Preaching the Gospel
If you listen to preachers on radio, on television and in the pulpits of our land, are you be able to define what preaching the gospel means? Many of the radio and television preachers read excerpts from the Bible—often very brief excerpts—but seldom analyze a scripture. They tell experiences they have had, regale their audiences with entertaining stories, report direct communications they have allegedly received from the Lord and repeat over and over, "praise the Lord”, “thank you, Lord," "hallelujah." They appear in many cases to repeat these phrases because they do not have anything else to say. And how many preachers in our nation deal with the meat of the word? The author of Hebrews severely criticized his readers for needing milk and not strong meat. "For everyone who uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a baby. But strong meat belongs to them who are full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:13-14).
Many preachers and others have gross misconceptions about the true meaning of preaching the gospel. For example, there are preachers who seem to think they must preach primarily the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They base their view on a misunderstanding and misapplication of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I have preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Did Paul mean that preaching the gospel included only or primarily the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? No Bible believer could possibly question the absolute necessity of preaching these great truths. But is that all there is to preaching the gospel? If you have read the epistles by Paul. and by John and by James and the four gospels, you know that the expression, "preaching the gospel," is synonymous with preaching the word, preaching Christ crucified and preaching the whole counsel of God.
The Greek word rendered "preached" (euangelizo) includes both the message and the act of delivery. In his outstanding set of books, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), Dr. A. T. Robertson says the Greek in 1 Corinthians 15:1 means "the gospel which I gospelized unto you" (volume 4, p. 186). We do not use the word "gospelized," but that word helps to bring out the full meaning of the text. Did all the messages Paul preached to the Corinthians belong in the category, "preaching the gospel?" Is it legitimate to say Paul was preaching the gospel when he discussed withdrawing from an erring brother or sexual immorality or going to law with a brother before heathen judges?
The word euangelizo (preaching the gospel) appears five times in Acts 8. Each time the word is translated either "preached" or "preaching." But there is no doubt the message is included in the Greek verb. The early church experienced persecution surrounding the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The persecution scattered the disciples, except the apostles, throughout the regions of Judea and of Samaria. "Therefore they who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to Samaria, and preached Christ unto them" (Acts 8:1, 4-5). Both the word "preaching" in verse 4 and "preached" in verse five come from the Greek word meaning to preach the gospel. It would be somewhat awkward to translate the Greek "preaching the gospel of the word," but the word "preaching" in these verses includes both the act of preaching and the message preached.
Now we must ask what Philip's message was when he preached Christ in Samaria. We do not have a complete record of the sermon, but we know three topics he discussed: things concerning the kingdom of God, the name of Christ and baptism. How can we come to that conclusion? "But when they (that is, the Samaritans) believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). The word "preaching" in this verse means "preaching the gospel." So does preaching the gospel have to include preaching baptism? It did at Samaria. Do we imagine we can improve on the preaching of Christ's apostles and other inspired men? The same word appears three more times in Acts 8. Will you please listen to them? "And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans....Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus....And Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea" (Acts 8:25, 35, 40).
In his great letter to the church of our Lord in Rome, Paul used the Greek euangelizo four times, although in one instance the King James Version translates the Greek "bring glad tidings" (Rom. 10:15). The most familiar use of the expression, "preach the gospel," in Romans is the following: "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians, both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein (that is, in the gospel of Christ) is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:14-17). Incidentally, the expression, "the righteousness of God," does not refer to the obvious fact that God is righteous, but to God's way of making men righteous. It is through our faith in God and our obedience to the gospel that we are saved from our sins and added to the body of Jesus Christ.
If we survey the book of Romans, will we be able to decide what preaching the gospel entails? For example, does preaching the gospel involve informing men of God's wrath against the immoral, the rebellious and the disobedient? "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it unto them" (Rom. 1:18-19). Paul provides a very troubling example of the immorality that characterized Roman society. "Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet" (Rom. 1:24-27). When I speak on the topics outlined in these verses—and I do and will continue to do so—am I preaching the gospel?
The culture surrounding the Lord's church in ancient Rome was saturated with prejudice and bigotry toward those who were different from most people in the population. Many of the Romans had no use for Jews or Christians or Barbarians. Paul made it plain that he intended to preach to all people, regardless of race or nationality or station in life (Rom. 1:14-16). He adds: "For there is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2:11). After arguing that God's plan for saving man is available to all, the apostle Paul stated very succinctly: "For there is no difference" (Rom. 3:22). Was Paul preaching against illegitimate discrimination? When I preach against discrimination based on race or on color or on national origin, am I preaching the gospel? Paul announced his intention to preach the gospel to the Roman Christians. If his preaching the gospel included speaking out against discrimination, when I do the same, am I preaching the gospel? Can I preach the whole counsel of God and fail to condemn prejudice or bigotry?
