Upon examining this list, I think we can agree that there is a common theme. Every mention of preaching is related to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And there are even more examples with the same theme that are not on this list. The early church grew rapidly by preaching one thing: the Gospel.
If Acts is not convincing enough, this theme of preaching the Gospel is also evident in the writings of Paul. To the Roman church he writes, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom 1:15). To the church in Corinth he says, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2). Again in 1 Corinthians 9:16, he emphasizes, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” To the Colossians he wrote, “Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:28-29). Paul was clearly focused on preaching one thing: the Gospel.
If the foundation of the church was built upon the preaching the Gospel, should we not continue what the Apostles began? To neglect preaching the Gospel is to neglect the foundation of our faith. To neglect preaching the Gospel is to forget what Jesus, the Apostles and countless other followers of Christ bled and died for. To think that we somehow have a message more creative, beneficial or important to our audience than the Gospel is insane. Like the example set in the early church, we ought to continue a heritage of preaching the Gospel with great boldness.
Preaching the Gospel Avoids Works Righteousness
A major benefit of preaching centered on the Gospel is avoiding the constant trap of works righteousness slipping into our sermons. When a pastor preaches without the Gospel, they appear to communicate that we are saved through our own good behavior. Do better. Try harder. Stop sinning. This is a common message in many churches today. A sermon without the Gospel places the burden of salvation firmly upon the shoulders of the audience—as if their worth is based upon their own ability to live more righteously.
Brian Chapell said it this way: “When the focus of a sermon becomes a moralistic ‘Don’t smoke or chew or go with those who do’ (or even a more sophisticated ‘Renew your heart by doing what God commands’), listeners will most likely assume that they can secure or renew their relationship with God through proper behaviors.”3 In a critique of some of the preaching he heard, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The Church has been trying to preach morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis; it has been preaching morality without godliness; and it simply does not work. It never has done, and it never will. And the result is that the Church, having abandoned her real task, has left humanity more or less to its own devices.”4
A sermon without the Gospel at the center places the means of salvation upon ourselves to work harder. It is a hopeless endeavor. Apart from the power and grace of Jesus Christ, none of us can work our way to Heaven. We are saved by faith in Jesus, not human effort (Eph 2:8-9). Works righteousness says, “Do more to be saved.” The Gospel says, “There is nothing you can do to be saved; Jesus has already done everything for you.” Although a pastor may agree with this, he fails to communicate this truth when he falls into the trap of preaching morality apart from the Gospel.
Please do not misunderstand. The Bible teaches morality; therefore, we should preach morality. The problem is only when morality is not tied to the Gospel. We are saved for good works, not because of them. Moral living is the overflow of a Gospel-filled life. This is why preaching morality apart from the Gospel is not faithful preaching.
Would Preaching the Gospel Every Sermon Get Boring?
Some may object that preaching the Gospel in every sermon would get boring. This is usually based on a simple misunderstanding. Preaching the Gospel in every sermon does not mean that we only preach about the same topic every week. Preaching the Gospel in every sermon means that we show how the Gospel influences the central theme of whatever passage of Scripture we preach.
For example, consider the pastor mentioned earlier preaching to hundreds of high school students in a crowded gymnasium. He talked about loving others, but failed to mention Jesus. If we are preaching about loving others, the Gospel provides the motive: Jesus loved us enough to die for us, and commanded us to love others. We don’t love others simply because it is the right thing to do, it feels good or we will be punished if we do not. We don’t love others because it will earn ourselves a greater position in the afterlife. We love because Jesus loved us (1 John 4:19). It is the Gospel that separates the message of Christianity from the message of any other religion or motivational speaker.