Exegesis and Exposition (A Prolegomena= to speak before)
The goal of the sermon outcome should be that everyone senses so much love and forgiveness from God in
Christ that they say yes to whatever God wants.
We are saved from four things:
The gospel is for the believers! Why we do what we do is as important as what we do.
The Goal of the Preached Sermon:
• John Newton: Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before, since we have seen his beauty are joined
to part no more.
• Likewise, William Cowper: To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, and hear his pardoning voice, changes a
slave into a child and duty into choice.
Thomas Chalmer “The Expulsive Power of Spirits Affection”
The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without
Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and
never preach again until you have something worth preaching. [Charles H. Spurgeon sermon: Exposition of
Acts 13:13-49 published in 1904]
Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon
without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go
to hear him preach. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “A Prayer for the Church” (1867)]
Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertize it all over London, Mr. Baker, that
you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, “Bread without flour” and you may soon shut up
your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning,
middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be
merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the
ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the
grand doctrine of “believe and live.” [Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “Christ the Glory of His People”
Sooner by far would I go to a bare table, and eat from a wooden porringer something that would appease my
appetite, than I would go to a well-spread table on which there was nothing to eat. Yes, it is Christ, Christ,
Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel. Christless
sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class
leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? They are simply setting the mill to grind
without putting any grist into the hopper, all their labor is in vain. If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply
beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe. [Charles Haddon
Spurgeon sermon: “Why the Gospel is Hidden” (2/11/1866)]
I know one who said I was always on the old string, and he would come and hear me no more; but if I
preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come. Ah, he will never come while this tongue moves, for a
sermon without Christ in it—a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which
mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It
were a realm of death—a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils. O Christian, we must have
Christ! Do see to it that every day when you wake you give a fresh savor of Christ upon you by contemplating
his person. Live all the day, trying as much as lieth in you, to season your hearts with him, and then at night,
lie down with him upon your tongue. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “A Bundle of Myrrh” (3/6/1864)]
What was the subject? What was Peter preaching upon? He was preaching Christ and him crucified. No other
subject ever does produce such effects as this. The Spirit of God bears no witness to Christless sermons. Leave
Jesus out of your preaching, and the Holy Spirit will never come upon you. Why should he? Has he not come
on purpose that he may testify of Christ? Did not Jesus say, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine,
and shall shew it unto you”? Yes, the subject was Christ, and nothing but Christ, and such is the teaching
which the Spirit of God will own. Be it ours never to wander from this central point: may we determine to know
nothing among men but Christ and his cross. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “The Mediator, Judge, and
I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the
hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself,
brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the
apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often
asked me, “What is the secret of your success?” I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have
preached the gospel,—not about the gospel, but the gospel... (Charles, Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, 35).
The expositor is only to provide mouth and lips for the passage itself, so that the Word may advance . . . The
really great preachers . . . are, in fact, only the servants of the Scriptures. When they have spoken for a
time . . . the Word . . . gleams within the passage itself and is listened to: the voice makes itself heard . . . The
passage itself is the voice, the speech of God; the preacher is the mouth and the lips, and the congregation . . .
the ear in which the voice sounds . . . Only in order that the Word may advance—may go out into the enemy
walls to the prisoners world, and force its way through within—is preaching necessary (Gustaf Wingren,
quoted in Stott, BTW, pg. 132)
Sound doctrine (in preaching) doesn’t guarantee better programs or more efficient management structures or
an answer to the age-old problem of which came first—the bigger sanctuary or the bigger parking lot. If it’s
answers to questions like these you want, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Doctrine isn’t very useful in a
ministry of crowd management. But if you want practical help in promoting godliness in your church, fostering
love and unity, making disciples, and growing in grace, there’s nothing more practical than sound theology.
Could it be that some of us in ministry have lost our interest in sound theology because we’re not really doing
Christian ministry anymore? (Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, 94).
Lectio Continua Method of Preaching
It is the Reformers in their desire to expose their congregations to the whole counsel of God who most
effectively developed the lectio continua method of preaching. That is, the method of preaching verse by
verse through books of the Bible.
For example, Luther and his clergy colleagues “undertook an extensive campaign of religious instruction
through the sermon. There were three public services on Sunday: from 5-6AM on the Pauline epistles, from
9-10AM on the Gospels . . . On Wednesdays on the Gospel of Matthew, Thursdays and Fridays on the
apostolic letters, and Saturday evening on John’s Gospel (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Luther also taught
through catechisms on Monday and Tuesdays).
John Calvin’s method was similar to Luther’s, yet perhaps even more systematic. From 1549 he preached
in Geneva twice every Sunday and in alternate weeks at a daily evening service. He tended to preach the
OT on weekdays and the NT or Psalms on Sundays. In the 15 year period from 1549 until he died, he
expounded Genesis, Deut, Judg, Job, some Psalms, 1 and 2 Sam, 1 Kgs, and all the prophets, and from the
NT a harmony of the Gospels, Acts, 1 and 2 Cor, Gal, Eph, 1 and 2 Thess, the the 3 Pastoral Epistles.
A century later, Matthew Henry in his 25 year ministry (1687-1712) focused on the OT on Sunday AM and
on the NT each Sunday afternoon. In doing so, he worked through the whole Bible twice and during his
midweek lectures expounded the whole Psalter no less than 5 times (these expositions form the substance of
his famous commentary).
Benefits of the Lectio Continua
o (1) Helps the preacher grow personally in knowledge and obedience by his disciplined exposure to
o (2) Helps the preacher conserve time and energy used in choosing a sermon for each week.
o (3) Balances the preacher’s area of “expertise” and preferred topics with the breadth of God’s
thoughts in the Bible. In other words, it combats one’s tendency to choose a canon within the canon.
o (4) Sensitive matters can be addressed without the appearance of pointing a finger at persons or
problems in the church.
o (5) Gives the preacher accountability to not avoid skipping over what does suit his taste or
temperament on any given day.
o (6) Promotes biblical literacy in the preacher’s congregation by teaching them through example how
to study their Bibles. That is, it teaches a reproducible method of Bible study.
o (7) Forces the preacher to address a greater number of issues than what readily springs to mind.
o (8) Much research time can be saved because each new sermon does not require a new study of the
book’s or the passage’s authors, background, context, and cause. (Ryken’s Handbook)
o (9) Increases the likelihood of the pastor preaching the whole counsel of God over time.1
o (10) Increases the pastor’s God-given prophetic authority in the pulpit by grounding his preaching in
the divinely intended meaning of the text.
o (11) Increases the trustworthiness of the pastor’s preaching in the eyes of the congregation.
o (12) Increases the pastor’s God-given blessing in the pulpit by remaining faithful to the intention of
the One who sent him to preach. Presence, authority, sovereignty
o (13) Increases the congregation’s trust in the inspiration, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency of
Scripture. Creation, Decreation, Recreation, New Creation
o (14) Decreases their likelihood of being deceived by false teaching.
o (15) Best communicates that we need all 1189 chapters & 31,102 verses of the Bible for our
What Does It Mean to Preach the Whole Counsel of God?
The New Testament describes preaching in over sixty different ways. But by far the most important word
for preaching in the New Testament is the verb kerusso, which is employed sixty-one times itself while the
noun, kerux (preacher or herald) is seen three times (1 Tim 2:6; 2 Tim 1:11; 2 Pet 2:5). The term is a kingdom
term and refers to the proclamation of a message from a king. When the monarch has a message for his subjects,
he entrusts it to heralds, who announce it to the people without altering it or distorting it in any way. Thus, the
crowd of citizens gathers to hear from the king thru the proclamation of his spokesman.
But what is this message that the herald is commissioned to proclaim from the king? The New Testament
makes it clear. The most common message heralded when kerusso is used is the kingdom (e.g. Mt 3:2; 4:7; Lk
9:2) or the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 9:35; Lk 8:1).
As well, other messages preached (kerusso), which are organically related to this kingdom message, are the
gospel (Mk 1:14), the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:19); the Christ (Acts 8:5), Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23),
Christ raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:12), Jesus as the appointed judge (Acts 10:42), Son of God, Jesus Christ
(2 Cor 1:19), Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor 4:5), the hope of the gospel (Col 1:23), the gospel of God (1 Thess
2:9), repentance and forgiveness of sins (Lk 24:47); and the word (2 Tim 4:2).
When the noun, kerux, is used, we see that the herald proclaims: There is one God, and there is one
mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for sinners (1 Tim 2:5-6).
Importantly, the Apostle Paul adds here: For this I was appointed a preacher (1 Tim 2:7). Additionally, Paul
states elsewhere that the message of the herald is that the Savior Christ Jesus…abolished death and brought life
and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10). Again, Paul adds that it is for this proclaimed
message he was appointed a preacher (2 Tim 1:11).
Notably, unlike too many sermons today that are preached in the “imperative mode” (commands), with the
exception of the call for repentance (e.g. Mt 3:2; Lk 24:47), the message that is consistently heralded is in the
A.A. Alexander: “No man should grow up without opportunity of hearing the great body of scriptural truth laid open.”
indicative mode. In other words, the message(s) preached revealed something about the nature of things. And
that great declaration can be summarized by the announcement that the Kingdom is here because the Davidic
king himself, Christ Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and the devil through his cross and resurrection, is
reigning and ruling.
