Center your preaching on Spurgeon’s 3 R’s
Spurgeon called the 3 R’s “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and they draw from three different chapters of Scripture that “deal with the things in the fullest manner:” Genesis 3:14-15 (Ruin), Romans 3:21-26 (Redemption), John 3:1-8 (Regeneration). Why do I think it makes a good preaching or evangelism method? Because each of…
Spurgeon called the 3 R’s “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and they draw from three different chapters of Scripture that “deal with the things in the fullest manner:” Genesis 3:14-15 (Ruin), Romans 3:21-26 (Redemption), John 3:1-8 (Regeneration). Why do I think it makes a good preaching or evangelism method? Because each of Spurgeon’s three words begin with “R,” making it easy to recall. Each text is also a key chapter 3 in the Bible, making the references easy to remember, especially in the nerve-busting throes of personal, face-to-face evangelism. Spurgeon’s three R’s:
Ruin — Genesis 3:14-15
This is what man has done. “How did man get in this miserable condition?” Spurgeon asks. R.C. Sproul frames it another way, and his question is one I get often in Gospel conversations: “Saved from what?” In our post-postmodern culture, even (or perhaps especially) in the Bible Belt, we must begin here. Biblical illiteracy appears to be at an all-time high globally, thus many have ever considered the obvious truth that there is something desperately wrong in our world, though most all agree with its truthfulness.
Beginning here establishes the problem into which God has launched his rescue mission: Man has rebelled against his Maker, has broken his Law, and lives under a curse that will one day experience the white-hot, unmediated wrath of God. But in the second half of verse 15, we hear the faint promise of God’s solution: The seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. The serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring, but this promised one will deal the death blow to the snake, killing him as only one can a serpent: a smashed head. This leads naturally to the good news of God’s rescue mission.
Redemption — Romans 3:21-26
This is what God has done. This is the good news that eclipses the bad news. In the scope of five verses, Paul articulates what some commentators have called the thesis of Romans or the “magna carta” of salvation. In these glorious verses, in a small section of this glorious epistle, Paul establishes: the demands of God’s Law, the futility of works salvation, the Law’s definition of sin, the righteousness of God received by faith in Christ, the reality of justification by faith that is through the redemption of Jesus Christ and His satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. This paragraph contains the entire matrix of the work of Christ — a work he accomplished on the cross and provided full pardon from the guilt of sin for every sinner who believes. It is perhaps the most glorious paragraph in human history.
Regeneration — John 3:1-8
This is what God must do in sinners to enable them to believe. It has the distinction of being perhaps one of the most under-taught doctrines in all of evangelicalism. This is the doctrine of the new birth. Spurgeon, as have Reformed evangelicals through the ages, taught that regeneration precedes faith. In other words, God changes the sinful human heart, sets it free from bondage to sin, and enables it to believe that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth, and the life. Regeneration, like the entire complex of salvation, is a unilateral work of grace.
It was a central theme of Spurgeon’s preaching and evangelism, and it must be foundational to ours as well. The reality of regeneration urges us to call sinners to repentance and faith while we rest in the work of God, who opens blind eyes and unstops deaf ears. It removes the pressure from us and frees us to boldly share the gospel while knowing the results are in the hands of a sovereign, benevolent God. Out of a biblical understanding of regeneration, we may call on sinners to repent and be reconciled to God while leaving the results to him.
We would do well for Spurgeon’s “Three R’s” to serve as a vital bulwark for all our preaching, teaching, and evangelism.
And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make sure these three doctrines find a regular appearance in the diet of biblical exposition for hungry sheep in our congregations.
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He is pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014) and co-editor with D. A. Carson of Coming Home: Essays on the New Heaven and New Earth (Crossway) and 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (Crossway) and 12 Faithful Men (Baker) with Collin Hansen. Jeff and his wife, Lisa, have four children.