"Only let us hold true to what we have attained."
-- Philippians 3:16
There are lots of distractions from and temptations to discard a commitment to gospel-centeredness. Here are just 8.
1. The Devil's Accusation
Every now and then I will hear some variation of this accusation from the evil one: "How can you get up there and talk about the gospel? You're a self-righteous hypocrite." Satan often tries to stifle gospel proclamation by reminding the proclaimer of his unworthiness. The specific accusation may change, but the motive is the same: get the gospel-centered preacher off his game. If the devil can get us to doubt our calling, our legitimacy as ministers, our capability as proclaimers, or merely our authorization to present the gospel, he knows he's closer to getting the gospel unheard.
2. The Devil's Insinuation
This word from the accuser is one I hear more often than any other: "This gospel stuff is gonna get old. Don't you think if you play this same old record every day people are going to get tired of it?" The devil would love to convince us that the gospel is not versatile or resilient, that it is not the every day power of salvation for all who believe.
The power to change is in the gospel alone. This means that sometimes those committed to gospel-centrality might not see the "results" they want. The gospel in certain contexts or cultural moments may be "out of season." Many times because of this biblically-attested reality we are tempted to depart from gospel-centrality. We get fed up in not seeing the results we want or expect. Don't do that. Don't give up.
One distinguishing mark of heresy is just how reasonable it sounds. Paul warns not of wild-eyed malarkey but "plausible arguments." You may hear from some very sincere, honest, intelligent people who have been believers for a long time that the gospel-centered stuff is all very nice but they know the gospel already and what they really need to know is what the Bible says about getting out of debt or surviving the workplace. Sounds totally reasonable, no? Law-drivenness almost always does, and legalism rarely shows up these days in a three piece suit, red face, and fist pounding on a pulpit but in sweetness and light, from faithful tithers with kids in the youth group.
The rationalizers may not be able to get you to abandon gospel-centrality altogether, so they will instead try to get you to adopt "gospel plus." They're not saying to stop with the gospel stuff, they're just saying you need to be, you know, balanced. "Give us the gospel, sure, but also some of this and that too," they say. But Jesus + anything is not Jesus. Our people need the unadjusted, unadulterated gospel. They need it straight up, not mixed.
Gospel minimization comes in a variety of forms, and it is itself a form of the error of accommodation. One claim gospel minimists make is that the gospel is not as important as other things, that it's the ABC's of the Christian life, perhaps, and what Christians really need to mature is the meat of "deeper teaching," which can encompass anything from systematic theology to eschatological speculation. Very often minimization comes in the form of gospel obfuscation, by which I mean the insistence that we simply imply the gospel to better make seekers comfortable or tack it on the end of a sermon in a public invitation or save it for a special sermon series or other special occasions. Sometimes minimizers want to dress up the gospel with songs from the radio, dance productions, cool videos, lasers, fog, stage-jumping dirtbikes, glowstick wielding ravers, or any number of other things the idol factory of our hearts haven't even manufactured yet.
The same sun that melts the ice, they say, hardens the clay. Some people will just be flat-out offended or irritated by gospel-centered preaching, teaching, counseling, and ministry. A fear of man may lead us to acquiesce to their disgruntlement to keep the peace.
Here's a big one, way too often not prepared for. A steady dose of faithful, robust gospel preaching will likely attract fringe-y people. Jesus had a way of attracting "those people." So it is with Jesus preached faithfully. If you commit to preaching the biblical Jesus and the radical grace of his gospel, you ought to commit to accumulating the kind of people that were attracted to Jesus. And, God willing, if your church grows from gospel preaching, it will change. You have no choice there. It must change.
To grow is to change. And then what happens is that people who've been with the church a long time, people who may have been a part of your core or at least your core supporters and cheerleaders, may begin to turn on you. Because their church is looking different. Things are changing. And people don't tend to like change. Because the gospel enables us to obey the Great Commandment and empowers us to join the Great Commission, insulation is the enemy of the gospel.