So the task of heralding/preaching requires centering on the message of the gospel of the kingdom, the
King of the kingdom, and the terms of the kingdom.
But how does this narrow message comport with the task of preaching the whole counsel of God?
I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
—Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27
D. A. Carson explains what the Apostle meant:
When Paul attests that this is what he proclaimed to the believers in Ephesus, the Ephesian elders to whom he
makes this bold asseveration know full well that he had managed this remarkable feat in only two and a half
In other words, whatever else Paul did, he certainly did not manage to go through every verse of the Old
Testament, line by line, with full-bore explanation. He simply did not have time.
What he must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving
nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole
counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently,
God’s purposes in the history of redemption (truths to be believed and a God to be worshiped),
an unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption, and destiny (a worldview that shapes all human
understanding and a Savior without whom there is no hope),
the conduct expected of God’s people (commandments to be obeyed and wisdom to be pursued, both in
our individual existence and in the community of the people of God), and
the pledges of transforming power both in this life and in the life to come (promises to be trusted and
hope to be anticipated). D. A. Carson, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit,” in Preach the
Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, 177-178.
So to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom is not to ignore all the multifarious/diverse aspects of any
particular text, but it is to understand that any particular text is only a part of a grander, metanarrative that is
centered on the Kingdom of God. And the sum of these texts synthesizes and harmonizes to enhance the melody
of Scripture, which is nothing less than the gospel of the Kingdom of God. That is, the good news of God’s
purpose to glorify himself by establishing his saving reign, and covenantal presence over all of creation through
his king, Jesus Christ, and his work of new creation.
Central Theme (melody of Scripture): “Gods purpose to glorify Himself, by establishing His saving reign,
authority, and covenantal presence, over all creation, through His Messiah.” (Dr. Brian Payne)
(1) The biblical unity is a unity: of source (in God)2
• God’s sovereignty produced and guided the human authors and their situations, as well
as directly influencing & teaching them (2 Pet 1:21), so the resultant whole has a single
mind behind it (McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 41).
• The unity of the Bible is to be found in the first instance in its witness to this one God
• “Ever story has a central protagonist, and in the Bible that protagonist is God. He is the
central character, the actor whose presence unifies the story of universal history with its
myriads of changing characters” (Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, p. 1789).
(2) Of function (covenantal rule)3
• That is, God verbally establishes and formally ratifies the terms of the relationship b/t
himself and his people.
• A covenant is “a solemn promise made binding by an oath,” and as such has the
purpose of establishing or formalizing a relationship, and bears a historical character,
but it also establishes the terms of the relationship and the specifies the nature of the
parties in the covenant. The 10 Commandments are called a covenant in Deut 5:2. Note
that the commandments start off with a historical reference (v. 6; also v. 15) and
included promises (vv. 10, 16). The 1st 4 commandments pertain to the maintenance of
a relationship w/ God, and even the last 6 are tied up with that relationship, for one’s
relationship with God determines the character of one’s relationship with other people.
(3) Of narrative (the fulfillment of promise [which requires a fulfillment exegesis])4
• Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was
still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets
and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the
Scriptures, 46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on
the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should
be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
• 3 implications from this passage (D. McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 41-2):
A. Jesus seems to be providing a reminder of his earthly teaching (v. 44; see Lk
9:22). He indicates that the content of his teaching is derived from Scripture
(which at that time was the OT)—& not just from a few verses, but from the
entirety of Scripture (“Law [Torah], Prophets [Nevi’im], and Psalms
[Khethuvim]”). Further, there is no 1 OT text that says that the Messiah would be
raised on the 3rd day. Just as the church later derived the doctrine of the Trinity,
not from a particular verse, but from the whole, so Jesus, & the apostles (see 1
Cor 15:4), perceived the resurrection of the Christ in the OT as a whole.
B. To understand the OT properly, then, it must be read in the light of the NT
C. The words “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” and
“repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all
nations” are syntactically dependent on “Thus it is written.” In other words,
“what is written” in the OT consists of 2 main elements: the death and
resurrection of Jesus and the preaching of this good news to the nations, including
Gentiles. Notably, the repentance & faith of the Gentile church is, according to
Jesus, one of the main messages of the OT. The church is not some kind of
afterthought unforeseen in the OT.
Jensen, “The Revelation of God” (the first 4 basis for unity are Jensen’s.) pg. 224
See Appendix 1
Contrast this approach with, for example, John Goldingay who writes: I want to write on the Old Testament without looking at it
through Christian lenses or even New Testament lenses (Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel, 20). Similarly Walter
Brueggemann (Theology of the Old Testament, 93, 107). But as Jim Hamilton points out, such an approach seems akin to a botanist
examining an acorn in order to predict what will sprout from the seed. How seriouslycould we take such a botanist professing
openness to the idea that the acorn might make potatoes? (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 46).
A biblical theology lens trains us to place any given passage in the sweep of the
single story. This way of reading the Bible gladly acknowledges the various genres in
Scripture—narrative, poetry, prophecy, letters. Yet while the Bible is not uniform, it
is unified. Biblical theology reads the Bible as an unfolding drama, taking place in
real-world time and space, that culminates in a man named Jesus—who himself said
that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the
Psalms”—shorthand for the whole Old Testament—“must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
Alternatives to a biblical theology approach (from Dane Ortlund)
o The Gold Mine Approach – reading the Bible as a vast, cavernous, dark
mine, in which one occasionally stumbles upon a nugget of inspiration.
Result: confused reading.
o The Hero Approach – reading the Bible as a moral hall of fame that gives us
one example after another of heroic spiritual giants to emulate. Result:
o The Rules Approach – reading the Bible on the lookout for commands to
obey to subtly reinforce a sense of personal superiority. Result: Pharisaical
o The Artifact Approach – reading the Bible as an ancient document about
events in the Middle East a few thousand years ago that are irrelevant to my
life today. Result: bored reading.
o The Guidebook Approach – reading the Bible as a roadmap to tell me where
to work, whom to marry, and what shampoo to use. Result: anxious reading.
o The Doctrine Approach – reading the Bible as a theological repository to
plunder for ammunition for my next theology debate at Starbucks. Result:
There is some truth in each of these approaches. But to make any of
them the dominant lens is to turn the Bible into a book it was never
meant to be. A biblical theology approach takes the Bible on its own
terms—namely, that “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Jesus”
(2 Corinthians 1:20). Result: transforming reading.
Biblical theology invites you to read the Bible by plotting any passage
in the overarching narrative that culminates in Christ. The Bible is not
mainly commands with stories of grace sprinkled in. It is mainly a
story of grace with commands sprinkled in.
A biblical theology approach takes the Bible on its own terms—
namely, that “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes' in Jesus”
(2 Corinthians 1:20).
What about the weird parts? Some parts of the Bible, of course, seem to have
nothing to do with this story of grace.
o How, for example, do we read obscure Old Testament records of wayward
Israelite kings or wicked priests? The answer from the perspective of biblical
theology is this: We read them as stories increasingly heightening our longing
for a true king, a final priest, one who will lead as these men were meant to—
truly representing God to the people (king) and the people to God (priest).
o How do we read genealogies? As testimonies to the grace of God to real
individuals, carrying God’s promises down specific family lines in concrete
ways, promises that are never derailed, and which ultimately come to fruition
o How do we read Proverbs? As good news of wise help from another for
stumbling disciples like you and me.
A book of good news. Imagine jumping into the middle of a novel, reading a
sentence, and trying to understand all that the sentence means without placing it in the
sweep of the novel as a whole. That would confuse the reader, obscure the meaning,
and insult the author. The Bible is God’s autobiographical account of his personal
rescue mission to restore a lost world through his Son. Every verse contributes to that
message. The Bible is not a pep talk. Its not good advice. It is good news.
(4) Of message (the gospel of Jesus Christ).5 The gospel is the message that God has, is and will
overcome our sin through the life, death, burial, resurrection and continual intercession of his
Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
“Proleptic Participation” Sinclair Ferguson = (passed over the sins of those who were under the old covenant).
Said another way, the gospel is the scandalous news that through the death and resurrection of
Jesus, our disobedience cannot dent God’s approval of us and our obedience cannot help God’s
approval of us, as we look in trusting faith to Christ (Dane Ortlund).
When the gospel is embraced, it controls. It controls lives, affecting hearts, values, &
commitments (Chapell, Christ Centered Worship, 85).
B.B. Warfield on why the gospel is necessary for Christians: There is nothing in us or done by
us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We
must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true
of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as
long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our
relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian
graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness”
alone that we can rest.
• 1 Cor 15:1-4—15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you,
which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you
hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered
to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in
accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third
day in accordance with the Scriptures (note: the gospel is the message in which
• Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I
may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to
the gospel of the grace of God.
• Rom 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the
gospel of God.
