The Most Important Five Points of the Gospel
When I think of how we apply the gospel to the churches of the SBC, several points come to mind. (When I listed them out, I realized that I had come up with five main points. So I guess for all of you wondering whether I believe in “the five points,” here you have the five I think are really important.)
These are the five ways the gospel should play out in our churches:
For pastors particularly, the pulpit is the most critical place to saturate our churches with the gospel. Every sermon should be grounded in the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for us. The motivation to do in the Christian life always flows out of the reality of what Christ has done for us. That’s a relevant message for those who have never heard of Jesus and those who have been his disciples for 50 years.
Charles Spurgeon once said that in every one of his sermons, he would “plow a trough” back to Jesus. Since all of the Scriptures point to Jesus, this shouldn’t be too much of a trial for us. The point of the Bible is to exalt the name of Jesus. The point of every sermon is the same. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, the goal of a lecture is that people leave with information; the goal of a motivational speech is that they leave with action steps; the goal of a sermon is that people leave worshipping. Gospel preaching will always have Christ-exalting worship as its aim.
I have opinions on more things than just the gospel. For instance, I love political conversations, and I enjoy deep theological discussions about any biblical doctrine—from the mysteries of God’s electing graces to when the rapture will occur. But I know that our church only has a very limited bandwidth; we can only be “about” one thing in the eyes of our community. I want that one thing to be the gospel. I may be wrong in some of the particulars of my political economics. I might be wrong about some of the finer points of doctrine. And even if I am right, those views don’t affect gospel proclamation. But I know I’m not wrong about the gospel. I never want my views on the former things to prevent people from hearing me on the latter.
My mentor, Dr. Paige Patterson, always told me that Jesus’ own summary of his ministry was that he came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). At various points of my life, Dr. Patterson challenged me to let that be the filter for where I devote my energies. Other issues will always seem pressing, but as he said, “Not every theological battle is worth fighting.” He reminded me that the reason he and others fought the inerrancy battle so vehemently was because it was intricately connected to evangelism. After all, where confidence in the Bible diminishes, fervency for evangelism fades.
Jesus said there was more joy in heaven over the salvation of one sinner than the 99 who are faithful. That means few things we do with the 99 make Jesus as happy as our striving to reach the one. The devil would like nothing more than to distract us from the main thing with secondary things. But every time we argue unnecessarily about secondary things, the devil wins and evangelism loses. Everything we do and every word we speak should be run through the filter of how well it helps us fulfill the Great Commission.
I’ve often told the people at my church that politics is like a skunk. Touch it even once and you’ll smell like it for far longer than you’d like. Our churches need to smell like gospel, and political odors can keep people from that. Again, I’m not opposed to engaging in politics. In fact, we need more people in our churches applying the gospel to politics, not fewer. But politics is not the primary call of the corporate church. As one of our elders summarizes, this is the difference between the church as organism and organization. As “organism,” members of the church should saturate every level of society and be working in those areas for peace, prosperity, and justice for our city as their consciences direct. But as an organization, we try to show restraint in what we attach Jesus’ name to because our calling and mission are different.
One of the dangers of politics is that it threatens to steal our attention and command our ultimate allegiance. But we have to remember where our hope lies. As gospel people, our true citizenship is in heaven, not America. We belong to a country whose walls can never be shaken and whose glories will never fade. That reality doesn’t make me one ounce less passionate about seeing change in my earthly country, but it keeps me from making politics the main thing.
I long for my homeland to turn to God as much as anyone, to experience the blessings that come from walking with him. But salvation does not come riding in on the back of a donkey or an elephant. It’s not found in the stars and stripes of our flag but the scars and stripes on our Savior.
I have often pointed out to our church that one of Jesus’ disciples was “Simon the Zealot.” Zealots were those Jews that thought Judaism should revolt against Rome, driving out all Roman influence. Included with him in that circle of 12 was “Matthew the Tax Collector,” who had worked for Rome collecting the taxes. One thought war with Rome was the best course of action; the other thought complicity with Rome was wiser. I’m sure they had some incendiary political discussions by the campfires in the evening. I’d love to see Jesus’ posture as he listened to them. But at the end of the day, they found in their love for Jesus a unity greater than the political questions that divided them.