“I’ve never heard anyone preach the gospel the way you do.”
These were the words that changed the focus of my ministry. As the sentence flowed out of Clayton’s mouth during our lunch together at El Vallarta, my first response was immediate: that can’t be true. Someone had to have presented the gospel to him in a similar manner as I at some point in his lifetime. Or was I taking some innovative approach to the cross? I knew that, in regards to theology or hermeneutics, if you find something in Scripture that no one else in history has found, you are most likely a heretic. Was I leaning toward heresy in my gospel proclamation? Had Clayton really never heard the gospel so explicitly and often stated as he had in the first months of my ministry career?
The answer to this conundrum was one of three options: 1) he had not ever heard the gospel explicitly laid out for him from the pulpit; 2) he had heard it, but was not ready to really hear it until his senior year of high school; or 3) some mix of these two options.
Believe me when I say that this is no humblebrag. This statement began to plague my mind. Thankfully, I can say with confidence, knowing his previous leaders at his church, that the gospel had indeed been preached to him often…and explicitly. So, most likely, the reason for Clayton’s excitement about the gospel was the work of the Holy Spirit in readying him for this good Word. The difference between me and many other preachers today is that I try to never preach without a clear view of the cross and God’s redemptive plan for mankind. I try to follow Charles Spurgeon’s advice: “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.” Every message I preach comes with the goal of keeping the gospel in clear view.
I truly believe that for many, many teenagers throughout the scope of the evangelical landscape today, the gospel is not preached often or explicitly enough. This is why, whenever I am asked to preach somewhere new, I almost always preach on the gospel. (I like to use Dare 2 Share’s G.O.S.P.E.L. approach or the bad news/good news approach from Ephesians 2:1-5).
This resolution to preach the gospel at every speaking engagement I undertake began during my conversation with Clayton. And I am convinced it is a win-win-win proposition.
In the first case, it is a win because you never know when the student will have ears to hear the truth of the gospel!
Clayton had heard the gospel many times, I’m sure, in his lifetime, but his heart had not been made up of good, receptive soil until his senior year of high school. I simply had the privilege of reaping the harvest that others had faithfully sown into his life. I unapologetically look to reap a harvest every time I preach somewhere new. Maybe a fresh perspective or a new voice will awaken the message the student’s Youth Pastor or Pastor had been depositing in their heart for years! I would celebrate someone whose message God used to awakened the hearts of my students. And I anticipate the same response from other faithful leaders.
Secondly, many do not hear the gospel consistently and explicitly preached.
Unfortunately, many preachers shrink back from consistently proclaiming the gospel in their pulpits. They fear that the message will become stale or they will run out of material. Maybe they feel that it is important to propel their congregation into other matters of the faith. This leads us to our third point.
The gospel is good for the lost and the found!
I will never forget, while listening to his podcast as a junior in college, hearing Pastor Matt Chandler proclaim the gospel for the bajillionty-fifth time to his congregation and thinking, “Okay, we got it…move on to something else!” And then, he made a statement that changed my life. It was simple, really. He said, “The gospel is for salvation and sanctification.” The gospel changes the lives of the saved just as well as the unsaved. The gospel produces salvation in the life of the (former) unbeliever. But the gospel also brings the believer consistently back to the cross, where he or she will realize that God sanctifies them. The gospel continually reminds us that we are not good enough to earn righteousness. We never have been and we never will be. Prior to salvation, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). After salvation, we still need the grace of God to help us wage war against our sinful nature (Colossians 3:1-11)! The gospel saves the lost and sanctifies the saved!
It is ALWAYS appropriate to preach the cross.
These are the reasons why I always seek to preach the gospel when I am offered a speaking engagement. Perhaps God will use the message of the cross to save some who are lost. Or perhaps God will use the message of the cross to make those who know Christ become more like Him.
I long to be able to say along with Paul that, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Preach the cross, friends. We all need to hear it…to see it…to savor it…to be changed by it.