• Rom 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son,
that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,
• Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to
salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
• Rom 2:16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according
to my gospel.
• Rom 15:16 that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the
gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the
• Rom 15:19 in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from
Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
• Rom 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish (sthri,xai; strengthen; make firm) you
according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation
of the mystery kept secret since the world began
• 1 Cor 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its
See Appendix 2 for a consideration of the gospel from both a narrow sense (of how one gets saved) and a broad sense (gospel of the
kingdom). Important in this discussion, contra the Pharisees, the people of Qumran, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, remembered the
redemptive-historical dimension of the OT. They recognized that the OT as a whole anticipated God’s ultimate deliverance of his
people. But the Qumran sectarians, just like the Pharisees, failed to recognize that God’s deliverance was ultimately focused on a
representative individual. As F.F. Bruce notes, whereas both the NT & the Qumran literature understand the OT eschatologically, “the
NT interpretation of the OT is not only eschatological but christological” (Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts, 68). Although the
Qumran community expected a messiah (or rather two—a kingly one and a priestly one), they differ from NT exegesis in that the
latter is Christological (McCartney, 324).
2 Cor 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door
was opened for me in the Lord,
• 2 Cor 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving
so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image
• 2 Cor 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted,
because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?
• Eph 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so
that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
• Philip 1:12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me
have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,
• Philip 1:17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the
• Philip 2:22 But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has
served with me in the gospel.
• Col 1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved
away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every
creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
• 1 Thess 2:2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at
Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God
in the midst of much conflict.
• 1 Thess 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel,
so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
• 1 Thess 2:8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you
not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear
to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked
night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you
the gospel of God.
• 1 Thess 3:2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of
Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith,
• 2 Thess 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
• 1 Tim 1:10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers,
and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of
the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
• 2 Tim 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His
prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God
Of purpose (applying God’s Christocentric redemptive activity in history).
• How can a book that is focused on Christ apply to us? “The NT operates with a
principle that believers are identified with Christ.” Consequently, the NT frequently
extends the OT to apply to Christians (1 Cor 10:11; Rom 15:4) (McCartney, 49).
All Scripture has two authors, “one divine and at least one human.” Sensus Plenior (a fuller sense).
God intends something by what he speaks. He always speaks purposefully (there is a perlocutionary
By the grace of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Christians may adequately discern what
God intends to say and do in any passage of Scripture by prayerful, careful, and submissive attentiveness
to the words human authors use, in their respective literary, canonical, historical/cultural,
redemptive/historical and theological contexts.
Exegetical/Expositional Goal: Aiming for a Faith Response
• Think for a moment about this question: What one thing should I do to grow more as a Christian? If
someone asked you that question, how would you respond? Would you suggest some basic spiritual
discipline, such as reading the Bible, praying, finding accountability partners, repenting of sin, or
learning theology? The crowds brought this exact question to Jesus in John 6. His answer:
o Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “The
work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent” (John 6:28-29).
Notice: they are asking Jesus what they must do to live a life that pleases God. Jesus
answers that the work of God is to believe. In other words, the Christian life is not about
doing, it is about believing. Getting this right is crucial to sanctification. Most of us are
naturally “doers.” We gladly embrace the next project, the next challenge, the next
assignment. So our pursuit of Christian maturity produces a lot of busy effort, but little
lasting change. Why? Because we are doing too much and believing too little.
“What is more consonant with faith than to recognize that we are naked of all virtue, in order to be
clothed by God? That we are empty of all good, to be filled by him? That we are slaves of sin, to be
freed by him? Blind, to be illumined by him? Lame, to be made straight by him? Weak, to be sustained
by him? To take away from us all occasion for glorying, that he alone may stand forth gloriously and
we glory in him (c.f. 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17)” (Calvin’s Institutes, Pref. 2).
PASSAGES in Scripture that Speak Particularly of the Life of Faith:
(1) Rom 14:23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
(2) Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him . . .
(3) 1 Tim 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a
(4) Col 1:3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4
since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; 5 because of the hope
which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,
(5) 1 Thess 1:2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3
constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our
Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father 4 For we know, brothers loved by God,
that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in
the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for
your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much
affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
(6) 2 Thess 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your
faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater
(7) 1 Pet 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given
us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an
inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-- kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are
shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last
time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in
all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes
even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when
Jesus Christ is revealed.
(8) Gal. 2:20"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave
Himself up for me.”
(9) Gal 3:5-6 “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of
the law, or by hearing with faith. 6. just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as
(10) Gal. 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but
only faith working through love.
(11) 1 Cor 15:11 Whether it was then I or they, so we preached, and so you believed
(12) 2 Cor 5:6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in
the body we are absent from the Lord– 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good
courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his
deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
(13) 2 Cor 10:15…Our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be
greatly enlarged (i.e., as faith grows, apostolic influence enlarges).
(14) Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,3 concerning his Son,
who was descended from David according to the flesh, 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in
power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith
(u`pakoh.n pi,stewj)6 for the sake of his name among all the nations,
(15) Rom 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching
of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages26 but
has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,
according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith (u`pakoh.n
pi,stewj) (Note that these are the bookends of Paul’s most systematic epistle).
Because the Holy Spirit is received by faith, our hearts are now renewed, and so put on new affections,
so that they are able to bring forth good works. For thus saith Ambrose: “Faith is the begetter of a
good will and of good actions.” . . . Hereby every man may see that this doctrine [of justification by
faith alone] is not to be accused, as forbidding good works; but rather is much to be commended,
because it showeth after what sort we must do good works. For without faith the nature of man can by
no means perform the works of the First or Second Table. Without faith, it cannot call upon God, hope
in God, bear the cross; but seeketh help from man, and trusteth in man’s help. So it cometh to pass that
all lusts and human counsels bear sway in the heart so long as faith and trust in God are absent.”
(Augsburg Confession. Article XX [written by Phiipp Melanchthon (1497-1560)]. Quoted from Philip
Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker, 1977, orig. 1877), 3:10-11, 24-25.
We come to the great and high deeds of divine grace and the true sanctifying of the Holy Spirit not
through our merit or powers, but through faith, which is a pure gift and favor of God. (The First
Helvetic Confession--Article XIII: composed by Swiss theologians at Basel Switzerland, 1536).
From it [faith] love grows as a fruit, and, by this love, come all kinds of virtues and good works. . . .This
faith comforts itself with the mercy of God, and not its works, even though it performs innumerable good
works. This faith is the true service which pleases God” (The First Helvetic Confession--Article XIV)
Peter Jensen asserts that the Christian life is the life of faith in the Son of God. “Why do you think God
chose faith as the salvation point? Why did he not choose love? Because faith is the very opposite of
pride & exaltation & glory. If he had said love, then there would have been something in us that would
have made us worthy of salvation. Faith is the empty hand grasping hold of the promises of God.
Case Study: Gossip
• Faith involves learning how to set the affections of our mind and heart on God….Faith requires a
continual rehearsing and delighting in the many privileges that are now in Christ (Steve Childers).
o There are some common heart idols that can manifest themselves in the surface sin of gossip:
The idol of approval (I want the approval of the people I’m talking to)
The idol of control (Using gossip as a way to manipulate/control others)
The idol of reputation (I want to feel important, so I cut someone else down verbally)
The idol of success (Someone is succeeding—and I’m not—so I gossip about him)
The idol of security (Talking about others masks my own insecurity)
The idol of pleasure (Someone else is enjoying life—and I’m not—so I attack him)
The idol of knowledge (Talking about people is a way of showing I know more)
The idol of recognition (Talking about others gets people to notice me)
Moo argues that “obedience” and “faith” are mutually interpreting. Obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves
obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Romans, 52.
The idol of respect (That person disrespected me, so I’m going to disrespect him).
o Let’s imagine that I have identified respect as the dominant idol that drives me to gossip. After I
acknowledge my sin and repent of it, I exercise faith in two ways:
1st, I pause and worship Jesus because he laid down aside his right to be respected,
becoming humbled to the point of death (Phil 2:5-11).
2nd, I remind myself of the gospel truth that I no longer need to crave the respect of others
because I have the approval of God through faith in Jesus (2 Cor 5:17-21). Whether
people respect me or not is immaterial: God’s grace has freed me from demanding my
own respect, and now I live for the fame and honor of Jesus (1 Cor 10:31).
What is exposition?
Exposition: This is a multidimensional words arising from a Latin root expositio, a setting forth. Biblical
exposition expounds, expresses, and exposes the Bible to an audience.
“To expound a Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. . . . The opposite of
exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there” [John Stott, “BTW” pg. 125-26].
What is “exegesis”?
The word is derived from the Greek verb exēgeisthai, which can mean “to lead” or “to explain.” In biblical
literature it is always used in the sense “to explain, interpret, or describe.”
Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related (evxhgei/to) one by one the things that God had done among
the Gentiles through his ministry.
Luke 24:35 Then they told (evxhgou/nto) what had happened on the road, and how he was known to
them in the breaking of the bread.
