What Do You Listen For?

I just downloaded a great chapter (from Justin Taylor’s blog) from the soon-to-be-published book, Preaching the Cross by C. J. Mahaney (Crossway Books). The chapter is entitled, “The Pastor’s Priorities: Watch Your Life and Doctrine.” It touches on my favorite nerve. That’s my “Christ-centeredness” nerve.

I don’t know about you, but I go to church to hear the Law competently applied to my life so that it may reveal to me just what a violator of it that I am, which serves only as a setup for the point for which corporate worship was established, to hear that the Lord Jesus Christ has provided all that God the Father demands, on which the first man, Adam, and this man, John Chitty, have failed to deliver: Jesus Christ obeyed God’s Law perfectly and earned eternal life, then he offered himself up to receive the consequences of that which I do deserve . . . death! But that’s not all! Jesus didn’t remain dead, he rose on the third day, God thereby testifying that Jesus is his Son and that sinners are redeemed! My death is conquered in his, and his super-abounding life and grace now reign forever! Therefore, to bring things full circle, I desire to renew my faith in that Christ and renew my repentance from my sin, seeking to obey now, not out of a desire to earn anything (for I will continue to fall short, even in my obedience), but to gratefully render glory and honor and praise to my Savior.

That’s what I go to church to hear.

What do you go to church to hear?

Pastor C. J. Mahaney wrote a great exhortation to pastors in Preaching the Cross, pointing out to them that this is job number one. I want to share it with you so that you, too, can know what to expect along with me.
“As we watch our doctrine, we must never forget that which is central to our doctrine: the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you fail to keep the gospel at the core of your life and ministry, you have ceased to watch your doctrine closely. ‘The preachers’ commission,’ writes J. I. Packer, ‘is to declare the whole counsel of God; but the cross is the center of that counsel, and the Puritans knew that the traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary’ (J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 286.)

“In all our preaching, we must never lose sight of the hill called Calvary, where the Son of Man was killed in our place. Regardless of the text or topic at hand, there must be some view of Calvary in every sermon. Your congregation should experience the amazing and comforting sight of the crucified Savior each and every time you preach. They sould anticipate the sight of Calvary in every sermon, and rejoice when it comes into view. And all the more, when the cross is not immediately obvious in the text. ‘Where is the hill?’ they should be asking. ‘Where is that blessed hill on which our precious Savior died?’ We should exalt Christ’s finished work in our sermons so as to comfort the converted and convict the unbeliever.

“Spurgeon’s example should inspire us: ‘I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at the foot of the cross until he comes. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there until he does’ (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Old, Old Story,” The Spurgeon Archive, http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0446.htm (accessed July 2006)). Let us stand with the Prince of Preachers, gentlemen. As we preach the whole counsel of God, let us keep the cross central–by doing so, we will indeed be watching our doctrine.”

If Christ crucified is missing in the sermon, everything else loses all relevance! No matter how practical. Practical minus the gospel equals impractical (the Law kills–the Gospel gives life!)


15 responses

  1. In an age of pragmatism, and “how to books”, we should at least look to the Lord Himself for proper hermeneutics. His exposition at the end of Luke as the whole of the scripture, he says (The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms”) (what’s left?) then who are we to disagree? To preach not the Christ is to say to Christ himself this: “Sir I disagree with your exposition of the book, that you in fact wrote.” I shudder to think that many in the pulpit today, including those in the “Reformed Tradition” refuse to follow Christ lead in how to do exposition. Christ said, “The law, the prophets, and the Psalms” are about him. It’s hard to find an OT sermon these days that’s about Christ, and the sermons out of the NT are usually about something other than him.

    John, I’m listening for Christ to be preached as well. I’ll let you know when I hear Him preached.

  2. John

    Over the years fundamentalist have made it clear, we are sinners, and in need of Christ who died on the cross. Every sermon has within the text, you are in need to repent of sin. The gospel message of Christ is preached each week. Even if its to the same 20 people who have been saved for 20 years.

    Why I go to Church? To hear the Word preached in its context. The natural flow of the passage of Scripture should be taught.

    Charles Spurgeon is a daily diet in my devotions.

    C.J. has done good in his book.

    J.I. Packer book “A Quest for Godliness.” has great truths.



  3. I find it pretty humorous, as much as I carry on about how vital it is that “those preachers” keep Christ at the center of their exposition, how hard it is to actually remember to do when I’m the one expositing Scripture to my 3rd-6th grade AWANA boys! I crack myself up! And I learn to moderate my zeal for Christocentric exposition with sympathy for the poor fallen, finite critters I listen to. Then, when I have trouble finding Christ in what I’m hearing, I have to remember to preach Christ to myself.

