By Mike Willis
Everyone is agreed that men must preach Christ. Paul spoke of the need for men to preach Christ when he said,
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:27-28).
Other passages emphasize the same need to preach Christ and him crucified.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14).
Indeed, our message must focus on Christ. To preach any message without relating it to Christ is misguided, despite its best intentions. The theme of Christianity is focused on a person — not merely a doctrine, a theory, a book, an institution, a code of morals, or a system of philosophy. Preaching any of these things without relating them to Christ is a mistake.
That Christ was central to the first century message is evident from the sermons preached. On Pentecost, Peter began and ended with Christ (Acts 2:22-23, 36). Before the Sanhedrin, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Regardless of where the message began, it always ended at Christ. Here is the heart of the gospel in a nutshell —
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye 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).
What Preaching Christ Does Not Mean
Men are confused on what preaching Christ mean. We begin by looking at what preaching Christ does not mean:
A sickly, shallow sentimentalism which merely says, “Come to Jesus! Come to Jesus!” There is a great deal of this kind of preaching today. It never explains how to come to Jesus nor explains what it means for one to come to Jesus. This message conveys practically nothing of the gospel.
An absence of doctrinal preaching. This is the kind of preaching that some have in mind when they say: (a) Don’t preach doctrine; (b) Don’t preach on the church; (c) Don’t preach on baptism; (d) Don’t preach on instrumental mu- sic, institutionalism; (e) Don’t preach specifically on the sins attacking holy living.
What Preaching Christ Means
Having noticed what preaching Christ does not mean, let us examine what it means to preach Christ.
It means making Christ the center of all our preaching. Whatever doctrines are preached must be preached as emanating from and authorized by the authority of the risen Lord. Preaching on things without relating them to the authority of Christ and one’s relationship to him leaves one with bare moral codes and theology or philosophy. Abstract truths cannot save anyone. These are the platitudes preached by many self-help gurus. They may help us re-focus some things in our lives in a positive way, but they can never save a soul.
Preaching Christ means preaching the church. A man once said, “I have attended the meetings there for a week, and I have heard that preacher preach on the church for a week, and tomorrow I am going back to hear him preach Christ.” If men preach on the church as it is revealed in the New Testament, Christ will be preached.
The church is the “bride of Christ” (see John 3:29; Rev. 21:9; 22:17). In comparing the husband/wife relationship to Christ and the church, Paul emphasized that the church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-32). Christ and his church are one to such a degree that one who persecutes the church persecutes Christ (Acts 8:1-4; 9:4). The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). How can one separate Christ from his body? The church was purchased by Christ’s blood (Acts 20:28). To try to preach about the church separated from the Christ would result in some kind of religious in- situation, but without the vitality in it that Christ can give.
Preaching Christ means preaching salvation. Some- times when men preach the conditions for salvation through the shed blood of Christ, men accuse them of preaching salvation by works. When Peter told the people on Pentecost what to do to be saved, he was preaching Christ (Acts 2:38). When Philip told the Samaritans how to be added to the kingdom, he was preaching Christ (Acts 8:12-13). To preach baptism without connection to Christ would be foolish, misguided, and wrong. We preach baptism: (a) As a type of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3- 4); (b) As authorized by the authority of Christ (Matt. 28:18); (c) As the means of our coming into fellowship with Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 3:26-27).
Preaching Christ means preaching holiness. In 1 Corinthians, Paul expressed his determination to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Yet, his preaching involved a call to repentance (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 5:1-11). When Paul preached to Felix about righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, he was preaching Christ (Acts 24:25). We preach a holiness that is related to Christ. We should be holy because God the Father and Christ are holy (1 Pet. 1:14-16). We should be holy be- cause our sins grieve the heart of God (Eph. 4:30). We preach a newness of life that comes because of one’s union with Christ (Eph. 4:17-22). We preach a holiness that involves dedicating one’s body as a living sacrifice to Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). Consequently, when we preach on such things as the following, we are preaching Christ: (a) Fornication, adultery, lasciviousness; (b) Bitterness, anger, wrath; (c) Strife, seditions, heresies; (d) Divorce and re- marriage; (e) Gambling; (f) Drunkenness, revelry.
Preaching the unity of the church. We come into a common fellowship in the one body of Christ (Eph. 2:16). If God would not tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church in the first century, we need not think that he will tolerate the religious divisions that presently exist. When we preach unity in the one church, we are preaching Christ. The “one body” is the body of Christ! When we emphasize to men that the grounds of our unity rest on the authority of Christ, we are preaching Christ. To the degree that men preach another gospel, they disturb churches (Gal. 1:6-7). Division comes when men are exalted above Christ (1 Cor. 4:6). When we exalt Christ and his word as the grounds of our unity, we are preaching Christ.
Our Teaching Must Be In All Wisdom (Col. 1:27)
There are some things said about how we are to preach that should be respected.
- It should be done in love (Eph. 4:15).
- It should be done in proportion to how much men are able to hear (Mark 4:33).
- It should be fitted to the condition of the men who are taught (1 Thess. 5:14-15).
We recognize the failures of using poor wisdom in the dissemination of the Christian message. However, one thing needs to be emphasized: “The truth presented in love does not have the ability to drive away honest hearted men.”
The Motive of Our Preaching
The purpose of preaching is simple: “that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).
- Our purpose is not to win a religious argument. We want to save a soul.
- Our purpose is not to show that I am right.
- Our purpose in not to impose some church established code of conduct on men.
Keeping our objective in mind is essential for the gospel message coming across in the spirit of love as it is intended for non-Christians and Christians alike.
Let us always keep Christ the central focus of our preaching. We should not use the adage, “Let’s just preach Christ,” to excuse ourselves from the plain obligation expressed by Paul: “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Because Paul had preached the whole counsel of God, he was able to say, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26). So long as we withhold from men anything they need to hear, we cannot make the same statement.