Judges 7:13 When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling (evxhgou,menoj) a dream to his comrade.
And he said, "Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of
Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat."
The most illustrative NT use of exēgeisthai is in John 1:18:
Jn 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known
• “Exegesis” then means “explanation,” nearly always intended as explanation after careful consideration.
It is the process we go through in explaining any communication, whether written or oral. But usually
the assumption associated with “exegesis” is that this analysis is “scientific,” that one is trained in
understanding words and their relations, that one is careful to analyze correctly and not import meaning
illegitimately, and that one is not guilty of eisegesis (importing meaning unrelated to the text).
• More technically, “exegesis” refers to a linguistic-syntactical analysis to discern communicative intent.
That is, exegesis is the analysis of the significance of words and the relations into which they are set to
construct meaning. By placing specific words in specific contexts, meaning is conveyed, and exegesis
seeks to analyze the significance the significance of the particular words used and the relations into
which they are set to discern the intent of communication.
• For some, the terms “exegesis,” hermeneutics,” and “interpretation” are synonymous. In earlier times
the terms were distinguished, with interpretation encompassing both other words and including the
process of theologizing and application as well. Hermeneutics was seen as the rules and procedures
governing interpretation, and exegesis was limited to a search for past meaning. Exegesis focused on
historical context and grammatical relations to determine what the text meant at its origin.
Today, hermeneutics may well be the most comprehensive of the three terms in that it deals with the
whole process of understanding and appropriating texts. Distinctions can and should be made between
the three terms but with the realization that the boundaries between them are blurred.
Hermeneutics: “The science (principles) and art (task) by which the meaning of the biblical text is
Exegesis: The determination of the meaning of the biblical text in its historical, literary, and redemptivehistorical contexts.
Exegesis is rightly assumed to be a foundational task for doing theology. We need to understand the
intent of the text before we built theological systems on it, but in reality the implied objectivity often
associated with exegesis is misleading. Theology, however primitive, is already at work before we
come to the text. We all bring to the text theological assumptions and questions that motivate our work
and that both allow and hinder our efforts to see the significance of the relations in the text. Still, the
attempt not to impose our theologies on texts is demanded by any fair exegesis. We cannot come to the
text without presuppositions, but we can come to the text without presupposing what its meaning is.
The goal of exegesis is not merely information but a usable understanding. We have not understood a
text until we understand what it seeks to accomplish in its hearers, and exegesis is not successful until it
knows how the text should be used.
4 Necessary Horizons for Exegesis and Exposition: (1) Textual; (2) Epochal; (3) Canonical; (4)
• Revelation never stands by itself, but is always concerned either explicitly or implicitly with redemptive
accomplishment. God’s speech is invariably related to his actions. It is not going too far to say that
redemption is the raison d’etre of revelation. An unbiblical, quasi-gnostic notion of revelation
inevitably results when it is considered by itself or as providing self-evident general truths.
Consequently, revelation is either authentication or interpretation of God’s redemptive action (Gaffin,
Resurrection and Redemption, pg. 22).
• For some, however, the Bible is primarily a book that magically supplies guidance for personal
problems, or a sourcebook for ethics or politics, or a guide to meaningful existence.
• To be sure, the Bible is much more than William How stated: a golden casket where gems of truth are
stored. It is more than a bewildering collection of oracles, proverbs, poems, architectural directions,
annals, and prophecies. The Bible has a story line. It traces an unfolding drama (Clowney, The
Unfolding Mystery, 11).
• Unfortunately, many conservative evangelicals today treat the Bible more like the Encyclopedia
Britannica. If you know what you are looking for, good—but don’t read it as having a central plot. Or,
the Bible is treated as a handbook of timeless principles: Genesis for science; Leviticus for worship;
Deuteronomy for government; Proverbs for life; Daniel and Revelation for end-time predictions, etc.
• Unfortunately, in reality, this approach treats the Bible as a patchwork quilt of disparate pieces rather
than a single fabric.
• As Hans Frei made clear,7 the blame for not treating the biblical text as a single story is not the fault only
of the higher critics but of conservatives as well. In other words, the reader decides what he is looking
for—and then finds it. But, what is found is no longer the story of God’s work in Christ.
• Thus, Frei and his group (“narrative theology”; the Yale Divinity School; e.g. Brevard Childs) have
called for a return to a pre-critical way of reading Scripture. Of course, this doesn’t mean they reject the
last 2 centuries of biblical criticism (they embrace naturalistic presuppositions). Rather, they argue that
the modern way of reading Scripture has missed the point.
• Of course, given their somewhat Barthian view of Scripture,8 there are major concerns with this group.
However, rightfully, they insist on (1) the Bible as a narrative of saving events; (2) its Christ-centered
Postliberals and narrative theologians trace their lineage back to Frei’s “The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative” (1974).
Especially the Barthian reluctance to address the relationship between the narrative and factual history or other truth-claims. We
must remember that the story of Jesus can’t be separated from the truth claims of Jesus and his disciples. So “history-like” versus
“historical,” a distinction often used by Frei and other narrative theologians, isn’t helpful.
focus, and (c) the unity of the canon as a presupposition of the promise-fulfillment pattern of the
To be sure, this approach is not novel. Jesus Christ himself, in speaking with the religious leaders who
highly revered but failed to truly understand the Scriptures, said: “You search the Scriptures, for in them
you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come
to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
Through the Scriptures, Peter says (referring to the Old Testament), the “Spirit of Christ” revealed “ . . .
the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow (1 Pet 1:11).
The sermons in Acts reflect this as well: Christ is preached from the OT. The 1st Christian sermons,
therefore, do not proclaim Moses as a great Christian leader, nor is the purpose to demonstrate Joshua’s
courage or David’s heart for the Lord. Gideon’s fleece is not a story of seeking the Lord’s will for our
lives. Rather, Scripture is all about Christ, from beginning to end.
As Horton points out, too often in conservative exegesis, there is a biblicism that is naïve and unbiblical:
the assumption that we’re simply looking for what is there in the text. Each time we go to the text, we
are starting from scratch (no blinders, no presuppositions). Unfortunately, this is not only impossible, it
blinds us to our presuppositions so that we can’t critique them. “To say that all of Scripture is about
Christ and that, therefore, whatever does not proclaim Christ is not sufficiently biblical, is not to impose
expectations on the text. Rather, it is to come to have certain expectations of the text because it is the
text itself which tells us to expect it!”
That is, if we know what we are looking for (the “big picture”), because the Bible itself sets forth that
goal, the system that arises naturally from the Bible itself, a “coherent discourse concerning God’s
redemptive drama” (Horton). Reading the parts in the light of that whole (redemptive-historical
interpretation), not only becomes fruitful but necessary.
Hence, the need for the various horizons when doing exegesis.
The Textual Horizon
“Spare no pains to seek more and more the most basic original sense of the biblical words, and let this
be the root-sense of everything additional” (J.T. Beck).
“Interpretation of the Bible involves both a linguistic side, focusing on the language of the Bible, and a
historical side, focusing on the events and contexts in which they occur. . . . Thus, we may speak of
grammatical-historical interpretation” . . . which “focuses on the original context” (textual horizon)
“The meaning of words and phrases; the effort to understand the cultural distance b/t text & reader; the
textual, historical, circumstantial, and social contexts; and the identification of genre, are the key
elements” of this horizon (McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 158).
(1) Select a text. Choose a complete text (not a fragment to be used out of its context). Of course working
through a book of the Bible will greatly assist you here. Paragraph preaching is an excellent model to
follow when preaching the epistles—episode preaching when preaching the narratives.
(2) Determine the limits of the text. Seek to identify where a passage begins and ends. Look for a
complete unity of thought (paragraph or pericope).
A. Check the paragraphing indicated in the English translations. The New American Standard
Bible, for example, indicates a new paragraph by boldfacing the verse number of the first letter
in the new paragraph. The NIV and NKJV also do this.
B. Consider how what goes before and after your text influences the interpretation of the text.
Would broadening the scope of your text by a verse or two in either direction alter your
understanding of the text?
C. Look for literary clues: introductory statements; indications of time, place, or location; and
concluding summary statements.
D. Look for thematic elements that hold a passage together and set if off from surrounding verses.
Reoccurring phrases or words are a valuable clue.
E. Finally, consider the way commentators arrange the text into sections.
(3) Explore the text (read the entire book and the particular passage repeatedly. If you have the ability you
should read directly from the original languages). This is the observation stage.
(4) Learn as much as possible about the historical, cultural, and literary context of the passage.
