Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Gospel-Centered Preaching Does

This is from a message I received yesterday from a lady in our church:
I love having the Gospel preached every week. I've been a Christian for over 30 years now (wow! that's really long), and thought I understood it. And head-wise, I do. But I feel like this is the first time it's ever been presented in such a way as to really become life changing.

I've been receiving variations of this in response to preaching (and to my blogging!) for quite a while. And I am privileged enough to see in my congregation that these aren't mere words. People are showing the fruit of freedom, from a new light in their eyes to new lifestyles. But this message yesterday is just another needed reminder that the gospel is good news, not good advice, and that the gospel actually creates what the Law requires. The Law can't do that for itself.

Over at the Evangel blog today, I posted this:

Talking about how the gospel and the law relate to sanctification is no mere intellectual exercise for me. It’s not just one more idea for the blog. It made the difference between the crushing weight of my own sinful failure and the freedom that comes from tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. This is a real freedom, a freedom that makes “good works” a celebratory dance, not a day-laborers’ accumulation of sanctifying sweat equity. That way leads to burn out and bitterness. “Do not again return to a yoke of slavery,” Paul practically yells at us (in Galatians 5:1) . . .

It is counterintuitive, but wakefulness to the reality that the work is done makes us work more and harder. The gospel creates what the Law requires. And when we approach the notion of sanctification from the angle of “How much reminding of the spiritual homework can we do?” we miss the point entirely. It is often because we do not trust the proclamation to be effectual, and we do not really believe that the gospel is power in itself, that it bears fruit of itself.

In the comments there, a fellow (I think) agreed with the post but said the challenge is now then to get people to dance. I think we meet this challenge, though, not by telling them to dance, but by playing the music. That's what gospel-centered preaching is. Playing the great song of salvation and trusting it has the power to make people dance, as only the greatest of songs can.


jason said...

"But this is another needed reminder that the gospel is good news, not good advice, and that the gospel actually creates what the Law requires."

Awesome. :)

co_heir said...

I wonder if folks don't dance because we've been playing the wrong music for so long.

Spike said...

Great post. It points out to me that though we keep playing the song, it is God that will let it be music in His time.

Brian said...


Been following the comments over at Evangel. I have to say that the good works = celebratory dance metaphor is one of the best I've heard in a while. It seems that so often we approach sanctification as attempting to gain something that Christ has already gained for us.

I left this same quote on I-Monk's "Portable Christian" post but it is so appropriate that I have to leave it here as well. It's from Tozer's "Pursuit of God" where he is talking about faith :

"Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves--blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.

Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be, and is perilously close to the sin of Lucifer who said, 'I will set my throne above the throne of God.' Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line.

All this may seem too simple. But we have no apology to make. To those who would seek to climb into heaven after help or descend into hell God says, 'The word is nigh thee, even in the word of faith.' The word induces us to lift up our eyes unto the Lord and the blessed work of faith begins."

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Good post. It fascinates me, and depresses me, how often preaching amounts to telling people to dance without playing the music. In fact it often seems that many preachers believe that simply telling people they should dance is the same as playing the music.

CheezeWhiz said...

I'm glad I found this site. My church leadership has recently discovered the church growth movement. Until a short time ago, I never even realized there was an underlying philosophy behind this "movement." I just thought some churches got bigger.
I've done a lot of study on this "movement" in the last months and am aghast. The manipulations and abandonment of the gospel are dismaying.
It is distressing to find our pastor's sermons no longer original after study and prayer, but a series you can find online in various forms, complete with video clips and materials.
The total utilitarian dynamic is also distressing, watching older Christians shoved aside because they don't quite fit in with the "brand."
Anyway, I was afraid this trend was so momentous that there was no hope of any other direction, and then I came upon this site. Thanks for the encouraging outlook

Jayce said...

I think the analogy is apt, because not everyone dances to the same music the same way. That's the beauty of the music of the gospel - it allows for such a multitudes of dances that it would seem so incorrect if we would reduce the flexibility and power of the music to merely one form of dance...

Jayce said...

I need to add something else from a quote from the comments I saw:

"I think Jared’s analogy, as he originally made it, is a great one: the Gospel should cause us to do the right thing in the same way music causes us to dance. But the Christian life is not merely a mosh pit, is it? or some kind of ultra-hip jazz bar where we just smoke and nod to the divine improv?

This is, ultimately, where the church comes in, and how our lives will therefore be lived."

There's something not right with this, which bothers me.

There is definitely cohesiveness in the Gospel among the community that calls itself the Church. But the Gospel is also incredibly unpredictable as to what it does to each person.

What's wrong if the Gospel resembles a mosh pit to some?

What's wrong if the Gospel resembles a Jazz bar to others?

And what of it if sometime in between that Jazz bar becomes a mosh pit, and the mosh pit becomes a classical ball?

The fact is that there is cohesiveness that makes it the Church because they are all dancing to the same music. They are all moving from the Gospel.

The Church comes in and reproves by saying "I think your dance is slightly off beat to the tune." or "Your dance doesn't flow with the tempo right now." But it shouldn't say "Your genre matches the tune, but it's not my genre, so it's wrong."

Maybe another way of putting it is:

Now the dance is not made up of one part but of many. If Jazz should say "Because I am not hip-hop, I do not belong to the dance," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the dance. And if classical ballet should say "Because I am not a mosh pit, I do not belong to the dance," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the dance. If the whole dance was a mosh pit, where would the sense of classical timing be? If the whole dance was classical ballet, where would the sense of spontaneous passion be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the dance, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one style, where would the dance be? As it is, there are many styles, but one dance.

You get the picture, I think.

mannaword said...

I have been using the analogy of "dance" in reference to obedience for some time and am delighted to find it here. As we proclaim the true gospel of freedom in grace, we will hear Him (our Lord Jesus Christ) say "May I have this dance?" He alone knows the steps -- but as we proclaim in Him by Him and through Him, His music is heard and so is He.

Mike said...

I, too, have been following the comments at Evangel, and I also love the metaphor. Not to be nit-picky, but I like to think that we don't play the song, but point to the song, reminding people that the music is playing, and teaching them how to hear it. Witnesses to the song, proclaiming its reality, if you will.

Raymond said...


I have enjoyed your blog for several months now and first things first, I wanted to thank you for your ongoing work. Christ has used you and your perspective in my life as part of what He is teaching me. Many thanks :)

The "Gospel as music which leads the dance" is a great metaphor, and one that grabs me very hard. My wife and I have danced socially (primarily swing and it's derivatives) for several years and have taught some of the basics of social partner dance.

To place this metaphor into the realm of the concrete, what happens without Gospel-centered preaching, I think, goes a little bit like this...

We will teach you to dance by telling you things about your Partner.

We will teach you a little "footwork" and urge you to practice it... a lot.

We will count out the beats and tell you a lot of information about the music.

But then we never actually put you together with your partner so you can feel what his lead feels like. We never let you practice your footwork while being led through the dance. And we never turned on the music.

If you taught an actual dance class that way, you would have dancers who couldn't follow anyone, would know a little technique but would be unable to practically use it, and wouldn't feel the music in any way that would allow them to actually get on a floor and dance.

Thanks for playing the music, brother. His yoke is easy and burden light, but so is His lead.