A couple of years ago, I met a man who seemed to really love baseball. He knew a lot about the past players, current players, and their statistics. However, the more I talked baseball with this particular man, the more obvious it was that he didn’t truly know baseball. He understood some facts about baseball, but he didn’t really understand the game itself. There is a big difference between knowing about baseball and actually knowing the game.
The gospel is more than a topic covered by the church. The gospel is at the very core of the purpose and function of the local church. Through the years, I’ve heard some really good sermons about the Bible, about the gospel, and about the commitment of God’s people to God’s Word in relation to the Reformation era. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, we are likely to hear many sermons that talk about the historical landscape of the sixteenth century. While the church needs to have a good grasp of church history, more importantly than that is her need for the gospel. Stop preaching about God’s Word and start preaching God’s Word.
Paul’s Charge to Timothy
When we consider Paul’s final words to Timothy recorded in the New Testament, we see a passionate charge for Timothy to preach the Word. Notice that Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to preach about the Word. Instead, Timothy was given the high charge to preach God’s gospel. All through Paul’s two letters to Timothy in the New Testament, we find a clear emphasis upon the preaching of God’s Word.
- 2 Timothy 1:13 – “sound words”
- 2 Timothy 1:14 – “guard the good deposit…”
- 2 Timothy 2:2 – “the things which you have heard from me….entrust to faithful men…”
- 2 Timothy 2:5 – “according to the rules”
- 2 Timothy 2:9 – “the Word of God is not bound!”
- 2 Timothy 2:15 – “rightly handling the Word of truth”
- 2 Timothy 2:18 – “the truth”
- 2 Timothy 2:24 – “able to teach”
- 2 Timothy 2:25 – “knowledge of the truth”
- 2 Timothy 3:7 – “knowledge of the truth”
- 2 Timothy 3:10 – “my teaching”
- 2 Timothy 3:16 – “all Scripture”
- 2 Timothy 4:2 – “preach the Word”
- 2 Timothy 4:2 – “teaching”
- 2 Timothy 4:3 – “sound teaching”
In each case, the Word of God is either specifically named or heavily implied. The content of the sermon mattered to Paul, and it should matter to us as well. The church at Ephesus needed to have the Word preached instead of merely preached about. That same thing is true for our local churches today.
The Necessity of the Gospel for Conversion
It must be noted that without the gospel, sinners will not be saved. Therefore, to preach about the gospel and never get around to actually preaching the gospel is to completely miss the mark of what it means to be a gospel preacher. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and said the following in Romans 10:14 – “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Later in verse 17, Paul would say, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
In the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t command us to go to the nations to preach about the gospel. People are not converted to Christianity by knowing facts about the gospel. Sinners must come to know the true gospel, and this requires true biblical preaching. The preaching of the gospel must be the central aim of every Sunday sermon, every funeral sermon, every Sunday school lesson, and every children’s lesson. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16), and we must not be ashamed to preach the gospel. It is possible to know about the gospel and perish. How many people are in hell today who once memorized John 3:16? Sinners need to hear the preaching of the gospel.
The Necessity of the Gospel for Sanctification
Preaching is not one of many things the church does, it’s the central thing the church does. However, it’s essential to define what type of preaching the church should be engaged in. While true biblical preaching is expositional preaching, we must make sure that we’re preaching the gospel and not merely preaching about the gospel. The church still needs the gospel.
No matter how mature, how faithful, and no matter how long people have been following Christ, they still need the gospel. According to Acts 20:32, we need the “Word of his grace” in order to be sanctified. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, and in His high priestly prayer we see that the Word of God is called “truth” and the means by which God’s children are sanctified. Paul likewise described himself as a “minister of Christ Jesus” who is in the “priestly service of the gospel of God” (Rom. 15:16).
Preaching must be the central mark of the authentic church of Jesus Christ, and that type of preaching is gospel preaching. Our aim is not moralism messages so that people will “do better” in life. The goal of biblical preaching is to penetrate the heart so that the gospel will bring about lasting change that results in a life that brings glory to God. That’s why Ephesians 5:26 refers to the bride of Christ being “washed of water with the word” in the process of sanctification and the pursuit of holiness.
Finally, a consistent diet of the gospel not only enables the church to pursue holiness, but it enables the church to know the gospel and share it (out of a growth in grace) as is commanded by Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). That’s why Timothy Raymond suggests that every sermon should contain one concise explanation of the gospel. The church needs the gospel, and it’s vital for her ministers to actually preach the gospel as opposed to preaching about the gospel.
It’s one thing to know who Mickey Mantle was and that Nolan Ryan is the all-time strikeout leader, but it’s quite a different thing to actually know the game of baseball. The same thing is true regarding the gospel. It’s possible to know about Jesus without knowing Him. Martyn Lloyd-Jones addresses this important point in his excellent book, Preaching and Preachers:
The business of the preacher is not to present the Gospel academically. This again is done frequently. The preacher can analyse it and show its parts and portions, and show how excellent it is; but still he is saying things about the Gospel, whereas we are called to preach the Gospel, to convey it, and to bring it directly to the individuals who are listening to us, and to bring it to the whole man. 
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 40th Ann. Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 79.