  4. Charles,

    Thanks for your comment! Your point is certainly well taken about the emphasis of the fundamentalist movement to at least make sure there is some sort of segway (I forget how to spell that word!) to an evangelistic appeal. In my years among fundamentalist preaching, that was the staple. The point I’m making, however, is something more along the lines of not only appealing to unbelievers that they’re sinners who need to be saved and git right, but that the text must be exposited in light of its fulfillment in Christ’s Person and Work.

    Many evangelical preachers, I’m sad to say, don’t even seem to bother to do either on a consistent basis, although many, I’m sure, mean to. While too many others, have moved on to modern Christian health and wealth/self-help/motivational kind of preaching.

  5. A new Reformed blogger by the name of Angel just took my baton and wrote quite an offering of his own on the necessity of Christ-centered preaching.

    Read about it at the following link:


  6. Charles Whisnant | Reply


    “What is the Gospel?” seems like a simple statement, but I am learning has different meaning with different people.

    “Christ-centered” Preaching. While you would think that would be the norm, I am discovering there is a great deal more to this kind of preaching.

    Your theological position also seems to qualify your understanding of what and how you preach/teach also.

    I have preached the “Gospel and the Cross, and Christ centered preaching” for over forty years, yet its only in the last several years that I have begun to under- stand what both of those terms fully mean.

    Thanks to sites like your John that I am beginning to get a hold of the depth of this simple preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Cross.


  7. Indeed, Charles. I’m certainly thankful for having grown up in a fundamentalist church whose pastor actually carefully “catechised” us on the simple definition of the gospel. During almost every sermon, whenever his thought process went that direction he’d once again ask the congregation the same, old, wonderful question: “What is the Gospel?” to which the entire congregation would repeat, as the pastor raised his finger in the air to begin counting the points: “The (1) death, (2) burial, and (3) resurrection (4) of the Lord Jesus Christ. This simple exercise he called, “The Gospel Hand.” I’m tearing up already just trying to describe the process! And knowing this definition certainly came in handy when a certain gang of aggressive Calvinists began pressing me on such fundamental questions!

    It definitely goes without saying that fundamentalists are very good about getting to the cross. That’s a tribute to their heritage in historic confessional Reformed theology that it hadn’t completely eroded, just in many other very significant ways. The question is, it seems to me, if we know the skeleton of the sermon is the proclamation of the gospel, just what muscles, ligaments, and organs do we hang on the skeleton, and how and where?

    The answer from historic Reformed theology seems to be the Law (like my old fundamentalist associate pastor used to say, “you gotta get’em lost before you can get’em saved!”) thoroughly applied, not just a quick nod of assent to the simple fact of universal sin–to convict those who are ignorant of, or complacent in, their own personal, individual sinfulness, saved or lost. . .

    . . . whichever aspect of the doctrines of Christ’s atonement that is foretold by, reflected in or resulting in the contents of the particular text selected, be it propitiation, justification, mediation, redemption, etc. . . .

    . . . and then, the ever-popular application, which seems to bring us full-circle back to Law, only this time, the penalty for its violation being paid in Christ crucified, our observance of it becomes a grateful response of praise and thanksgiving for what God in Christ did for us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    There’s so many ways these themes can be reflected because of the theological depth of each aspect there’s no way anyone in their right heart could ever get “bored” by hearing the same thing over and over again, which is what so many fundamentalists, evangelicals fear because their particular theology is so shallow and their view of the world of theology is so myopic.

    But who am I to lecture a preacher with 40 years of experience, I just “love to tell the story,
    for those who know it best,
    seem hungering and thirsting
    to hear it like the rest . . . !”

  8. Captain John

    Thanks again.

    I am questioning something after reading your post and the comments of others and your comments to those comments.

    I want to understand your understanding so I ask the questions this way:::>

    1. what did Jesus mean when He said, I LAY MY LIFE DOWN AND I PICK IT UP AGAIN?

    2. what did Jesus mean when He said that God raises Him up on the Third day?

    I have my own idea of answers, but what’s yours and anyone else who reads the two questions?

    It strikes me odd that this is what comes to me after reading your post and the comments, both yours and others.


  9. Michael,

    1. If you’re asking about John 10:18,It was an implicit claim of his deity. Only God has the power to grant life and to take it. For Christ to claim this authority is to assume the authority of God.

    2. I can’t place the particular passage to which you allude. I know Paul wrote in different places that the Holy Spirit and the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:4; 6:4).

    Jesus and the Father and the Spirit share one substance, but are three separate Persons (not parts or manifestations). But the theology of the resurrection is deep and multi-faceted enough to be able to speak of each individual Person of the Trinity as having raised Jesus from the dead. Therefore, just as the Father and the Spirit have authority to do so, and Jesus is equal in power and glory with them in his divine nature, then Jesus also has authority to raise his human nature from death on the third day.

    So first of all, Jesus’ deity is demonstrated by his resurrection. But another vital truth is also demonstrated, too: the justification of sinners!