There are preachers who believe I am not preaching the gospel when I emphasize the absolute necessity of obeying the Lord. For example, some Calvinists argue that man does nothing to receive the forgiveness of sins. God has already done it all. Paul had an entirely different view when he wrote the Roman letter. If obedience is not absolutely essential to our salvation, why does Paul demand obedience of those who would have God's approval? Did you know that Paul uses the expression, "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26)? If our faith does not lead us to obey the Lord, is it not dead faith? "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (Jas. 2:26). Do you believe dead faith can save anyone? James declares: "Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone" (Jas. 2:17). A literal rendering of that verse is very sobering. "Even so faith, if it keeps on not having works, keeps on being dead, because it keeps on being alone."
Paul assured Christians that God "will render to every man according to his works" (Rom. 2:6). He warns those who do not obey the truth of their eternal destiny (Rom. 2:8-9). He then writes: "But glory, honor, and peace, to every man who works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 2:10). Will glory, honor and peace be bestowed on those who fail to work good? If men will be blessed if they do not work good, Paul's language is meaningless. And did not the apostle Paul affirm: "Do you not know, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered to you" (Rom. 6:16-17). Paul wrote: "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our report" (Rom. 10:16)? If we have to obey the gospel, we are not saved by grace alone through faith alone. According to Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, God will take "vengeance on them who do not know God and do not obey the gospel" (2 Thess. 1:8).
Does obeying the gospel necessarily include being baptized in order to have our sins forgiven? If it does not, why did Paul write: "Do you not know, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into this death" (Rom. 6:3)? I had an e-mail a few weeks ago that criticized me for teaching that baptism is essential for our salvation. His argument was: If we have to be baptized to be saved, that would mean that Christ's blood was not sufficient to take away our sins. On the contrary, Christ shed his blood in his death. When we are baptized into the death of Christ, we come into contact with the blood that cleanses us from all sin. The blood of Christ cleanses only those who believe in Christ and obey the Lord in baptism.
But is that really what the book of Romans and other New Testament books teach? "Do you not know, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of God the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together with him in the likeness of his death, we shall also be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:3-6). Paul informs us of the significance of our being buried with the Lord in baptism. "But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17-18). When did the Romans become free from sin and become the servants of righteousness? They became free from sin when they obeyed the form of doctrine that was delivered to them. The form of doctrine was their death to sin, being buried with the Lord in baptism and being raised to walk in newness of life. If they had not been buried with the Lord in baptism, how could they have been raised to walk in newness of life? Paul further explained this truth in his letter to the Colossians. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with him through Faith in the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). Paul knew the Colossians had been buried with our Lord in baptism. "If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set you affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then you shall appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4). Am I preaching the gospel when I tell alien sinners they must be baptized to be forgiven? If you believe what the scriptures teach, you know that is preaching the gospel faithfully
Romans 12 may be the most popular chapter in Paul's great letter to the church at Rome. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). Is it possible to preach the gospel without urging people to give themselves completely to God's service? Paul was encouraging the Roman Christians to do what Jesus Christ taught the Pharisees and the Sadducees to do. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Mt. 22:37-40).
Paul charged the Romans: "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2). hi his outstanding book, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 1948), Richard Trench translates that verse from Romans as follows: "Do not fall in with the fleeting fashions of this world, nor be yourselves fashioned to them, but undergo a deep abiding change by the renewing of your mind" (p. 264).
During my more than sixty years of preaching, I have used whatever ability and influence I have had to warn young and old alike to avoid and to oppose premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, drinking and using other drugs. In the past thirty years I have preached and lectured on abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, suicide and similar bioethical issues. I make great effort to learn what moral issues are confronting our nation—particularly our young people—and then with God's help I use every opportunity I have—both in the pulpit and on radio—to help my listeners know what evils to avoid. I have written a book on many of the moral issues facing our nation. My book has the title, Silence Can Be Sinful (Fayetteville, TN: The International Gospel Hour, 2002). Tragically and inexplicably, many people in our nation, including some preachers, think that discussing moral issues is not preaching the gospel. How sad that some preachers have such a warped and inadequate view of what preaching the gospel means! And I am grateful that they will not be my judges at the end of my life.
There a dozens and dozens of other topics in Romans, in the Corinthian correspondence, in Galatians and throughout the rest of the Bible—all of which can be categorized as preaching the gospel. As my time draws to a close, I shall read a number of verses that relate to our topic. The Greek euangelizo (preaching the gospel) appears in every one of the verses I shall read to you. "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of:: for necessity is laid me; yea, woe is unto me if I do not preach the gospel....What is my reward then? Verily, that, when I preach the gospel of Christ, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16, 18). "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8). "Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, that lives and abides forever....And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:22-23, 25).
I close today with a very simple but pertinent question: Is there any difference between preaching the word, preaching Christ crucified, preaching the whole counsel of God and preaching the gospel?
The International Gospel Hour
P.O. Box 118
Fayetteville, TN 37334