What exactly does it mean to preach a Christ-centered sermon?
Every church planter and gospel-believing preacher wants Jesus to be front and center each time he takes the pulpit. But intent doesn’t guarantee success. Trust me—I’ve inadvertently not preached Christ more times than I’d like to admit.
Here are four elements that will help preachers to bring God’s Word to God’s people in gospel power each week.
1. Christ-centered preaching is biblical.
All of Scripture builds to the climax of God’s revelation in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:25–27; 2 Tim. 3:14–15). Christ-centered preaching doesn’t search to find Jesus in every text; it exposits where texts stand in relation to Jesus and where they find fulfillment in him. Such preaching requires a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture. Take care to do the hard work of exegesis, showing how the gospel arises organically across the entire canon.
But it doesn’t stop there: other elements are necessary to ensure a Christ-centered message.
2. Christ-centered preaching is missional.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost—and God has appointed preaching to be the primary means by which unbelievers are converted. It’s also the primary means by which believers are conformed to Christ’s image (Acts 20:32; Rom. 10:13–15; Eph. 4:11–14). Christ-centered preaching both encourages belief and challenges unbelief.
Christ-centered preaching both encourages belief and challenges unbelief.
Non-Christian unbelief must be challenged; they need to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. But non-Christians also possess belief that must be cultivated. What do I mean? Every person is created in God’s image and lives in God’s world and interacts with God’s truth, whether she acknowledges him or not. This kind of natural belief won’t save her and needs to be encouraged to become genuine, saving belief.
Similarly, Christians possess belief that needs to be cultivated and encouraged, but they also possess unbelief to be challenged. One Sunday after worship, a long-time member said to me, “I deeply appreciate that you speak to unbelief. On most Sundays, it feels like I come with more unbelief than belief.” Christ-centered preaching is missional—challenging unbelief and cultivating belief in all types of listeners.
3. Christ-centered preaching is motivational.
The good news of Jesus Christ is both the reason and power for change (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 3:1–6). Christ-centered preaching applies God’s Word by explaining not only what he requires of people, but why and how they must they do it. This intersection is where attempts at Christ-centered preaching often go wrong. How preachers motivate and empower their listeners to obedience determines whether their biblical exposition becomes a self-centered or Christ-centered sermon.
How preachers motivate and empower their listeners to obedience determines whether their biblical exposition becomes a self-centered or Christ-centered sermon.
When the preacher applies his text, he should answer why listeners must obey it—and that answer should be rooted in the grace of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Motivating principally by exhorting the listener to be a better person or gain a better life—or by guilt and fear of consequences—turns the listener from centering his life on Christ to centering it on himself and his own effort. Nothing can be more damaging to true faith.
Preachers must also explain how the listener can do what God requires. Even if the application has biblical precedent, it does no good to commend obedience through pure self-determination. When we become Christians, we’re united to Christ, indwelled by his Spirit, and empowered to new obedience (John 15:5; Gal. 5:16, 25). Explain how belief in the gospel and empowerment by the Spirit results in new obedience.
4. Christ-centered preaching is worshipful.
The best preaching lifts the congregation into the presence of God so they leave in awe of Christ. There are two ways, Thomas Chalmers explains, to displace love of the world in a human heart: expose its worthlessness or replace love for the world with something more beautiful. Christ-centered preaching captures the heart’s trust and love by exalting the risen Christ.
Such preaching is biblical, missional, motivational, and worshipful. Brothers, preach Christ.