Blog, Marks of a good sermon

Marks of a good sermon: Gospel centered

As we continue the series of what you should look for in a good sermon, a second standard to look for is how much the teacher talks about the gospel. Two aspects of gospel centered preaching is that it contains the elements of the gospel itself, and that it ties the passage of Scripture to the overall narrative of salvation through the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

1. What do you mean by gospel centered?

Simply put, the gospel is the good new about salvation in Jesus alone. Greg Gilbert’s book “What is the Gospel?” has a helpful outline of the gospel: God, Man, Christ, Response. God is holy or perfect. Man is sinful and does wrong things. That sin separates us from God. Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, was born as a human and lived a perfect life. He died for our sin on the cross and rose from the dead conquering death, our enemy. To be saved, we must respond with repentance-turning from our sin, and faith- believing that Jesus died and rose again. For a sermon to be gospel centered, the entire structure and focus must have the gospel in view. This can take on varied forms where you focus more on one of these elements or mention them all but if none of these are mentioned or they are only mentioned in passing or at the end, the teaching is likely centered on something other than the gospel.

2. Do they focus on the basic elements of the gospel?

Do they talk about grace?

If you have been a Christian very long you should have at least a basic understanding that salvation is by grace through faith. We can’t work for our salvation, it’s a gift of God. Often we forget that we are sanctified, or changed to become more like Christ, by this same working of grace. We do have things to do, but the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives isn’t just what saves us. It’s also what sanctifies us.

If a sermon is gospel centered, it will continue to drive home the fact that you must depend on God and His grace and work in your life to see any lasting change. So do you walk away from the sermon thinking that you need to try harder or do more? If so, it may not be gospel centered. You should walk away from a sermon thinking that you need to live in increasing knowledge and fellowship with God so that He can change you and live through you in a way that more glorifies Him. The focus of application should be God’s work in us, not our work for God.

Do they talk about sin and repentance?

A big part of the gospel is the fact that we are sinners in need of God’s grace. We do things wrong. We’re not really great and God loves us, not because of how awesome we are but because of how awesome He is. Any sermon should recognize that we mess up and need to confess and repent of our sin. We need to tell God we know what we did is wrong and that we need His help not to do it anymore.

Do they talk about how God is different than us?

If we are centered on the gospel, we need to understand that the genesis of this good news is God. So we should naturally be talking about God and how great He is. A gospel centered sermon will talk about how God is different than us. He is perfect and we aren’t. He started the plan of salvation and will finish it. Though Jesus took on human form like we have, He was still God and unique from every other human. A gospel centered sermon won’t bring God down to our level, but will inspire greater awe of our Father.

Could you understand how to be saved by listening to the sermon?

I believe every sermon should include the basic gospel or how to be saved. The preacher should mention the death and resurrection of Jesus. If this is the very heart of the gospel, how can you have a gospel centered sermon and not mention it? If a non-believer listened to the sermon, could they become a Christian based on what the teacher shared? This is another mark of being gospel centered.

3. Do they tie the passage to the story of redemptive history?

This is an often overlooked part of preaching and teaching, though it seems to be rising in popularity and focus. The running story of the Bible is the story of how God orchestrated all of history to save His people. Every part of the Bible points to this good news. This is the central theme that is focused on a central figure, Jesus. Thanks to the rise of expository preaching, it is much more common for a sermon to be biblical or focused on a specific passage of Scripture. As we push to a higher standard, the teacher should also take a higher view and show how the specific text relates to the context of the narrative of Scripture. In the Old Testament history of Israel, we see God separating a people for Himself from which the Messiah will come. In books of prophecy, we see how they looked forward to a coming Messiah and distinguished identifying marks to look for. In the wisdom literature, we see the source of all true wisdom and God’s wisdom in His plan for salvation. In the gospels we see that finally the long awaited Messiah is here and fulfills everything the Old Testament said He would. In the rest of the New Testament we see the origins of Jesus’ church, which is His plan to spread news about Him to the whole world. And as the Bible comes to a close, we get a glimpse into the future, where all of redemptive history culminates in judgment and Jesus’ eternal rule.

For me, a defining mark of a good sermon is how gospel-centered it is. I find it especially good, if it can draw me into the grand story of redemption. If that is the main focus of the Bible, shouldn’t it be a main focus in our teaching too?

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