Here at Capitol City, at our most recent Equip gathering, we leaned into the idea of centering all of our biblical teaching on the truth of the gospel. I suggested that we have not completed our task as teachers of God’s Word until we’ve grounded our teaching, in some way or another, in the truth of what God has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to rescue us from our sin. But what I didn’t address is why all of our teaching must be grounded in the gospel. Why is gospel-centered teaching important?
This list isn’t exhaustive, and some of the points overlap, but here are eight reasons why our teaching must be gospel-centered:
1. Gospel-centered teaching guards against moralism. Morality is good; moralism is bad. Moralism makes a god out of morality. Moralism says that your worth and your value come from how well you keep a certain moral code. Many non-Christians are moralists, because you can be moralistic about environmentalism, your preferred political leaning, or any other social cause. Many Christians are moralists, too, in that they make an idol out of a certain moral teaching from the Bible. In a moralistic system, a person’s self-worth is based on their performance, on how well they keep the code. But the gospel tells us that our self-worth is based on Christ’s performance for us, on how well he kept all the moral codes in our place. Gospel-centered teaching pulls us away from a tendency toward moralism.
2. Gospel-centered teaching guards against licentiousness. Licentiousness is the opposite of moralism – it says your worth comes from being yourself and doing whatever feels right to you. Whereas moralism deifies morality, licentiousness demonizes morality. Moralism says “being good means keeping the rules”, whereas licentiousness says “being good means rejecting the existence of rules and being true to yourself.” Just as the gospel drags us away from the tendency toward moralism, it cures us of our tendency toward licentiousness, as well. If there are no rules, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, why did Jesus have to die? Because Christ paid the penalty for our sin, it is impossible to deny the truth that sin is real and has a penalty. This is how gospel-centered teaching will guard against licentiousness.
3. Gospel-centered teaching guards against narcissism. In our heart of hearts, we’d be most comfortable if the Bible were about us. Rather than seeing God as the hero of the overarching storyline of the Bible, we want to find ourselves in the heroes and heroines we see in the individual stories of the Bible. We read about David and Goliath thinking about the giants we need to slay in our own lives. We read about Jonah thinking about “our Nineveh” – the acts of obedience we are afraid to embrace. But this is narcissistic – it makes the Bible fundamentally about us, whereas the Bible should be fundamentally about God. Gospel-centered teaching makes Jesus, not me, the hero of the story, thereby keeping me from my natural disposition toward self-centered narcissism.
4. Gospel-centered teaching fuels Christian obedience. Christian obedience is inside-out obedience, not outside-in obedience. Outside-in obedience says, “Obey, so that God will accept you.” Inside-out obedience says, “Because God has accepted you, obey.” The difference is huge, in terms of the quantity and quality of obedience each affects. When my heart is full of the love, acceptance, and favor that God has shown me in the gospel, I experience ever-increasing levels of transformation that fuel everything I do for the Lord. Gospel-centered teaching continually brings us back to the true, unending power source for Christian obedience.
5. Gospel-centered teaching inspires repentance. For a long time, I thought growing as a Christian would mean that I would sin less and less over time. And perhaps I do sin less and less as I mature. But another thing certainly happens as I mature: my perception of my sinfulness is increasing. The more I grow, the more I realize how much growing I have to do. When I was first converted to Christianity, I had a sense of my sinfulness and of God’s holiness. But as I mature, my sense of God’s holiness is actually increasing, while my awareness of the depth of my sinfulness is also increasing. As a result, I actually feel my need for the gospel more today than I did on the day of my conversion, even though I am (probably) sinning less frequently and intentionally today. All of this implies that a mark of Christian maturity is ongoing repentance. The gospel inspires this, while gospel-centered environments provide safe places for repentance and confession. That takes us to…
6. Gospel-centered teaching inspires transparency. In gospel-less environments and cultures, people are afraid to acknowledge their sin. Confession is frowned upon, while pretending and performing are tacitly encouraged. In gospel-less environments, people feel like they have to hide their sin, like they have to put on masks and pretend that they are holier than they really are. Not only does this prevent people from being honest and real with each other, it actually hides the gospel’s true beauty and power. The gospel’s power is seen most clearly when its effects are celebrated, but in gospel-less environments, its effects are hidden. Gospel-centered environments, on the other hand, are environments where confession and repentance are safe and encouraged. They are environments where people can be real, and where the power of the gospel can be really seen and experienced.
7. Gospel-centered teaching exalts Jesus. Simply put, the more in love with Jesus we are, the more we will live for Jesus. If Jesus is exalted in our hearts and minds, he will be exalted through our lives. While man-centered teaching (teaching that sounds like “go do this…” or “be like this…”) might seem like it will glorify God, ultimately it glorifies us and our efforts (see #3). Only gospel-centered teaching will fuel love for and worship of Christ.
8. Gospel-centered teaching motivates us for mission. Because gospel-centered teaching continually reminds us of and rejoices in what Christ has done for us to save us from our sin, those who consistently hear it cannot help but be compassionate toward those who remain lost in their sin. As the gospel transforms us, we become people with love and compassion for our neighbors. Because we will marvel at the miracle that is our own salvation by grace, we will not reach out to them in judgment or spiritual superiority, but in the humility that is the fruit of the gospel in us. In life, we will celebrate the good news that has saved us, praying that our celebration can be shared by those we know and love. Gospel-centered teaching will turn us continually outward, away from ourselves and our needs, and toward the needs of others. Especially their spiritual needs.