from all of the Scriptures. The gospel is the message of the whole Bible. The Lord said to his disciples, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms concerning me’ (Luke 24:44).
Luke 24:45 says, ‘He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures’. Paul says, ‘So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17).
The Word of God has the message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ embedded in it. The spotlight of preaching must shine upon that message in all parts of the Bible.
Where is the gospel in the Old Testament? It is in the prophecies, types, principles, examples and history of Israel. For example, the book of Hebrews tell us that Israel’s animal sacrifices pointed to the coming of Christ as the perfect sacrifice for sinners.
In the Old Testament, the offices of prophet, priest and king pointed to the coming perfect mediator, Jesus Christ. The old covenant would give way to the new; the patriarchs and Old Testament saints lived by faith in the coming Saviour.
Paul teaches in Galatians that the Seed promised to Abraham is a reference to Christ, who would give rise to the numerous seed of Abraham, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3).
He also demonstrates how the two sons of Abraham, one born by the bondwoman, the other by the freewoman, represent two covenants — one which saves, the other which leads to bondage in sin (Galatians 4).
From these truths, we can trace back to the promise of the Saviour given in the proto-evangel of Genesis 3:15: ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’.
We see how the covenant of grace made with Abraham and the other patriarchs, pointing to the coming of the Saviour, and how the wilderness wandering of God’s people, leading to the Promised Land, was a picture of the Christian life.
The coming of the Saviour may be traced through the line of King David; we can preach the gospel from the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. The book of Psalms is rich in prophecies of the coming Saviour, as are the prophets, who spoke of the calling of the Gentiles into God’s kingdom.
Paul tells us that, while in Ephesus, he taught ‘publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:20-21).
In Acts 20:27, he says, ‘For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God’. That implies he taught the gospel systematically, from all the Scriptures (then, the Old Testament).
The Great Commission requires teaching disciples ‘to observe all things that [Jesus has] commanded’ (Matthew 28:20). The gospel must be proclaimed to non-believers to evangelise them and to believers to build up their faith.
The Particular Baptists’ catechism asks: ‘What do the Scriptures principally teach?’ and replies: ‘The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man’ (Keach’s catechism, Q.7).
Is the catechism opposed to the view that ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ constitutes the essence of the Bible’s teaching? Not at all, for our knowledge of God shows us our need to be reconciled to him.
The holiness, justice and love of God lead to a conviction of the heinousness of man’s fall and the depth of our guilt before God. Similarly, knowing what God requires of us leads us to a realisation of our failure to worship him, and our rebellion against him. We are made aware of the will’s bondage to sin and the depth of our trespasses.
These lead to the conviction of our need of the Saviour whose death atones for sins. It has been well said that the scarlet thread of the blood of Christ runs through the whole Bible from beginning to end.
Let us be convinced then that the gospel is the very essence of the Bible’s teaching. Preachers have a responsibility to preach it from all the Bible, not just the four Gospels, New Testament or selected portions of the Old Testament.
Failure to relate exposition of any Bible book to the distinct message of ‘Christ and him crucified’ is a failure to expound that book properly.
Boon-Sing Poh is pastor of Damansara Reformed Baptist Church, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia