Gospel-Centered Preaching

by Ross Ferguson March 29, 2024

While attending Heriot Watt University I took a public speaking class. The course led students to produce and effectively deliver a public speech on any given subject. A well-crafted and excellently delivered speech can certainly produce results; at the very least an applause would be warranted. Although a response is given it is usually short lived and even the best of speeches will soon be forgotten. These emotional responses rely on a rousing speech. Therein lies the problem: when we apply the principles of a public speaking class to preaching, we can expect short lived emotional responses but no real transformation in the lives of our hearers. When it comes to preaching, we need a different set of principles. To see a significant and eternal difference in the lives of our church, we need gospel-centered preaching.

What is the Gospel?

Before we consider how the gospel impacts preaching, we must first understand what the gospel is. The gospel simply means good news. When it comes to Scripture, the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, and it is the point of the whole Bible. God made all things perfect (Genesis 1 & 2), yet sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6). With a broken covenant, sin impacts all of mankind (Romans 3:23). God, being just, must punish sin and declares that mankind faces death (Romans 6:23).

Yet God, in His eternal redemptive plan sends Jesus to this world to be both fully God and fully human (John 3:16). He lived a perfect sinless life; in so doing, He could be a perfect sacrificial lamb (Hebrews 10:12). By God’s will, Jesus suffered to the point of death on the cross. His death was the punishment that we should have paid (Mark 15:37-39). He was buried but three days later rose from the dead. Through His resurrection, Jesus is able to offer life and a relationship with God to all who would place their faith in Him (John 10:10). It is good news for the sinner that they have a way to deal a death blow to their sin and have our brokenness forgiven. The gospel can be described in many ways, but it must always include the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the way to the Father. The condemned, through faith in Jesus, find forgiveness and rest.

What is Gospel-Centered Preaching?

Edmund Clowney in his book Preaching Christ in All of Scripture states clearly that “gospel preaching presents Jesus.” Many preachers will present anything but Jesus. Two prevalent ways to preach are moralistic, which considers the do’s and do not’s that Christians should live by. The other way is to preach pragmatically, leaning into promises fulfilled if you do a certain activity (usually obedience to the law). In each of these ways, the preacher presents to the congregation a road map to God which centers on behaviors. Specifically, these behaviors consider what you as the individual can and should do. In other words, much preaching places the person at the center and God on the outside as something we must work toward.

Gospel-centered preaching puts Jesus at the center of not only the message, but of the entire story arch. It is the good news of salvation in Jesus that radiates out, touching everything and transforming all from the inside out. What makes one a Christian? Faith in Christ. Therefore, what makes a sermon Christian? Christ must be presented otherwise we are simply delivering a speech or lecture that would fit well in a public speaking class. Yet, gospel-centered preaching is not simply stating the story of the gospel, or reminding people about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The sermon and the preacher are fueled by the gospel itself, without it their message is dead. Yes, the preacher must present Jesus, but not in a stale recitation of the facts. The preacher must proclaim the good news with passion and in anticipation that lives will be transformed.

The preacher is presenting Jesus, and it is Jesus who speaks to the heart of the sinner. In gospel-centered preaching, we must be careful not to enact the roles of Jesus. It is only He that can save mankind. The preacher has no power outside the message he preaches. The preacher has no wisdom outside the Word of God. Therefore, the preacher must present the good news of Jesus as Savior and the friend of sinners, or he leaves the lost damned in their sin.

As the preacher prepares his sermon in a gospel-centered approach, he will find that the presence of Jesus unifies our message. All of Scripture points to Jesus and the finished work of the cross. Therefore, all Scripture-based sermons must point to Jesus. The preacher is then able to deliver an expositional sermon and not only find that Jesus will be magnified, but the good news of salvation in His name will be evident to the hearer. It is this type of preaching that delivers the promises of God in Jesus. Whereas pragmatism and moralism simply deliver a list of unattainable tasks that lead the sinner to deeper despair. It is not wrong to show clear expectations of obedience in Scripture. We do not obey thinking that our keeping of the checklist saves; we preach that Jesus saves through faith and transforms the heart to want to obey. Gospel-centered preaching makes obedience a gift. The Holy Spirit gifts us the desire to obey in order to glorify God. Suddenly, we are preaching obedience as a joyous walk with Christ rather than a cumbersome step we trip over.

What should I expect?

If I deliver a good speech, my expectation is that I would receive a round of applause. So, when we preach gospel-centered sermons, what should we expect? There are two distinct outcomes we should expect from gospel-centered preaching.

The first is the salvation of the sinner. We know that believing comes through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10:14-15). As we preach gospel-centered sermons, we present Jesus in whom the lost are to believe in and through. We therefore anticipate souls to be saved. For individuals in the congregation to face toward Jesus and be welcomed into the family of God.

The second expectation is that believers in Christ will be renewed and refreshed. We know that the yoke and burden of Jesus is light (Matthew 11:28-30). In the gospel, believers are reminded that Jesus forgives and then carries us to the Father. We can rest in the knowledge that He is changing our hearts and renewing our minds. We are being sanctified through the gospel. In preaching the gospel as central, we radiate the message that Jesus sustains and that He is always enough to satisfy. Hearers of the gospel will be released from the burden of the law and into the gracious arms of Jesus.

Gospel-centered preaching recognizes that Jesus is the central message of Scripture. The sermon is fueled by it and seeks to powerfully transform the lives of those who hear. Presenting anything else will leave the lost damned. Presenting Jesus in a winsome and loving manner will lead many souls to eternal relationship with their creator. Preach expositional sermons but preach with the power of the gospel at the center!