There is a difference between preaching a gospel-centered sermon and preaching a sermon with the gospel in it. Either the gospel is the sun, or it’s Saturn or one of Saturn’s moons or—worst case—Pluto. Does your sermon revolve around the work of God in the Lord Jesus? Or does Christ’s death and resurrection revolve around your sermon at a distance? And can that distance be measured in light years?
So how can you place the gospel at the center of your preaching, instead of just tacking it on somewhere near the end because you’re supposed to?
1. Apply the gospel to your life every day, throughout the day.
Do you let the significance of what Christ has done guide your interactions with others throughout the day? Do you process the ups and downs of your day in light of the cross? By the time the afternoon rolls around, have you preached the hope of a new heavens and a new earth to the morning’s disappointments? How quickly do you repent of a moment of envy, anger, lust, gossip, impatience, etc.?
How are you going to be a gospel-centered preacher if you aren’t a gospel-driven person?
I’m confronted with my need to grow in this area when I discipline my children. I sit them down to explain what they did that was sinful, why it was sinful, how it hurt another person (often a sibling) and how it is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Often as I do this, I think to myself, I need to go through this process more often.
The more faithfully we bring the gospel to bear on our own hearts, the more it will become central to our preaching.
2. Preach against the sins and sinfulness raised in the passage.
You can’t preach the good news without the bad news, and most passages come with the shelves well stocked with the bad news. We are sinful and we can’t do a thing about it.
Preaching that is positive and encouraging, but fails to preach against sin is only telling half of the story, and will ultimately leave people wondering why they need the encouragement in the first place.
The more you can help your church to feel the weight of the bad news, the better the good news looks. So describe sin’s consequences with vividness—the consequences in this life and the life to come. Tell your church what is at stake if they continue in the sinful pattern described by the Scriptures you’re focusing on.
3. Look for the gospel-solution that is right there in the passage.
I find that pastors are usually able to find the main sin issue addressed in the passage, but often struggle at identifying the “gospel-solution” to that sin issue that is right there in the passage. The result is either neglecting to preach the gospel, or attaching the same gospel message to every sermon. (How many of your sermons end with the same “Jesus did for you what you couldn’t do for yourself” line?) A sermon with a perfunctory gospel presentation can hardly be called gospel-centered.