We saw in the first installment that that problem with so-called Gospel-centered preaching (GCP), at least the variety I’ve been most exposed to, is that it isn’t Great Commission preaching. Jesus said to go and teach “them to observe all that I have commanded you.” GCP, instead, preaches that if you believe in Jesus, you are saved from failures before man and saved to freedom before man.
This doesn’t mean GCP sermons don’t mention sin. But when it is mentioned, sin seems always to be in the winner’s circle. This is due to an ontological error.
GCP emphasizes the brokenness of each person. Usually, this has to do with non-sin categories like fear, disgrace, and self-hatred. Sometimes brokenness refers to a sin category, like lust or hate. But too often Christians are addressed as if they are still broken, as if they are still slaves to sin. The righteousness of an unconverted sinner is like filthy rags. The grace-enabled righteousness of a converted sinner is better than sacrifice. A Christian is no longer totally depraved. Now they fight sin. A Christian is no longer broken. Now they are healed. It is a change in nature.
They were once slaves to sin. Now they are slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:16-20). They were once dead in their sins. Now they are alive to God (Eph. 2:1, 4). They were once an old creation. Now they are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). They were once alienated from Christ (Col. 1:21). Now they are united to Christ (Rom. 6:1-14). They once followed the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). Now they follow Christ (Mt. 4:20). They once lived in the passions of the flesh (Rom. 7:5). Now they fight against the passions of the flesh (1 Tim. 6:12). They were once dead in the trespasses and uncircumcision of their flesh (Col. 2:12a). Now they are alive together with Christ (Col. 2:12b). They once did the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). Now they live by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22f). They were once in Adam. Now they are in Christ (1 Cor. 15:45). This is an ontological difference, as different as an old creature is from a new creature.
When GCP talks as if Christians are still depraved and still broken, this is a Christological issue. Either Christ’s work on the cross heals brokenness or it doesn’t. The Father accepts believers in Christ. He also transforms believers.
GCP tweaks the Gospel to be about self-acceptance. It is a message that says, “God accepts you, he wants you to be yourself, so you can be saved and remain as you are without the burdensome straightjacket of God’s law.” This is a failure to teach Christians to obey all that Jesus commanded. But more than that, it is a failure to preach the power of Christ, who not only pays the penalty for sin and grants forgiveness but through the Spirit enables obedience. Christians are united to Christ through faith, and that union conforms their lives to the law.
The solution isn’t to preach less grace, but more grace. What must a preacher do to shift from GCP to Great Commission preaching? Preach the full gospel of grace, grace that not only justifies but also sanctifies. Grace that doesn’t just save people from failures before man, but saves them from guilt before a holy God. Grace that doesn’t just save sinners to freedom before man, but saves them to a life of good works, prepared in advance (Eph. 2:10).
To read part one of this series: Click Here.