(resource and reference stage) Broadly speaking, this means learning as much as possible about the
world, which the document emerges. More narrowly, the concern is to learn as much as possible about
the specific context and content of the entire work and then the specific context of the passage being
studied. Exegesis usually focuses on specific passages of a document, but a given pericope can be
understood only in light of the whole. Understanding of the whole, however, presupposes understanding
the individual parts. This is the horizontal hermeneutical circle; interpretation takes place in the
continual movement of knowing the part from the whole and the whole from the part. Attention must be
given to the purpose and location of the whole document and then to the location within the document of
the passage in question. The relation to passages immediately preceding and following the pericope
being studied is among the most important relations for understanding. Also involved is the ability to
perceive relations to other practices or writings, most importantly, quotations or allusions to the OT, but
also cultural aspects of Judaism or the Greco-Roman world (such as attitudes toward impurity or
emperor worship). Some people distinguish between the context and the cotext of a passage, with the
former referring to the historical and sociological setting of the text (historical and social context) and
the latter referring to the sentences and paragraphs surrounding the passage and related to it (literary
context). Both aspects are necessary before we begin a detailed analysis of a particular passage (Grant
• Concerning the cotext, unless we can grasp the whole b/4 attempting to dissect the parts, interpretation is
doomed. Without a situation to give a particular verse or passage content, it becomes meaningless. In
Scripture, the cotext provides the situation behind the text. In fact, there is no meaning apart from
context, only several possible meanings. (Osborne).
Literary Context (Cotext) (Daniel Doriani, p. 44 “Getting the Message”)
. Studies the written text
. Can ignore identity of author
. Can study words in themselves
. Considers what any competent reader hears.
. Is accessible to any attentive reader
. Rewards intensive study of one text.
• The most crucial principle of biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning. The Holy
Spirit moved the appointed writers to connect their words, sentences, and paragraphs into a literary
whole in the normal way that people use language to communicate. Envision how a text would
appear if the sentences weren’t linked together to form a unified message.
o E.g.: We heard some remarkable news on television the other night. The referee blew the
holding penalty in the end zone to cost the 49ers the Super Bowl. Lint on the filter was
keeping the dryer from functioning efficiently. Ice on the road required the commissioner of
the league to cancel the games. The deacon got stuck in the elevator because it
malfunctioned. Monday class has to be cancelled due to the professor’s mission trip.
Communication doesn’t work this way. We don’t string together randomly selected
truths when we are seeking to communicate. Sentences build on previous sentences
and lead into subsequent sentences in order to create a intelligible message.
• Duvall and Hays (Grasping God’s Word) argues that to ignore this, we can twist the Scriptures and
“prove” virtually anything. For example, consider a man seeking counsel from God’s Word about
whether to ask his girlfriend to marry him. As he dances around the Bible, he finds a couple of
verses that provide the answer he desires: 1 Cor 7:36c: “They should get married.” John 13:27:
“What you are about to do, do quickly.”
o But context protects us from committing this error. Indeed, the 1 Corinthians’ context
reveals that Paul is actually saying that it’s better not to marry. And in the passage from John,
the phrase refers to Judas’s betraying Jesus and has nothing to do with marriage.
o By honoring the literary context, we are honoring what God has to say rather than putting
words in his mouth.
• Finding the literary context of any passage consists of 3 steps:
1. Identify how the book is divided into paragraphs or sections
• Things that mark changes or transitions include:
o Conjunctions (e.g. therefore, then, but)
Change of genre (e.g. from a greeting to a prayer)
Changes of topic or theme (main idea)
Changes in time, location or setting.
Grammatical changes (e.g. subject, object, pronouns, verb tense, person or
2. Summarize the main idea of each section.
• In doing this, consider two things:
o The topic or main idea of the section
o What the authors says about the topic or main idea
3. Explain how your particular passage relates to the surrounding sections.
• Ideally (and ministry isn’t typically done in ideal conditions),you summarize the main
idea of each section of the book before you begin the exegetical task.
• However, due to time limitations, if you do nothing else besides summarizing the idea of
what comes before and what comes after your passage, most interpretative mistakes can
. Studies the people and culture receiving a text
. Stresses identity of author and audience
. Stresses author’s intent as he uses words
. Considers what the original audience heard.
. Is accessible to readers who know background
. Rewards cumulative study of many texts.
• The central principle here is that Scripture was “God’s Word to other people before it became God’s
Word to us. This crucial truth leads us to a fundamental interpretive principle: For our interpretation
of text of Scripture to be in force, it must be consistent with the historical-cultural context of that
o The most important thing to know about historical context is why the biblical writer is
writing his text.
o Having said that, background /historical-cultural context studies are helpful as well. This
includes information about the author, the audience—their background, circumstances, and
relationship—as well as geographical, social, religious, economic, and political elements
linked to the text. This exercise includes both the historical cultural context of the book that
contains the passage and the specific historical-cultural context of the passage itself.
Tools for Identifying Historical-Cultural Context (Background)
o Bible Handbooks (Ryken’s is excellent)
o Old Testament and New Testament Introductions and Surveys
o Bible Atlases
o Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
o Background Commentaries
o Special Studies in Ancient Life and Culture
o Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman)
o Introductions in Study Bibles (ESV, MacArthur, and Holman)
The methods for studying historical and literary context differ considerably, but both begin by finding
the main themes and purposes of the book to be studied. If you plan to study or teach a series of lessons
from one book of the Bible, your first step is to read your entire book to gain a view of the whole. What
is the main theme? What are the main divisions? What issues come up repeatedly? Who is the author?
What prompted him to write? Who is the intended audience? Are they believers or not, faithful or not,
or Jewish, Gentile, or mixed? How much do they know? What are their needs and concerns?
You can answer many of these questions yourself by reading your book carefully, noting the author’s
statements of purpose. For example, John wrote his gospel to bring people to faith & eternal life (Jn
20:31). He wrote his 1st letter to give genuine believers assurance of their faith & salvation (1 Jn 5:13).
Jude wrote to contend for the faith against false teachers (Jude 3). Luke wrote to give his readers an
orderly and accurate account of the life of Christ, in order to strengthen them in their faith (Luke 1:1-4).
• If you cannot find a statement of purpose in a book, try to formulate one. For example, Paul wrote
Galatians to refute false teachers who were perverting his gospel, and to reestablish the Galatians in the
gospel of grace and justification by faith alone. Old Testament books rarely make explicit statements of
purpose, but we can readily see that Genesis is about the beginnings of humanity and of the covenant
people, and that Exodus is about Israel’s escape from Egypt and the beginning of her national life.
• After you have examined the book yourself, read an introduction that covers the same ground and
compare notes. If time is short, or you are studying only one text from a book rather than doing a series,
you may want to go directly to a reference work.
• With regard to the literary context, chapter and verse divisions in our Bible created one of the biggest
hurdles to the process of interpretation. It wasn’t until the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. that verse
divisions began to appear on the Hebrew Bible of the Jewish Masoretes. “The standard division of the
OT into verses which has come down to our own day and is found in most translations as well as in the
Hebrew original was fixed by the Masoretic family of Ben Asher about A.D. 900.” (F.F. Bruce, “The
Books and the Parchments.”; pg. 118). Bruce adds: “The division into chapters, on the other hand, is
much later, and was first carried through by Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro in 1244.” (pg. 118)
o Others attribute the division into chapters to Stephen Langton, professor at the University of
Paris and later Archbishop of Canterbury, in A.D. 1228.
The chapter & verse references do help us identify & locate passages quickly. They
enable us to avoid vague references like these found respectively in Heb 2:6; 3:7; and
5:6: “there is a place where someone has testified,” introducing Ps 8:4-6; “as the Holy
Spirit says,” quoting Ps 95:7-11; or “and he (God) says in another place,” indicating Ps
110:4). (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, pg 217). But unfortunately they have also
contributed to the widespread practice of elevating individual verses to the status of
independent units of thought. Each verse is treated like a complete expression of truth
that, like a number in a phone book, has no connection to what precedes or follows—
each is a “quote for the day” or “proof text” considered in isolation from its biblical
context. There is simply no justification for routinely treating individual verses as
independent thought units that contain autonomous expressions of truth. As written
communication, readuers must understand biblical statements as integral parts of the
larger units where they occur. Detached from their contexts, individual verses may take
on meanings never intended by their writers. To qualify as the text’s intended meaning,
an interpretation must be compatible with the total thought and the specific intention of
the immediate context and the book context.” (Klein, Hubbard, 217).
(5) Determine the significance of the Genre both of the whole work and of the individual passage.
• This is important in understanding the Bible for several reasons (see Michael Lawrence, Biblical
Theology in the Life of the Church, 44):
• 1st, distinct genres tend to have distinct rules/patterns of communicating. For instance, a promise
and a proverb have quite different functions: the former entails a commitment, whereas the latter
states what is only generally true. Furthermore, certain word patterns are so closely associated
with a genre that their use almost immediately defines what one is looking at & how to interpret
it. E.g.: “once upon a time…” signals fairy tale, not history, while “Dear Joe…love, Sally”
signals epistle, not a legal brief.
• 2nd, the Bible consists of multiple genres. Yes, the whole Bible is true, & it needs to be read
literally, but reading the legal statues of Exodus literally looks different than reading the poetry
of Psalm 17 literally. Otherwise, we risk saying that David in Ps 17 contracted the 2nd
commandment by describing God as having wings like a mother hen under which he could hid.
• 3rd, it helps with books or passages that feel culturally foreign & difficult to grasp. Two examples
are genealogies & apocalyptic literature. Do we apply the rules of genre from narrative or
epistle? Some have done that & it produces boring genealogies & fantastical apocalyptic.
