To teach and preach the gospel to those who are unbelievers with a view to their conversion is an awesome privilege.
In my study I keep the following quote from A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer: “If one preaches the Bible biblically, one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be, as Bolton said, at least by implication, evangelistic.” In certain circles the predominant notion is that “we gather for edification and we scatter to evangelize.” Although this encourages the congregation to engage in personal evangelism, it also results in an absence of evangelistic preaching. Some contemporary books on preaching do not include a chapter on evangelistic preaching.
I am helped by reading the evangelistic sermons of Lloyd-Jones, and I try consistently to ensure that our congregation has regular opportunities to invite friends to hear the good news being preached. The morning services have more unbelievers in them than the evening ones. However, our baptism services in the evening provide suitable occasions for evangelistic preaching.
Gospel preaching in the context of regular Sunday ministry is not an easy practice. Maintaining freshness is a continual challenge. We may have to fight against the dampening effect of seeing only familiar faces or few unconverted people present. But to give in, and to abandon gospel preaching, only serves to accentuate the problem. Part of the answer is to deal with passages of Scripture that make plain the gospel but that also serve to instruct Christians.
For example, if we systematically expound one of the four gospels we instruct Christians, but at the same time we preach the gospel as the apostles first proclaimed it. If we expound the Acts of the Apostles, we instruct believers, but we also preach the gospel itself through the account Acts gives of the apostolic preaching and of lives changed through the gospel. In a similar way the Book of Job can be expounded by means of the questions Job asked, and they are extremely relevant questions for the unbeliever.
Gospel preaching is hard work. We must begin by taking nothing for granted. Sadly, we may use jargon or language that is intelligible to Christians but not to others. We must use the Bible’s own vocabulary to explain the gospel, taking trouble to explain basic words such as repentance, faith and justification. We must make every effort to understand our hearers, rather than expecting them first to understand us. We need to ask ourselves: What would I be thinking and feeling if I heard the gospel for the first time? or What does the word repentance mean in everyday language, and how is the Christian use of it different? Our love and concern for our hearer is seen in our effort to put ourselves in his or her place.
We must work at removing misconceptions. The enemy of men’s souls encourages wrong ideas about God, the person of Christ and salvation. While ultimately the Holy Spirit alone can shine into men and women’s hearts to reveal God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, He calls us to work with Him. Part of that partnership is removing common misconceptions about God, the gospel and the nature of the Christian life.
We must make sure we go back far enough in our preaching of the gospel. When the apostles proclaimed the gospel to the Jews they could assume their hearers knew God’s Law. The preaching of the Law was a God-given schoolmaster to bring their hearers to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but the apostles knew that they could not take this background for granted when they preached to Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles illustrates how they then went back to God the Creator (
We must declare the gospel in its fullness, ensuring that no constituent part is neglected. This cannot be done on every occasion the gospel is preached, but most if not of all of its elements will be present, although the spotlight may be upon only one. It is helpful to remind ourselves from time to time of the six main elements in the apostolic declaration of the gospel, once they were sure they had gone back far enough to enable their hearers to realize their message was from the one true God, the Creator and Supreme Law-Giver.
First, the appointed time, concerning which the Old Testament prophets had spoken, and to which God’s chosen people had looked forward, has come. Through Christ, God has visited and redeemed His people (
Second, this act of God intervening in human history is to be seen in the life of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, sent by God, rejected, put to death by men, and raised up by God on the third day (
Third, by His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has conquered sin and has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Salvation is to be found in no one else (
Fourth, the proofs of God’s present power in the world are to be found in the fact of the resurrection of Christ and the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in the church (
Fifth, this is but the beginnings of God’s kingdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ will return again as Judge, and God’s kingdom will be finally established (
Sixth, all men and women, therefore, should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ the Messiah and Lord for the forgiveness of their sins, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (
Now gospel preaching is not a matter of simply taking this outline and preaching it as it is. It is the backcloth to all we say. In essence the entire gospel is here, and our task is to use the whole of Scripture to show forth its wonders and glories. Our single-minded purpose in declaring the gospel is to give a clear and accurate presentation of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father purposes and delights in His Son’s supremacy in everything—and not least in the gospel and its preaching. Gospel preaching fails if it does not set forth the glories of our once crucified and now risen and glorified Savior. Everything we proclaim about the gospel must be viewed in its relationship to Him.
In proclaiming Christ we must not overlook the explaining of the numerous benefits of salvation such as reconciliation with God (
We must explain the response God requires to the gospel. Whether it was on the Day of Pentecost when the crowds cried out, “What shall we do?” (
At the same time we must encourage men and women to count the cost. It is possible to neglect this, but it was never overlooked in our Lord’s gospel preaching. None was allowed to become His disciple without first knowing what was involved and how costly it might prove. We have no need to be afraid of the consequences of honestly explaining the cost. Those who genuinely seek Christ will find their desire to follow Him intensified.
We need to know what to expect as a result of gospel preaching: We look for conversions! There is a relationship between what we expect and what we receive. In preaching, as in every other aspect of the Christian life, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (
More often than not people will be converted through the preaching of the Word without any personal contact with the preacher. On other occasions people may seek us out, perhaps after a service or more privately. When they do, we must look for conviction of sin, arising from an awareness of God’s holiness, and the deflation of pride. If God’s Spirit is at work in them, they will accept the authority of what God says in His Word, and the necessity of obeying what He says, no matter how costly. No joy surpasses that of witnessing new birth!
Alistair Begg is senior pastor of Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio. He is heard daily and weekly on the radio program Truth for Life.
Derek Prime is a pastor, preacher and author. He spent 18 years as pastor of Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Adapted with permission from On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, published by Moody Press.