A Gospel-Centered Church Preaches the True Gospel, Resulting in True Conversions

What does it mean to be gospel-centered?

When I talk about us being a gospel-centered church, I mean that we are a church that is centered on the good news that Jesus came to save sinners like you and I. We are centered on the gospel, allowing it to drive how we operate as a church.

Centering on the gospel frees us to place our identity in Jesus and as well as it frees us to believe in, trust in, and rest in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus came to save sinners. Those who center on the gospel realize there is nothing they can do to save themselves. No amount of church work, right living, or giving can provide salvation or sanctification.

Sanctification is just a fancy word for growing to be more like Jesus. Sanctification occurs through the gospel, not through trying harder or by following a set of legalistic rules. We grow as we understand more and more about the grace of God in Jesus. As we grow in our understanding of the gospel, which includes God’s plan highlighted and worked out in Scripture, we should grow in thankfulness for what God has done for us. Our gratitude should propel us to know God more, to understand how He wants us to live, and to actually live in a way that matches God’s desire for our life as a way to glorify Him. If we want to grow as Christians, we must reflect on the gospel, viewing it from different angles like a diamond, and allowing it to do a work in our hearts so as to bring about change.

The only way we experience salvation and sanctification is by believing in, trusting in, and resting in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus saves sinners. That is wonderfully freeing news because it means:

  • We don’t have to keep striving to maintain a self-image that is broken.
  • We can rest from self-salvation and the worry of — have I don’t enough.
  • We can love God for who He is and not for what He gives.

Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel

Being gospel-centered, then, is the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel centers on health, wealth, and material possessions. The end all be all of the prosperity gospel is prosperity, it’s not Jesus and the salvation He offers. Jesus is just a tool to get prosperity.

But prosperity isn’t salvation. It doesn’t provide the identity for which we long. Prosperity just leaves us empty, wanting more. While there is nothing wrong with being prosperous, it can’t hold the center. Only Jesus can. Only He provides us with a true identity and true salvation.

More than Social Justice

Being gospel-centered also involves more than fighting for social justice. The social justice gospel centers on social issues. Those who do social justice seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. You’ll find a social justice warrior fighting against all kinds of social issues including systemic racism. That is good and right. We should seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. We should fight against systemic racism.

But these actions can’t be the end all be all of our ministries. The good news, the gospel, is not solely centered on justice. To be sure, justice is part of the gospel. A desire for justice will flow out of the gospel, but it is not the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus’ work on our behalf.

Not Progressive/Liberal

Being gospel-centered also involves rejecting a Progressive/Liberal gospel. Many in the progressive or liberal gospel movement deny the inerrancy or truthfulness of Scripture. As well as they teach that Christianity is just one of many ways to experience salvation.

But again, the gospel centers on Jesus’ death on our behalf. It teaches us that there is only one way to God, not multiple ways. Those who center on the true gospel don’t seek to progress into new ways of understanding. Instead, they camp out on God’s way of understanding the world, which is found in His word.

In contrast to the prosperity gospel, the social justice gospel, and a progressive/liberal gospel, a gospel-centered church urges its members and those who attend to believe in, trust in, and rest in Jesus’ work on their behalf. They do that by faithfully pointing their people away from sin and towards Jesus by preaching the true gospel, which results in true conversion.

The result of preaching the true gospel is true conversion.

In verse 12, Paul writes,

“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Col 1:12–14)

The true gospel tells us that we are sinners who have rebelled against God. Because of our rebellion we deserve God’s wrath. But God in His grace and Mercy comes on a rescue mission for us, truly saving us.

Every time I read this verse I can’t help but think of a group of Naval Seals sneaking behind enemy lines to rescue a prisoner of war. That image comes to mind because that is what Jesus does. He comes. He breaks into the kingdom of darkness and draws us to Himself. In doing so, He literally transfers us out of one kingdom and into another.

In God’s rescue mission, Jesus is the actor. He is the One who comes. He is the One seeks. He is the One who draws us to Himself and out of the domain of darkness. In Jesus, we are redeemed from God’s wrath. We are forgiven. We are released from the bondage of sin and death. For the first time, we can actually follow Jesus. Not just follow Him out of self will or to gain the approval of others, but we follow Jesus because we desire Him.

Once Jesus draws us to Himself. Once He rescues us out of the kingdom of darkness and transfers us into His kingdom, our affections are changed and we actually want what He wants. Our desires change so that we no longer desire the things of the world but the things of God. We are no longer self-centered but God-centered.