• Narrative—Makes up 40 % of the OT & 60 % of the NT. Narrative provides the overall framework
within which we understand all the other genres. How do we exegete narrative?
o Preliminary Thoughts:
The primary goal of narrative analysis is to discern the activity of God as he achieves
salvation (Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work, 166).
Should historical texts be treated mainly for their exemplary value or for their
contribution to and place in salvation history? In exemplary preaching the characters
in the narrative serve as examples of godly or godless living as the case may be. A
particular character, for example, Nehemiah, may be chosen as the means of teaching
principles of leadership or some quality. Yet, to take this approach often involves the
preacher in some very big assumptions about the character. Are principles of
excellent leadership the only lessons to learn from Nehemiah? Biblical characters,
even major ones, are frequently ambiguous as to their exemplary value. It is not
always clear whether some characteristics or action is recounted intentionally as a
blemish or as a virtue. We need to evaluate the biblical characters, even the great
heroes of the faith, in the light of the larger perspective of salvation history. In opting
for a salvation history approach we do not thereby rule out any appeal to biblical
characterization. It is a matter of the perspective of the text as a whole.
The gospel thrust of narrative texts come either from the covenant promises (epoch
A: up to the first part of Solomon’s reign) or the prophetic eschatology (epoch B: the
split of the kingdom onward), both of which provide the biblical-theological context
for the texts. It is impossible to understand the theological function of a given text
unless we understand how it relates to the promise of the covenant or to the
eschatology of the prophets.
Crucial points in preaching narrative:
• It is crucial to locate the episode into the context of the narratives that
surround it; likewise relate it to the book as a whole and the redemptive
historical context. What role does this narrative play in the overall narrative
(of the book and the canon)?
• To accomplish this, consider the following guidelines:
a. Be aware of the overall story of the OT. Explore how the character or
episode fits into the big picture.
b. Study the overall themes and message of the book of the Bible that your
episode is in. Read a summary statement of the book in your dictionary,
encyclopedia, handbook, Intro to OT, etc.
c. Read the entire larger episode. For example, when studying Abraham,
read the entire Abrahamic narrative (Gen 12-25)
d. As a minimum, read three chapters: the entire chapter in which episode
occurs, the chapter that precedes it, and the chapter that follows.
• The story is never complete in itself & belongs as part of the one big story of
salvation culminating in Jesus Christ. Simply telling a story based on a piece
of historical narrative, however complete in itself, is not Christian preaching.
A sermon involves the application of biblical truths to the present hearers.
• Biblical theology is the antidote to dehistoricizing the biblical message.
Story-telling sermons can easily be hijacked by an existential philosophy. The
value of the story according to this approach is not that it tells us what actually
happened in history, but only that it increases our personal self-understanding.
• In short: The exemplary sermon is more inclined to lead us to ask, How does
this character or event testify to my existence? By contrast, the redemptivehistorical approach is more inclined to lead us to ask, How does this event or
character testify to Christ? Let us never forget that our existence is only
properly defined in terms of our being either in Christ our outside of Christ. If
we really want to know how a text testifies to our existence, it must do so via
its testimony to Christ.
• The approach to OT narrative is similar to that of the Gospels. One of the
differences, however, is that the episodes in the OT are usually longer than
those in the New. In the Gospels most of the stories are only a few verses
long. Furthermore, the context analyzed was usually the paragraphs
immediately preceding and immediately following. So the analysis of the
Gospels are fairly compact. The episodes w/I the OT narrative, however, are
usually longer, often involving entire chapters (Duvall).
o Six crucial elements of narrative: (Duvall)
(1) Plot: Is an expansion of the What? and the How? questions. Plot is the organizing
structure that ties narrative together. Plot is also the feature that ties individual episodes
into a larger coherent story. For example, in the narrative about Abraham (Gen 12-25)
there are numerous short episodes about his life (he receives the promise, he goes to
Egypt, he rescues Lot, he sends Hagar way, etc). All of these shorter episodes are part of
the larger plot of the story that deals with God’s promise to Abraham & the fulfillment
of that promise. Most narrative plots have three basic components. The story starts off
with exposition, in which the basic setting is described and the main series of events
begins. Second, is conflict. Usually something in the exposition part of the story is
characterized by incompleteness, disorder, or unfilled desire, and this shortcoming leads
to conflict. Third, causality: it explores how one event leads logically to the next.
Example: “The king died and the queen died is a story. “The king died and the queen
dies of grief, is a plot. “The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, is a simple story, but
“God sent Babylon to destroy Jerusalem because of Israel’s sin is a plot. (Paul House).
(2) Setting: Deals with the questions When? And Where? The setting is important. The
events of the narrative take place against a backdrop, and the backdrop affects how we
understand the story. Note particularly when anyone leaves the Promised Land. It was
connected to their covenant relationship with God. Third, the place setting is also
important, especially since it changes several times in the story. Readers should know
when the major events in the narratives occurred and where they took place.
Abram’s Birth: 2166 B.C.
Isaac’s Birth: 2066 B.C.
Jacob’s Birth: 2006 B.C.
Joseph’s Birth: 1916 B.C.
Joseph Taken to Egypt: 1899 B.C.
Joseph’s Death: 1806 B.C.
Moses’ Birth: 1526 B.C.
Joshua’s Birth: 1476 B.C.
Exodus: 1446 B.C.
Moses’ Death: 1406 B.C.
Conquest of Canaan: c.a. 1406-1399 B.C.
Joshua’s Death: 1366 B.C.
Saul Anointed King: 1051 B.C.
David Born: 1041 B.C.
David becomes King: (1010 B.C.)
Solomon becomes King (970 B.C.)
Solomon begins to build temple: 966 B.C.
Kingdom splits (931 B.C.)
Northern Kingdom destroyed by Assyria: 722 B.C.
Southern Kingdom’s deportment: 605 B.C.--586 B.C.
Exile ends: 538 B.C.
Rebuilds Temple: 520-516 B.C.
Ezra and Nehemiah: worked after the return: 450 B.C.
(3) Characters: Characters are the answer to the Who? Question, and are critical to
(4) Viewpoint of the Narrator: The author is the one responsible for conveying the meaning
to the readers through the story. Sometimes the narrator expresses his view to us clearly
by using summary statements or judgment statements. However, the narrator often stays
neutral. The meaning he conveys through the story is an implicit meaning, not an explicit
one. He lets the characters and their actions speak for themselves. The narrator can also
appear to be positive toward an event when in reality he is not. In these cases he usually
gives subtle clues as to his true point of view. For example, 1 Kings 1-11, which focuses
on the splendor and grandeur of Solomon’s kingdom. Solomon’s wisdom and wealth are
stressed. The narrator seems to be extolling Solomon and his empire. However, he is not
telling the story w/ a straight face. He starts to drop clues: Solomon showed his love for
the Lord by walking according to the statues of his father David, except he offered
sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. Solomon accumulated horses (10:26;
c.f. Deut 17:16) wives (11:3; cf. Deut 17:17) and silver (10: 27; Deut. 17:17). Earlier in
the story, Solomon took 7 yrs. to build the temple (6:38) but 13 yrs. for his own house
(5) Comparison/Contrast (Achan and Rahab) (Saul and David)
(6) Irony: Used to describe situations where the literal or surface meaning of an event or
episode is quite different—sometimes opposite—of the narrator’s intended meaning.
This is done to present the meaning w/ more force. (As seen w/ Solomon)
• Note, Wayne McDill offers the helpful alliteration:
o New Situation
Parable—Essentially, a parable is a pictorial comparison between something familiar & known a
spiritual truth or reality. The picture is typically functional, though realistic. How do we exegete
o Most importantly: “What’s the main point or points?”
o Pay attention to repetition, the reversal of expectations, or changes in voice from first to third
o The conclusion or main point is typically at the end, & usually centers on the nature of the
kingdom or the King.
o Context is king, so interpret parables in light of the context of the larger surrounding
narrative. Don’t treat them as if they were a random collection. The parables, by their very
nature as self-contained stories, can easily be separated from their context and end up saying
something that seems to fly in the face of the gospel emphasis. If the discipline of redaction
criticism has taught us anything it is that the biblical documents in general, and the Gospels
in particular, have been carefully crafted to convey a message.
o In the case of the parable in question, we should, in our own thinking, place it in the context
of the Gospel’s linking of Jesus to the salvation history of the Old Testament, and all that
such a link implies. The preacher should read and reread the several chapters that surround
the parable and note how impossible it is to deal with it in any other way that as part of the
message of what Jesus has come to do for us.
Poetry—One third of the OT (which is more than the whole NT) is poetry. It exists by itself (the
Psalms), but is also found throughout other genres (e.g. Wisdom & Prophecy). How do we exegete
o The most common feature of Hebrew poetic structure is parallelism in three different forms
—synonymous (an idea is repeated for emphasis), synthetic (one idea builds upon another),
& antithetical (one idea is contrasted with another).
o Other features include word play, alliteration & alphabetic acrostic, repetition, hyperbole,
contrast, metonymy (substitution), & synecdoche (the whole stands for the part or vice
o It uses metaphor & simile, figurative images, irony, & euphemism
o Key: remember it’s a poem. A literal reading will look different than a literal reading of
Wisdom—Wisdom literature is about skill at living in God’s world & in light of God’s character.
