Preachers sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the gospel is something that we proclaim only to unbelievers. Tim Keller is one of a growing number of preachers who sees this as a mistake. “The gospel,” he writes, “is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering…the radical grace of God.”
When preaching to believers, preachers often proclaim truth from a text and offer a set of application points. This approach tends to assume that the issue is behavior. The result is moralistic preaching, which is never effective in bringing about lasting change.
Gospel-centerered preaching sees the real issue as a failure to believe the gospel in some area. The listener may believe the gospel at an intellectual level, but there is a “sin beneath the sin” (an idol) that needs to be confronted with the gospel. A failure to live the reality of the gospel shows that we do not really believe the gospel at that point in our lives.
David Powlison writes of “that most basic question God poses to each human heart: “has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?” The preacher’s job shifts from handing out application points to identifying the idols that motivate behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. The preacher then preaches the gospel as it relates to these idols – including the idols in the preacher’s heart. The listener is helped right on the spot by the gospel, rather than by moralistic efforts or just trying harder.
If you’re interested in learning more about gospel-centered preaching, here are some resources:
- Preaching to Believers and Unbelievers by Tim Keller (MP3)
- Preaching the Gospel by Tim Keller (MP3)
- Preaching to the Heart by Tim Keller (set of CDs)
- The Gospel – Key to Change by Tim Keller (PDF)
- Preparing & Preaching a Gospel Centered Message by Richard Kaufmann (MP3)
- Notes on gospel-centered preaching by Dick Kaufmann (blog post)