The Centrality of the Gospel

Kevin Hay


In Paul’s first recorded epistle to the church of Corinth, the Apostle was writing to a church plagued by disorder, divisions, and a host of difficulties. To put it mildly, the Corinthian church had major issues. However, as complicated as some of those issues were, their root cause was all the same: they had taken their eyes off the gospel. So, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to put the church in order. He was writing to refocus their attention and to unify them around the gospel. But, of course, to be unified in the gospel, you must begin by getting the gospel right.

This is the fundamental premise of 1 Corinthians 15:1–2. Paul writes,

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

The gospel is not just another message. It is not a fable or some mythological tale, but rather it is the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor 1:18). The gospel is the good news of who God is and what he has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ. And therefore, it is this good news that all healthy churches are anchored to and empowered by.

Healthy Churches Know the Gospel

Paul begins by calling the church to remember the gospel. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel…” (v. 1a). So, what is the gospel? Paul proceeds to tell them in verses 3–4:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Therefore, at its most fundamental level, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the saving message of Jesus’s substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. And what does Paul say testifies to this reality? It is the sound doctrine which has been revealed to us by God in the Scriptures.

Too often, churches become distracted by secondary matters. Even with good intentions, their ecclesiastical eyes become preoccupied by peripheral issues. However, Paul makes it clear that the primary focus of every healthy church must be the gospel.

Healthy Churches Proclaim the Gospel

The pattern Paul puts forth, then, is one that both the Corinthian church and every other church should follow. Just as Paul proclaimed this gospel to them, they should be a people who proclaim this message to others. There are two specific verbs that are important to note from the text. Looking first at the beginning of verse three, Paul says, “For I delivered to you…”

So, notice that this is not a message Paul invented. This is a message that was authored by God. Paul is simply being faithful to convey it accurately. Therefore, delivering is a matter of stewardship. This, too, is the job of the church. The church has not been called to be innovative. We have simply been called to be faithful. So how do we do that?

Well, that leads us back to Paul’s reminder in verse 1: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.” This is a word that means “to herald” specifically good news. It is also the origin of our English word, “evangelize.”

Thus, the role of preaching is like that of the medieval town crier. Before the days of newspapers or modern media, it was the job of the town crier to stand up among the citizens of the town square and proclaim the news given to him by the king. It was the town crier’s job to deliver the news of victorious military battles, royal decrees, and the like. And yet, the church has been called to herald the greatest news ever known to man.

However, instead of serving faithfully as the town crier, churches today often prefer to act as the court jester, entertaining the city guests and telling jokes and stories to the townspeople. Rather than delivering the good news from the king, many churches today have abandoned their primary calling. In hopes of gathering a crowd to keep them coming back for more, many have replaced evangelism with entertainment, all the while neglecting to tell the citizenry about their lost condition and the only hope for eternal life.

In contrast, a healthy church is no fool. Healthy churches desire to obey their king. Rather than alter the message or abdicate their calling, healthy churches faithfully proclaim the gospel.

Healthy Churches Receive the Gospel

Knowing and proclaiming the gospel are both vital to the calling God has given the church. But Paul provides another aspect of the gospel’s centrality as well. He goes on in verse 1 to say, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received…

Several years ago, I was involved in an evangelistic ministry and was passing out gospel tracts one evening with some friends. I walked up to a man and reached out my hand to give him a gospel tract and said, “Hi, sir. Did you get one of these?” I’ll never forget his response. He turned to look at me, with a smug expression on his face, and said, “Son, I’m a pastor of a church,” and then he simply turned and walked away.

And yet, spiritually healthy pastors and churches recognize that they perpetually need the gospel. Yes, we receive the gospel when we are saved, but the good news is not just a message for salvation. It is also the message we must continually receive and turn to for our sanctification as well. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Therefore, as Christians and churches, we need to hear the gospel every day of our lives, because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based upon what we do for God, but upon what Christ did for us in his sinless life, sin-bearing death, and death-conquering resurrection. Healthy churches recognize their continuous need to hear, recite, preach, and receive the gospel.

Healthy Churches are Established in the Gospel

Considering the specific context of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s goal is to help the church understand that the same resurrection power of Christ, in the gospel, is the power by which they are established and upon which they find their foundation as the body of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…”

For both the individual believer and the church, the gospel is like an anchor for a ship in a stormy sea. The wind may attempt to rock the boat, and it may feel the effects of the storm, but the anchor will hold the ship steadfastly in place. It is like the foundation upon which an entire house is built.

The church may accomplish many great things in the world: ministries of mercy, benevolence, outreach, etc., but they all must take place from, through, upon, and for the purpose of the gospel. This is the difference between biblical churches and social clubs. This is the difference between churches that spiritually thrive and those that barely survive. Churches that are thriving spiritually are doing so because the power of the gospel is pumping through their proverbial veins. There is no mistaking where they stand, why they exist, or what they believe. They don’t waste time disagreeing on fundamental matters. They are already firmly established in the foundational doctrines of God’s Word, and they are now actively carrying out the work of the ministry.

Therefore, everything a church does flows from its commitment to the gospel. Whether its preaching, counseling, discipleship, music, or missions, it all must take place upon the centrality of the gospel. Simultaneously, the gospel doesn’t just drive the ministries of a healthy church; it also permeates the daily living of its members; everything from their priorities to their relationships. So, a healthy church is only gospel-driven when it is truly gospel-centered.

Healthy Churches Cling to the Gospel

Without question, the gospel is the message by which we have been saved, will be saved, and are being saved. Yet, as Paul indicates in verse two of the text, true believers and genuine churches are those who hold fast to the word, or the gospel, that was preached to them: “…and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” The alternative, of course, is a people who do not hold fast to the gospel, which reveals that their faith was never genuine to begin with.

So, healthy churches don’t just use the gospel as a tool they have been given. They don’t think or talk about the gospel like it is merely an addition to their lives. But rather, they cling to it, with every ounce of their collective being, because they know that without it, they are both hopeless and helpless. But with it, they know that they have the very power of God, himself, working in them and through them, for their good and his glory.

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Kevin Hay

Pastor Redeemer Bible Church, Gilbert, Arizona

Kevin Hay serves as one of the pastors of Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona. He is a DMin student in Expository Preaching at The Master’s Seminary and is the editor of the book Assurance: Our Confidence in Christ by Thomas Goodwin. Kevin and his wife, Alicia, have eight children: McKenna, Landon, Meela, Madison, Liam, Levi, Mariah, and Maylee.