Wisdom is the fruit of the fear of the Lord, which means being correctly oriented toward God & the
creation he’s made, including other people. It speaks of what is generally true, but it also addresses
what appear to be the exceptions to that general truth. How do we exegete wisdom literature?
o We need to recognize that wisdom literature comes to us in multiple forms, or sub-genres.
Drama (Job, SOS)
Sayings (Prov 9-31)
Autobiographical confession & admonition (Ecc, Prov 1-8)
o Whatever the form, the key in interpretation is to read it in context & according to its stated
Job intends to address the problem of unjust suffering
Ecclesiastes intends to realistically address the point of life.
The Proverbs intends to engender the fear of God & then show that fear (or lack of it)
demonstrates itself in all sorts of contexts. It is emphatically not law code.
Song of Solomon is a celebration of human love in marriage that points beyond itself
to God’s love for his people.
Prophecy-Contains both narrative & poetry, but what sets them apart as their own genre is the
presence of the prophetic oracle: Thus says the Lord. The prophets arrive on the biblical scene as
attorneys for the prosecution, arguing God’s case in a covenant lawsuit against Israel for breaking
the covenant. But not only do they make the case, they prophetically warn of the judgment to come
(calling for repentance) & prophetically proclaim the salvation to come (calling for faith). How do
we exegete prophecy?
o The basic feature—and problem-of interpretation is the promise-fulfillment dynamic. This is
what divides interpreters. When, where, and how a prophecy is fulfilled helps us understand
o One important aspect of prophecy is the prophetic foreshortening of events. The prophets see
the mountains on the distant horizon as a single, two-dimensional line. Once we actually get
there in history & travel into those mountains, we discover that there are multiple ranges
broad distances apart. This means that most, if not all, prophecies have multiple horizons of
o A common feature of prophecy is to use the language & images of the past in order to
describe the future. Creation, garden of Eden imagery, the flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, & the
exodus are all used to describe future events. These provide a theological understanding of
what’s happening, not necessarily a literal understanding.
o Quite a bit of prophecy is not predictive, but descriptive (typological). For example, the NT
understands that much of King David’s life anticipates the Messiah.
o As always, context is king. In the case of prophecy, the shape of the story of the Bible as a
whole is crucial. Revelation is progressive, & in the revelation of Jesus Christ, we’ve been
given both the main point & the end of the story. This means that we have an advantage over
OT readers. We work from the story of the whole Bible back to the prophecy, not the other
way around. As 1 Pet 1:10-13 asserts, the gospel gives us clearer vision than even the OT
prophets had. Therefore the NT determines the ultimate meaning of OT prophecy, not the
other way around.
Epistles--To generalize, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and the Epistles interpret it. The
apostles self-consciously understood themselves to be the recipients of & the fulfillment of the OT
promises in light of what Christ had done. Therefore the primary “context” of NT epistles is the OT.
How do we exegete epistles?
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Occasional Nature—More than the Gospels,
Acts, or the Book of Revelation, the Epistles are singularly aimed at a particular church,
churches, or individuals, and in each case they address specific situations or problems.
The occasional nature of the Epistles means that they are not to be preached in the
same way that one would read & preach universal maxims, which are based on what
unifies people in their common human experience and written to a broad, largely
unknown audience. As a result of their occasional nature, preaching the Epistles thus
demands that one understand & expound the letter against its own historical backdrop
in order to make sense of the letter itself and to make sense of it for the congregation.
Practically this means that in ascertaining the particular point of a passage, the
preacher must be careful to interpret it against the backdrop to which it was written,
in order to ascertain not only its meaning, but its significance as well. For in the
Epistles, it is the application of the author’s theology to a concrete situation which
provides the clue to the larger theological import of the text.
• The more one understands the letter’s historical context, the more the meaning
and significance of the letter become clear, and vice versa.
Preaching the Epistles in view of their occasional nature thus requires that one
ask, first, what is being said in a given passage, understood in its literary
context. Having ascertained as well as possible the content and flow of the
argument, the interpreter must then go on to ask why it was said, and why it
was said this particular way, given its historical context.
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Discursive Structure--This is the second aspect
which makes preaching the Epistles distinct. Unlike the other biblical genres, in which there
are periodic discursive sections, the epistles are characterized by their propositional
argumentation. This means that the flow of the argument of the Epistles is established by a
series of interrelated assertions in which the various statements are related to one another
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Main Points—The main point of the text is that
one assertion which may be restated ways in various ways throughout the passage, which is
supported by all of the other propositions in the paragraph, and which itself supports no other
proposition in the passage. One is ready to preach from the Epistles when one can state
explicitly what the main point of the text is, and how it is supported throughout the text.
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Imperative Exhortations--The danger in
preaching the Epistles is that the imperatives of the text will be separated from the indicative
theological statements upon which they are inseparably based, or from the fulfillment of the
promises to which they inevitably lead. When this occurs, the gospel of God’s grace is
perverted either into a demand for a life lived out before God on the basis of human
achievement on the one hand (legalism), or into the kind of “easy believism” which fails to
recognize that the growing life of obedience which inextricably flows from trusting in God’s
promises in the power of the Spirit is the evidence of genuine conversion on the other hand
(license). Thus, in preaching in the Epistles, the imperatives of the text must always be
grounded in their indicative substantiation.
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Whole--Preaching from the epistles demands of
the preacher that the message of the document be taken as a whole even if only a selection of
texts, or just one verse, is to be expounded. It is no good to say that we dealt with the
justification element three weeks ago & now we are following Paul into the imperatives &
injunctions for Christian living. Paul wasn’t anticipating a three week gap between his
exposition of the gospel & his defining of the implications of the gospel in our lives. Nor
was he anticipating that some people would not be present for the reading of the whole
epistle and would hear part of its message out of context.
Apocalyptic—The point & purpose of apocalyptic literature is to give God’s people hope in the
midst of present sufferings based on god’s certain victory over their enemies, both now & in the
future. To do that, apocalyptic draws heavily on the images of the past, as well as other stylized
imagery. The point is to review the sweep of history & show it’s culmination in the victory of God’s
kingdom. How do we exegete apocalyptic?
o Two main examples in the Bible are Daniel & Revelation. But neither is merely apocalyptic.
Daniel is prophetic literature & Revelation is a prophetic epistle.
o Literary context is important. Biblical apocalyptic draws specifically on biblical images from
the OT (Babylon, plagues), as well as “stock” images from the wider genre (the horn,
celestial bodies, etc).
o Apocalyptic provides a schematization of history, but that scheme isn’t necessarily
chronological. For example, each series of seven plagues in Revelation (seals, trumpets,
bowls) ends with the end of the world. And yet, it would be easy to read the series as
sequential. So how many times does the world end? In fact, there is a pattern in these series.
History is recapitulated from different perspectives, leading to the climax of the last two
o Without going into a detailed treatment of the various approaches to interpreting Revelation,
the main point is clear. God’s people can endure present suffering because of their
confidence that God wins. And they know he wins, not because of prophetic revelation, but
because of what Christ has already accomplished in the past, through his death &
(6) Determine the structure of a passage. Thought is always structured or it is nonsensical. In discerning
the structure of a passage, we are able to follow the flow of the author’s logic and come to
understanding. Some structures are set by convention (such as letters) or chronology (narratives).
Others provide insight through creative arrangement, using such features as parallelism, etc. One of the
most important questions to keep asking the text is “What has prominence”? What has the author
emphasized by repetition, placement, or some other device?
(7) Determine the syntax of the passage. If analysis of structure deals w/ the general flow of the thought
in a passage, syntax is concerned with the flow of thought in detail and how individual clauses, phrases,
and words relate to each other. With narrative texts, the overall syntax may be rather straightforward
and obvious. With more discursive material, often the syntax is quite complex (cf. Eph 1:3-14).
(8) Determine the significance of individual words or constructions (Semantics). Discerning how
specific words convey meaning is crucial, but exegesis is more than word studies (word studies are often
misleading). Words have a conventional range of meaning, ways we expect them to be used. These
meanings (dictionary definitions) make up the semantic field of a word. Any aspect of a word’s meaning
—but not all of it—may be used in a given context, or the word may be even used creatively in a new
way. Word studies show the etymology of words, which may be of no significance for later meaning.
Such work must be done, but it does not show what a word means in a given context. One can only
know that meaning by discerning the relations in the context.
(9) Do Discourse Analysis. Discourse (units of connected text that are longer than paragraphs) Analysis:
the study of the way authors put sentences and paragraphs together to make their points. It discovers the
main ideas of sections of the Bible and explores the way authors present and defend their ideas through
logic and rhetoric. Each discourse, deals w/ a single topic or story & has a beginning, development, &
conclusion. Naturally, we relate to the larger discourses
A. To begin this analysis, it helps to begin w/ a least a rough idea of the theme before the detailed
analysis begins. Authors scatter clues that help readers find their main topics and ideas (Doriani,
(a) Location—The main idea frequently occurs in the first or the last sentence of a section
or a paragraph, or in both.