    Romans 4:24b-25 reads: “It [Christ’s righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

    This verse is fascinating to me. Several years ago, I went around asking everyone I thought might know why it is that Jesus’ resurrection is associated with justification if justification is purchased specifically by his death (Romans 3:24-25). All I ever got out of any of them was, “because God’s Word says so,” which was a little unsatisfying.

    The penalty for sin is death. Half of justification is the pardoning of our sins; but the other half is also the imputation of Christ’s righteous obedience (which is how he earned eternal life for us)to the believer. Perhaps it’s as simple as pairing the death we miss with the death Christ didn’t deserve and pairing the life we don’t deserve (through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) with Christ’s resurrection which we will share one day.

    But R. C. Sproul taught me another fascinating aspect of “raised for our justification.” You can read about that here:


    Anyone else have more answers for Michael?

  10. Fundamentally Reformed | Reply

    I would like to speak to the conversation between John and Charles a bit.

    I think a big difference between much fundamentalist preaching and “Christ centered” preaching is a disconnect between the Gospel and the Christian life. Fundamentalists often see the gospel as the “ticket to heaven”. It gets us on the train but doesn’t really affect how we behave on board the train. They see salvation usually in terms of “past tense”. They “did it” or “got saved” years ago and now they are living their Christian life on the strength of their will and flesh.

    This results in a performance based system. See this recent post for info on that. Suffice it to say that they feel accepted with God on the basis of their dedication to Him, rather than on the basis of the Gospel.

    All of this to say, that for me, I want to hear preaching which points me to a greater reliance on the Gospel and Christ for acceptance with God. I want to be reminded that the Gospel is true and I have a sure hope in Christ. I want to have Christ exalted so I can learn to love and appreciate him more. This then will result in a life lived to please Him.

    Preaching to change behaviors in people or to solve people’s problems without explicitly directing us to a greater appreciation of and dependence on the cross is NOT “Christ centered” preaching. And it is not helpful, ultimately.

  11. You said it, Bob!

    Part of the point of my reminiscing about my fundamentalist background and how they at least had the gospel in their sermons in some form or fashion, is that as I learned about Reformed theology, it was always striking how so many things were held in common, but it seemed fundamentalism held to them for more simplistic, man-centered and individualistic reasons than did the Reformed camp, which was a little more unified on the reasons for their convictions and those reasons were a little more soundly biblical and theological.

    When I heard Reformed theology teaching me how important it is that the gospel be preached, I remembered an ongoing discussion between my fundamentalist associate pastor and some of the men of the church: should they preach the gospel in every Sunday morning service or should they spend time teaching on Christian living? From the associate pastor’s perspective this was a modern question, and the gospel had always been preached every Sunday morning.

    These kinds of things pointed to the fact that as the Baptist tradition began adopting revivalistic practices and turning from the Reformed theology of their heritage, traces of their original Reformed convictions remain, albeit somewhat skewed in the voyage through time.

  12. Fundamentally Reformed | Reply

    as I learned about Reformed theology, it was always striking how so many things were held in common, but it seemed fundamentalism held to them for more simplistic, man-centered and individualistic reasons than did the Reformed camp, which was a little more unified on the reasons for their convictions and those reasons were a little more soundly biblical and theological.

    This really says it well. Fundamentalists are often well intentioned and well meaning, and they hold on to their traditions firmer than just about anyone. But unfortunately there is much ignorance which results in a less than clear emphasis on the Gospel.

  13. They are trying to do the right thing, they’ve just forgotten how to do it the right way.

    The ignorance to which you refer is the result of their distrust of scholarship, thinking it’ll undermine their soul-winning. But in reality, it was the lack of scholarship which undermines their soul-winning. They may know how to get numbers, but with the numbers comes shallow conversion, heavy turnover.

    Yes, scholarship may seem to slow down the rate of aisle-walkers, but it replaces quantity with quality.

  14. I was thinking about Bob’s point.
    Bob said, “I think a big difference between much fundamentalist preaching and “Christ centered” preaching is a disconnect between the Gospel and the Christian life. Fundamentalists often see the gospel as the “ticket to heaven”. It gets us on the train but doesn’t really affect how we behave on board the train. They see salvation usually in terms of “past tense”. They “did it” or “got saved” years ago and now they are living their Christian life on the strength of their will and flesh.”

    I thought about what Bob said and I thought, you know, when we preach the gospel to men, we preach for men to be justified, and for men who are being sanctified and for men who will one day be glorified.

    We are saved (justification) we are being saved (sanctification) and we will be saved (glorification).

  15. And if we were justified, then we most certainly will be sanctified and glorified (Rom. 8:30), for Paul states it as if it were all past tense. But then, you already know that!

    And I even learned that as a dispensational fundamentalist, because Scofield had a note on it, and I always found it fascinating, but I rarely heard the point preached on. I guess the fundy’s did with those Scofield notes what they did with his other notes that would “correct the KJV” and recommend modern textual criticism. . .

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