Updated: Oct 23, 2020
The Authentic Gospel: Lessons from Apostolic Sermons - Part 1 by Rick Caldwell
What of this “new gospel” that parades itself from pulpits from house churches to large churches alike? The Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ by J. I. Packer provides us with a sobering polemic against the proliferation of the “new gospel”. For there is a dire need for gospel preaching to return to the old paths, that good way, not that to which is antiquated and weak but to that which is tried and true. The authentic gospel, unlike the “new gospel” makes its point of reference God not man. Whereas the “new gospel” quiets man’s anxious sensibilities by appealing to felt needs and feelings, the authentic gospel teaches us to worship God rightly. The “new gospel” makes the ultimate cause of salvation the human will not God’s sovereign choice; the authentic gospel informs us that salvation is all of God. The “new gospel” fails both in its character and content; it transforms God into a helpless beggar and its message removes no self-esteem from the unrepentant sinner to plead for mercy in the midst of his ineptitude (Packer, n.d.).
Do we have a biblical model for gospel preaching? One that will rightly turn us from the “new gospel”? That which is pragmatic, opportune, or trendy, and back to that which is glorious and authorized? Yes, I say “authorized” without hesitation because we must all readily confess that whatever God has authorized is what gives Him glory, but whatever we desire to do through the machinations of human wisdom only exalts the ways of the flesh and not the ways of the Spirit. Our cunning or cleverness is the not the measure of our faithfulness in gospel preaching, for consider the words of the apostle Paul in his epistle to the church at Corinth:
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NASB)
We do have a biblical model for gospel preaching with the apostolic sermons found in the Acts of the Apostles. Though we must readily admit the apostles did not present a “one size fits all” message, as there were variations in their presentation, we should not ignore the common themes therein.
Lesson 1 – Gospel Preaching Emphasized God’s Fulfillment of Promises
Peter began his message by saying, “This is what the prophet Joel was writing about” (Acts 2:16). He was announcing that “the last days” have come. That age which all other ages were anticipating has dawned (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1; 9:26). The accomplishment of that work, without which the inheritance could not be granted, has been accomplished and the “first-fruit” of that inheritance has been granted. Peter labors to demonstrate from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. Conversely, Andy Stanley, a popular preacher, commented during his Aftermath video series that “we need to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament” as a pragmatic scheme to alleviate the burden of explaining those “embarrassing” passages in the Old Testament to the “unchurched”. The “unchurched” are those individuals who may be skeptical about the claims of Christianity partly due to their lack of association with the Christian community, which not only includes corporate worship but also family and friends who exemplify Christian values and teachings. Mr. Stanley encouraged the audience to focus on the “events” – the crucifixion and the resurrection, not on the revelation which gives substance and meaning to those “events”. Gospel preaching no longer needs to be disconnected from Old Testament revelation in order the demonstrate the vastness of God’s faithfulness.
Lesson 2 – Gospel Preaching Emphasized Jesus’ Death Through The Lens of Man’s Treason
Indeed, there is much discussion about Jesus’ death in the “new gospel”, but what is often lacking is how the apostles connected Jesus’ death to the sinner’s culpability in rejecting and crucifying Christ. Consider these passages:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:22-23 NASB)
“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. (Acts 3:13-15 NASB)
“Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by this name this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12 NASB)
“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “ He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)
“The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) — you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. “ You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. “ God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:36-43 NASB)
“For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. “And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. “When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. “But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, (Acts 13:27-32 NASB)
Randy Seiver in his book Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterpart rightly states the following in regards to the fore-mentioned examples: “What is clear from all these examples is that the apostles began by charging their hearers with high treason against the God of heaven by crucifying the Lord of glory.” We must never forget that those wicked men who crucified Jesus acted no differently than we would have acted apart from God’s restraining grace. By nature, we are not lovers of God but hostile toward him (see Romans 8:7). Apart from God’s restraining grace, we would have been among those who nailed Christ to the cross.
Lesson 3 – Gospel Preaching Emphasized The Spirit’s Reproving Ministry
As a corollary to the previous lesson, we should also consider the Holy Spirit’s role in the gospel proclamation. There are few biblical doctrines that have been misunderstood so badly as the doctrine of the Spirit’s work of “conviction.” This has absolutely nothing to do with making someone “feel bad” or “feel guilty” about their sin. It is an objective work of the Holy Spirit in which he presses the evidence of a sinner’s guilt against him. Consider how Jesus used the word translated “convict” or “reprove” in John 8:46. He said, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He clearly did not mean, “Which one of you makes me feel guilty for sin?” What Jesus was in fact declaring is “you can produce sufficient evidence to prove me that I sinned.” The work of the prosecutor is not to make the defendant feel guilty but to prove him guilty by a cogent presentation of the facts of the case. This is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the proclamation of the gospel.
And [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:8-11 NASB)
Consider this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work are reflected in Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts two.
“He will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe on me” (John 16:9) God Approved Jesus—You Crucified Him (Acts 2:22-23).
The apostle Peter did not address sin in general, but he focused on the crowning sin. If the greatest commandment in the Law is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), the greatest sin must be our failure to love God.
We will explore more lessons in Part 2, but let us consider this quote in closing:
“We may stumble in our understanding of secondary and tertiary issues without eternal consequences, but if we err in our gospel proclamation, we not only endanger the souls of those who hear us, but we will personally encounter God’s judgment.” (Seiver, 2016)
Packer, J. (n.d.). Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Retrieved from Monergism: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/packer_deathintro.html
Seiver, R. (2016). Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit. New Wine Press.
Rick Caldwell is a Bible teacher at Lakewood Church of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia. He is actively involved in various church ministries and initiatives, especially initiatives that focus on the urban context. He has over 20 years experience in the information technology field and currently resides in Woodstock, Georgia with his wife Maricruz. Check our Rick's YouTube channel here.