The fracturing among the Southern Baptist Convention has been quietly building to a crescendo over the past year as the yearly annual convention gathering sits just 3 months away. Convention wide issues – critical race theory & racism, Beth Moore leaving the convention, JD Greear’s SBC leadership – are gaining steam in social media circles like Twitter.
Let me briefly express my sadness on all three points of this discussion. It saddens that my black brothers and sisters in Christ are lamenting the racist state and heritage of the convention. Yet, there are some who simply dismiss the claim as a non-gospel issue. It breaks my heart to know that a woman like Beth Moore – who has had a gospel impact on par with any leader in the SBC in the past 20 years – feels like she does not have a place in the convention because of the barrage of criticism she’s faced in recent years. I cringe to see SBC JD Greear criticized for not focusing on the gospel, even as the convention’s missions efforts continue to stretch globally while his church, Summit Church, continues to be a national leader is church planting.
In the midst of these contentious disagreements that we see the gospel is the only answer. Christ in the flesh, crucified and then resurrected in power is the hope of the world. It is the message of hope for a world in desperate need of it. The gospel of Jesus gives us new life to walk in and to live out – and that is precisely the point where these church-wide fractures begin.
When moments of theological disagreement arise, it is not remotely helpful to retort, “just preach the gospel.” That phrase only cheapens the gospel by confining to a conversion experience with regard to little else. Gospel preaching leads man to the Cross of Christ to accept Jesus as Savior but it also teaches the believer how to live a life with Jesus as Lord. The gospel unites the church of God when wolves swoop in to divide. The cries to “just preach the gospel” mean for preaching to stop with an empty tomb but that is not where the resurrected Christ stopped. The resurrection of the Son of God sparked the mission of the New Testament church – a mission that placed it in the midst of a world that hated it.
The “just preach the gospel” crowd are missing the mission of God and here are three reasons why:
Gospel preaching is full of “therefore”
Gospel preaching does not stop at the message of the Cross or conversion of the lost. The gospel of God calls a lost man out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) but it is also the gospel of God that informs the way that we live and love so that we may “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (1 Peter 2:11) and so that the world “may see your good deeds.” (1 Peter 2:12) Gospel preaching sees its center at the crucifixion but it extends to teach the believer how to live in light of that sacrifice.
In both the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament writers there is a call to repent and rest in the promise of the Messiah:
“When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’” ~ John 13:31-33
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” ~ Titus 3:4-7
In both sections of Scripture, we see the authority and the gospel of Jesus laid out but in both cases there is more than teaching on the authority of Christ or His adoption of us. Gospel teaching also carries with it a response of obedience to carry out:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:34-35
“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” ~ Titus 3:8-9
Both Jesus and Paul are calling people to do something with the faith that they have. Gospel preaching without a call to action is simply not Christ honoring preaching. A faith that is not moved to action is one that is dead and lifeless. (James 2:17) To be good at orthodoxy (believing rightly) without being good at orthopraxy (living rightly) is to equate oneself with the Pharisees – a pretty looking tomb full of the bones of a spiritually dead person.
2) Gospel preaching exposes the dark corners of man’s heart
The light of the gospel of Christ shines into the dark hearts of man. Faithful gospel preaching is going to expose the sin and unbiblical assumptions of even “good” men. The church at Corinth had to be dealt with over their abuse of the Lord’s Supper as a parade of gluttony. James wrote to the dispersed church to deal with them over their preferential treatment of the rich in their congregation. Gospel preaching does, in fact, deal with the sin in the church so that the church of Christ will look more like Him and less like the world.
In our day, sermons ought to deal with racism, nationalism, consumerism and abuse of the vulnerable. These are gospel issues because these all deal with image bearers and obedience to a gospel giving God. Sermons aimed at these issues are still gospel sermons because these are culture fueled idols that stand tall in the hearts of the men of our day. Often these sermons are kicked against the most because they deal with the sins that we have accommodated in our hearts for years, if not generations. The light of the gospel will bring about opportunities to repent years into our trusting Jesus as Lord.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” ~ 1 John 1:7-10
Sin is crouching inside the hearts of all people. To say that we have been freed from the presence of all sin is to make the Savior who died to redeem our sin a liar. It is OK to have sin exposed because Christ Jesus will forgive you. He saved you when you hated Him (Rom 5:10), so He will most certainly forgive and adopted son or daughter of long standing sin.
3) Gospel living is hard
The day to day living out of gospel faith is a very difficult journey. Life is full of brokenness and trial. People are incredibly hard to deal with. I find myself to be my own worst enemy more often than not. At every turn there is another difficult choice for me to have to navigate. To top it all off, there are teachings of Jesus that are incredibly hard to fathom, much less live out:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” ~ Matthew 5:29
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” ~ Luke 9:23
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~ Matthew 5:44
“if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:15
I fail as a disciple a lot. I need every bit of encouragement and instruction that I can get because I know how willing my inner man is and how my outer man is going to drag me towards failure and sin. The heart of man is feeble but the grace of God is the sustaining foundation of my life. I need the gospel of grace preached to me but I also need the steps to walk that faith out.
Gospel preaching takes hold the message of Jesus as Savior but it also lays out how we live out Lordship in our lives in practical ways. To exclude one without the other is to adopt an unbiblical faith. Gospel preaching will expose the dark corners of man’s heart – even painfully so but it is that same grace-filled gospel that offers healing and forgiveness.
The only hope of church unity we have is in the gospel of the only perfect man to grace the earth – Christ. Our one way to move forward in hope is to have the same mind that we have in Christ. It is a mind that does not look out for what we need but it looks to what others need. It is an example seen in the Son of God who became a servant and was murdered for a race of people who daily disobeyed Him. Our example is a Savior who followed the will of the Father in spite of the rebellious people he came to save.
There’s grace in gospel preaching. There’s application in gospel preaching. There’s mission in gospel preaching.
Now…let’s go and love. Go and tell.