The only way a church’s attendees and members will see true change is if the church centers on the true gospel, preaching it so that those who hear it experience true conversion, and then true change as they learn about and live out their newfound identity in Christ.

On Sermon Preparation

So it comes to this. The preparation of sermons involves sweat and labour. It can be extremely difficult at times to get all this matter that you have found in the Scriptures into this particular form.

It is like a potter fashioning something out of the clay, or like a blacksmith making shoes for a horse; you have to keep on putting the material into the fire and on to the anvil and hit it again and again with the hammer.

Each time it is a bit better, but not quite right; so you put it back again and again until you are satisfied with it or can do no better. This is the most grueling part of the preparation of a sermon; but at the same time it is a most fascinating and a most glorious occupation.

It can be at times most difficult, most exhausting, most trying. But at the same time I can assure you that when you have finally succeeded you will experience one of the most glorious feeling that ever comes to a man on the face of this earth.

To borrow the title of a book by Arthur Koestler, you will be conscious of having performed an ‘Act of Creation’, and you will have some dim understanding of what the Scripture means which tells us that when God looked at the world He had created He saw that ‘it was good’.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you feel about your own sermon preparation?

Resources

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 90.

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Learning to Teach from the Master Himself

Jesus Stain Glass

If there is one person who can teach us to teach others, it’s Jesus. He is a master teacher. A teacher whose teaching impacted and connected with the 1000’s who followed Him.

His teaching connected because He knew how to relate to His listeners. His parables weren’t chosen at random. Rather, they were purposefully selected for their teaching and relatability.

We Should Relate to Others with Our Teaching

Likewise, we should use scenarios that relate well to those we are teaching. While that statement is easy for me to write, it’s not easy to do. More and more I find, in our mobile society, many of us come from different background, grow up in different parts of the country, and are influenced by differing world views. All of which make it difficult to relate to others.

Even though that is true, we shouldn’t give up. Instead, we must ratchet up our efforts in getting to know those we are teaching. We must work to understand their background, their cultural customs, and their worldview.

Parents and Grandparents are Teachers Too

While we primarily think of Pastors, Sunday School Teachers, and Bible Study Leaders as teachers, as those who need to heed this advice, I also have another group in mind – Parents and Grandparents. You guys are teachers too. You teach your kids and grandkids on a daily basis.

As you all know and have experienced, even though you live in the same house, it’s not easy to relate to one another. That, however, doesn’t mean we give up in frustration. God has commanded us to teach our children and grandchildren. So instead of giving up, we have to work to relate to them.

The best way to get to know others is to hangout with them, ask questions, and listen. If you do that, you’ll be in a better position to not only understand their struggles and temptations, but you will know how you might relate biblical truth in a way that will impact them.

Question for Reflection

  1. Other than the ones I listed above, what are ways for parents to learn how to relate to their children.

Resources

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Sermon adapted from my sermon Those who Embrace Jesus Produce Fruit

On Sermon Application

“Without the ‘so what?’ we preach to a ‘who cares?’ No passage relates neutral commentary on our fallenness. No text communicates facts for information alone. The Bible itself tells us that its message is intended to instruct, reprove, and correct.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. Preachers, how do you include application in your sermon?
  2. Congregants, how do you prefer application to be delivered? In one chunk at the end, after each section’s main point, or mixed in with the explanation?

Resources

Brian Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 52-53.

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On God’s Word

God’s Word is bold, honest, and direct, cutting across the grain of popular culture. It penetrates hearts, illuminates minds, and transforms lives. Our circumstances and preferences don’t inform or liven up the Bible, dictate its meaning, or determine how it applies to our lives.

It is eternal truth, living and active, and it cuts to the heart of every issue.

Its meaning is fixed, and applicable to everyone, everywhere. Scripture speaks with absolute authority as it guides believers, confronts error, and brings clarity to even the most confusing theological questions.

There is simply no substitute for Scripture. Nothing else is as trustworthy and steadfast as the Word of God. Church tradition changes over time. Authors and pastors make mistakes. Even your own conscience can be wrong.

All believers must be like the Bereans Paul describes in Acts 17:11, measuring everything we hear, read, and see against the perfect, unchanging standard of the Bible.

The authority and power of God’s Word is unmistakeable and unforgettable.

Question for Reflection

  1. What do you think about God’s Word?

Resources

John MacArthur, John MacArthur: Servant of the Word of the Flock, 240.

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