The imagery includes trumpets, weapons, battle cries, soldiers, enlistment, the enemy and strongholds. Paul’s mind so often returns to the imagery of war. The world will soon demonstrate that the strongest thread that holds together a quickly unraveling society is opposition to God. In one last futile attempt, the world will unite to overthrow God. Down through the centuries, God has mobilized His forces and taken the offensive. As the immortal John Bunyan pictures it in “The Holy War,” reaching souls with the gospel is a battle. God’s foot soldiers declare His message. God uses the gospel to liberate the lost.
The hour is late and the enemy deploys his defenses with practiced skill. If not liberated, sinners will soon be crushed when heaven finally moves to end the long rebellion. There is no need to panic, but we do need constant reminders of the serious issues involved and of the enemy’s devices. This is not the time for posturing. This is not the time for flowery sermons, for catering to the fancies of the listeners, for tailoring the message to the cut of current thinking nor for altering the dynamic power of the mighty arsenal entrusted to us. Preaching the gospel is not the stunning display of spectacular fireworks; it unleashes the power of eternal truth that alone can liberate from the bondage of sin.
Confronting Man’s Thinking
Paul capsuled the message as “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:22). Paul develops the doctrines of the gospel in Romans; he evidently thinks in clear terms of “man’s ruin and God’s remedy.” Listen again to the evangelical messages in Acts and find that all the preaching blends these two great themes. That is the main point: the blending suits the need of the listeners. Paul did not go to Athens and select message 199 from his mental file. He did not choose the latest message that had been used in the salvation of others. He did not rely on his “favorite opener.” Paul knew his listeners. He preached to people. With changeless truth, he confronted the need of the Areopagite. He found the most effective way to communicate God’s message; he was not confrontational. He quoted an inscription that proved their panoply of gods was inadequate. By citing their poet, he met them where they were and moved them in the direction of Truth. Eventually, though, his message was without value if it did not confront. their thinking. “God now commandeth all men everywhere to” change their thinking. If our gospel does not confront current thinking, it is merely fireworks.
Let us disabuse our minds of the thought of popular acceptance. Preached in the power of the Spirit, the gospel has drawing power. Preached with heart-stirring conviction, it has appeal. In 1739, religious authorities refused George Whitefield permission to preach in religious buildings. His passion for souls drove him to the hillsides of Kingswood, England. Two hundred heard his first message; two thousand came to his second; soon up to twenty thousand of those miners gathered, while their tears formed white rivers down coal-dusted cheeks. The Spirit may work mightily and many be saved; nevertheless, a Biblical presentation of the gospel cannot be popular with the world. Current evangelical thought will not applaud plain gospel preaching. Robert Schuller, well-known apostle of “feel-good” preaching, sways his thousands with statements like this: “I don’t think that anything has been done in the Name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality, and hence counterproductive to the evangelical enterprise, than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”
I wonder if the greatest failing of our regular “Sunday night gospel preaching” is the lack of a penetrating, relevant presentation of man’s lost and sinful condition. Generally, those who hear the gospel most seem weakest in their conviction of this truth. Christians’ children need to hear that sinners are “without strength;” visitors need to hear that all are “guilty before God;” all need the constant reminder that Adam’s posterity by nature is “lost.” The greatest resistance of the human heart against the gospel is at this very point. This is where the forces need to be massed.
Addressing Present Needs
Three other fronts where the enemy has concentrated his forces need attention. Even evangelicals are assisting the enemy in discounting the truth of eternal, conscious punishment. Ignorance of the Word of God and distrust of the authority of the inspired Volume are widespread. Consequently, the revealed God of the Bible has been culturally adjusted to a politically correct god.
As a result, our preaching needs to emphasize to a heathen society the existence, nature, and character of God. Evangelical circles have skewed the nature of God away from “God is light” toward “God is love.” Listeners must understand the kind of God for whom the preacher speaks. All that is revealed is our responsibility. What we know of God will define our preaching. May we know Him more deeply! Those who hear the gospel should be convinced that to the speaker, God is personal, appreciated, and revered.
Secondly, our preaching should frequently affirm the total reliability and authority of Scripture. Insist on verbal inspiration, reminding listeners that God has kept His promises exactly. Support our presentation of truth by its statements, demonstrating its relevance by borrowing from its illustrations and handling it accurately and reverently. This will not only give weight to the preaching but will effectively confront current thinking. At the same time, our references to the Word of God should be clear, since many listeners know practically nothing about the Bible and may only recognize a quotation because it is in King James English.
God forbid that we should preach about hell for effect! Nevertheless, with an evident compassion, we must warn listeners of “judgment to come.” The less men believe in its reality, the more we need to emphasize it. Emotional manipulation, illogical statements, and reckless sensationalism have no place in such preaching. Stick to Scripture. Not only do sinners need warnings of “everlasting fire,” but also they need clear emphasis on God’s righteousness in judgment because of the grievousness of sin against Him. Rather than half apologizing for eternal punishment, the preacher needs to affirm the righteousness of eternal suffering because of man’s incorrigible nature and because of the offensiveness of arrogant sin to a holy God.
Our Lord is always the model for our service. Observing His dealings with the unconverted makes a clear point. He gave the greatest emphasis to removing obstacles that shielded sinners from acknowledging their spiritual need – effecting “repentance toward God.” With Nicodemus, 11 verses recount the Lord’s emphasis on man’s ruin; at most, 5 verses present God’s remedy. With the Samaritan woman, all but his last statement was devoted to removing obstacles to her admission of need, bringing her to repentance. All the Lord’s encounters follow the same pattern.
Preaching God’s Remedy
Thank God, we have the unspeakable privilege of presenting to a perishing world God’s remedy and the truth of “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ!” As the Spirit of God convicts of sin and removes barriers through the preaching of the gospel, what a joy to pour into hearts the gospel of Christ! Throughout the preaching, frequent references to our Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection breathe warmth, charm, vigor and life into the message. Moving along the avenues of salvation truths such as justification, reconciliation, forgiveness, redemption, and propitiation, the preacher leads the sinner to Christ. Every need of the sinner is singularly and solely met by the Christ. Whose sacrifice at Calvary is the heart of God’s gospel. From a full heart, preach Christ. Tell of that God-glorifying death, that resurrection-at-tested payment that Biblically-affirmed remedy. Sinful nature chooses independence of God and therefore prefers self-reliance. Being naturally convinced of his capability to do what is necessary and expecting salvation to center in himself, a sinner fastens on his responsibility – believing. Rather than emphasizing man’s responsibility, keep Christ and the value of His sacrifice in the foreground of the preaching. Present for the faith of the hearer a living Christ who is “mighty to save.”
If Christ is not the theme of our message, we have no gospel. If listeners do not know their deep spiritual need, they have no ears to hear that gospel. In the din of the battle, let the trumpet give a clear sound. As the Spirit of God mobilizes us against the stronghold of sin and Satan’s power, let us faithfully declare God’s message. “The gospel of Christ” is still the dynamic “power of God unto salvation.”