If you want your church to be more like Christ, preach the gospel
Preach Christ in all of Scripture, because only by seeing him will we become like him — the purpose for which we were created and redeemed.
Q: Why is it necessary to preach Christ in every sermon?
A: Because without seeing Christ, we will not become like him.
When asked to give an answer for why preaching Christ is necessary, there are many biblical answers I could give. Because:
● This is how the apostles preached in Acts.
● The Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit to lead us to Christ.
● The Father wants to glorify the Son in redemptive history and revelation.
● Scripture teaches us how all creation and redemption center on Christ.
Still, to my thinking the most powerful reason for preaching Christ, is the transformative effect of seeing Christ. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it,
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
We become like what we behold
In conjunction with the truth that we become like what we behold (see Ps. 115:8; 135:18), this verse teaches us that when we “see” Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5–6) in his beauty and glory, his humility and love, we will become like him. However, when we read Scripture without seeing Christ, or worse, if we read Scripture with an intention of not seeing how every passage relates to him, then we will grow in knowledge of the Bible but without growing our affections for Christ. Ever wonder how men and women who know the Bible could be so arrogant or divisive? Might it be due to reading Scripture, without falling in love with Christ?
Indeed, this is why we have the Bible—to know the triune God through the full and final revelation of Christ (see Heb. 1:1–2:4). And when led by the Spirit, such knowing comes with the stirring of affections. And with those affections, our hearts are enlarged for God through our loving trust in Christ. Then, as a result, our lives are transformed from one degree of glory to another.
For me, this is why preaching Christ is not exercise in erudition, but a necessary part of faithful exposition—showing how the whole Bible comes together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). And thankfully, this approach to Christ is not novel. Indeed, it is the way many in the church has approached Christ in Scripture. For instance, in reading Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) recently, I came across his own passion for seeing Christ.
Meditating on Matthew 12:18, which quotes Isaiah 42:1, he explains the relationship of these two passages and how seeing Christ is necessarily transformative:
“The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding. If we look upon him with the eye of faith, it will us like Christ; for the gospel is a mirror, and such a mirror, that when we look into it, and see ourselves interested in it, we are changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ. For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ, but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it as God doth, who hated so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God [and] man. So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy. When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving for us, this will transform us to love God. When we see the humility and obedience of Christ, when we look on Christ as God’s chosen servant in all this, and as our surety and head, it transforms us to the like humility obedience. Those that find not their dispositions in some comfortable measure wrought to this blessed transformation, they have not yet those eyes that the Holy Ghost requireth here. ‘Behold my servant whom chosen, my beloved in whom my soul delighteth,’”
Glorious! To see Christ, as revealed in Scripture by the Spirit, is to become like him.
Preach the whole Christ
So, if you preach the Bible, make sure you preach Christ—in his humility and exaltation, his cross and resurrection, his deity and humanity, as Creator and Redeemer, as Son of God and God the Son, as the way to the Father, and as the sender (with the Father) of the Spirit, the head of the church, and the Lord of the nations. Indeed, as Sibbes observes, it is only by seeing Christ that we will be become like him. And thus preachers (and all Christians) must pray and seek and desire to see Christ from all the Scriptures; we must learn how to read all of Scripture to see Christ.
And why is that so important? Because only by seeing him will we become like him—the purpose for which we were created and redeemed. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Reformed in our thinking. Conformed in our living. Transformed in our affections. This is what happens when we see Christ, and thus we must endeavor to behold him from all the Scriptures.
Recommended reading on Christ-centered preaching
- Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell.
- Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures by Dennis E. Johnson.
- The Christ-Centered Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Classic Sermons for the Church Today, edited by Elizabeth Catherwood and Christopher Catherwood.
- Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney.
- The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, the Gospel in Revelation by Graeme Goldsworthy.
- Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method by Sidney Greidanus. See also Greidanus’ series on preaching Christ from various OT books such as Preaching Christ from Psalms and Preaching Christ in Genesis among several others.
- Free resource on expository preaching: Essential Reading on Preaching from Southern Equip.