(b) Restatement—Authors restate, repeat, or return to the main concept. For example,
James says 3 times in 2:14-26, in slightly different ways, that faith w/o works is dead.
(c) Direct Address—Authors may address their hearers before stating a main idea. (Hear O
Israel, Brothers, Dear Friends)
(d) Introductory Formulas—To draw attention to their chief points, authors introduce them
w/ phrases like “I— want you to know,” or “I write these things to you so that.”
(e) Concluding Formulas—Look for words that summarize a discussion, such as therefore,
B. General Principles for Discourse Analysis (Doriani, 81ff)
(a) Look for words & phrases that explicitly connect one idea to another (and, but, if, then,
therefore, for, so that, because, so, since, when, just as, in order that, while, after, etc).
(b) Look for implicit and understated connections
(c) To capture the message of the Bible, we need to study paragraphs more than single
words or even sentences. That is, discourse analysis works on paragraphs, whole
chapters, and even larger segments of books, as well as sentences.
(d) Consider Galatians: Paul wrote it to a group of churches he founded in the Roman
province of Galatia during his 1st missionary journey. They were healthy until the
Judaizers visited them preaching the law and the claim that Paul’s gospel lacked
authority since he was not really an apostle and so Paul responded w/ a letter. It is
possible to see the whole book as a simple discourse where Paul defends his apostleship
and asserts the true purpose of the law.
Transcend the historical-critical approach with a theological-canonical interpretation.
Biblical exegesis does not deal merely with individual books but also with the relations between them
(biblical theology) in coming to understand the parts in light of the whole. This step requires both the
epochal horizon & the canonical horizon. That is, a purely analytical/synchronic approach (which
concentrates on the details of revelation at any given point like a series of still shots—Historical
Horizon) very easily leads to the fragmentation of the Bible that distorts the unity created by the divine
Author (Goldsworthy, PTWB, 26). For instance, in 1980 a book appeared where in the opening pages
the author argues that the best way to refute Christians who argue that Jesus is prophesied in the OT is to
use grammatical-historical exegesis to determine what the text really means. The author argues that this
procedure will conclusively demonstrate that the original meaning of the OT prophecies have nothing to
do with Jesus. Ironically, the advocates the same exegetical method espoused in most Christian books
on biblical interpretation (S. Levine, You Take Jesus, I’ll Take God: How to Refute Christian
The Epochal Horizon
It is at this stage one considers the diachronic unity of revelation (synthetic approach). This is where the
details begin to be put together in sequence to form the big picture (Goldsworthy, PWB, 27).9
As Clowney points out, God did not accomplish his purpose all at once. He did not send Christ to be
born of Eve by the gates of Eden, nor did he inscribe the whole Bible on the tablets of stone given to
Moses at Sinai. Rather, God showed himself to be the Lord of times and seasons (Acts 1:7). The story
of God’s saving work is framed in epochs, in periods of history that God determines by his word of
promise (Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 12).
This horizon is concerned with how the revelation of God was understood in its time, and what the total
picture is that was built up over the whole historical process.10
Where is the passage in redemptive-history and what is the significance of that? The most obvious
epochal division is b/t the OT and the NT. But there are also other divisions.
Knowing this horizon is important for at least two reasons: first, if this question were asked each time, it
could clear up the tendency to convert a significant event in redemptive history into an unhistorical
pattern for us today (e.g. theocracy in Israel, temple worship, tongues in Acts, etc).
Secondly, by knowing this horizon, one can come to terms with the “gospel” hope in the particular text
With regard to the OT, the “gospel” thrust of narrative texts comes either from the covenant promises
(epoch A) or the prophetic eschatology (epoch B), both of which provide the biblical-theological context
for the texts (Goldsworthy).
It is impossible to understand the theological function of a given text unless we understand how it relates
to the promises of the covenant or to the eschatology of the prophets.
When we consider the nature of prophetic eschatology in more detail, we see that it is like a secondstage rocket propelling the Abrahamic covenant towards its fulfillment.
Helpful in this regard is Vaughan Roberts’ work in dividing the Bible into eight main epochs in God’s
plan to restore his kingdom.11
(1) The pattern of the kingdom—The Garden of Eden. Here we see the world as God designed it to
be. God’s people, Adam and Eve, live in God’s place, the garden, under his rule as they submit to
(2) The perished kingdom—The results of Adam and Eve’s defiance against God are disastrous. They
are no longer God’s people (they turn away from him and he turns away from them). They are no
longer in God’s place (they are exiled from the garden). They are no longer under God’s rule, so
they do not enjoy his blessing. Instead they face his curse and judgment.
• Actually, the entire discourse and canonical position of Genesis 3-11 is highly
significant b/c these chapters offer not one but 4 pictures of humankind’s rebellion
against and alienation from God (as Genesis 1-2 in its portrayal of the pattern of the
kingdom describes the relationship b/t God, man and creation was it was originally
intended to be), which communicate the need for God’s gracious intervention. The 4
Genesis is the classic account of the fall. From a literary point of view, it can be seen as
“the prototypical biblical tragedy,” with the basic temptation to “be like God” (Gen 3:5).
This rebellion results in alienation from God.
Genesis 4 illustrates how alienation from God produces alienation from one’s fellow
Caveat: A purely synthetic approach may impose a simplistic unity that overlooks much of the diversity in the Bible. Biblical
theology requires an amalgam of 2 perspectives on the biblical material: analytic/synchronic and synthetic/diachronic.
Several scholars were recently asked to summarize the central message of the Bible in one sentence. Their conclusions are found in
God’s Big Picture
The longer story of the flood (Gen 6-8) represents God’s righteous judgment on a
creation that has become corrupt.
The story of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11) is a variant on the theme of human beings
wishing themselves in the place of God, with disastrous results. Humankind is a
fragmented into different languages and nations; yet among these are the ancestors of
Abram through whom God will being to work out his plan for the salvation of the human
• In short, these 4 stories speak of the solidarity with which all men are bound together in
sin. But they also point forward to God’s plan of salvation.12 They prepare the way for
the promise of the eschatological kingdom.
(3) The promised kingdom—God, in his grace and mercy, determines to restore his kingdom. He calls
Abraham and makes some unconditional promises to him: through Abraham’s descendents God will
re-establish his kingdom. Abraham’s seed will be God’s people, living in his land and enjoying
God’s blessing, and through them all peoples on earth will be blessed. Scobie points out that it is
highly significant that the account of God’s dealings with Israel (beginning with the promised
kingdom) is preceded by the account of the creation of all things and of the origins and prehistory of
humankind as a whole. That is, God’s dealings with Israel in the historical order are placed in the
broader context of God’ concern for all humankind (The Ways of Our God, 149).
(4) The partial kingdom—Through the exodus from Egypt, God makes Abraham’s descendents his
very own people. God gives them his law so that they might live under his rule and enjoy his
blessing, as Adam and Eve had done before sin. The blessing is marked primarily by God’s
presence w/ his people in the tabernacle. Under Joshua they entered the land and by the time of
David and Solomon, one sees the highest expression of God’s kingdom under the Old Covenant.
Israel was God’s people in God’s place, under God’s rule. Yet, the promises to Abraham had not
been completely fulfilled. The problem was sin, which lead to the dismantling of the partial
(5) The prophesied kingdom—The kingdom is split (931B.C) with Israel in the north and Judah in the
south. Eventually, the Assyrians depopulate the north (722 B.C) and the southern kingdom is exiled
to Babylon (605-586 B.C). During this time, God spoke to the people of Israel and Judah through
the prophets. The prophets point forward to a time (“in that day”) when God would act decisively
through his Davidic king (2 Sam 7), to fulfill all his promises. The uniqueness of this hope is that it
continuously links God’s kingship with the Davidic vice-regency. As for the eschatological hopes of
a people for the kingdom: a remnant (Isa 10:20-21); a new exodus (Jer 16:14-15); the servant (Isa
49:5-6; 52:13-53:12); the inclusion of the nations (Isa 49:6; Isa 60:1-3). As for the eschatological
hopes of God’s place in the kingdom: a new temple (Ezek 40-48); new creation (Isa 65:17-18). As
for the eschatological hopes of God’s rule: a new covenant (Jer 31:31-33; Ezek 36:26-27; Joel 2:2832); new king (2 Sam 7:12-16; Isa 9:6-7; Ps 110:1).
(6) The proximate kingdom—13 God’s people: embodied in the prophets (Zechariah and Haggai), the
priest (Joshua); and the king (the governor Zerubbabel who is the last heir to David). God’s place:
Canaan, penultimately Jerusalem, and ultimately the rebuilt temple. God’s rule: through the
prophets. 50 thousand Jews were redeemed out of exile (which is a penultimate antitype of the
Exodus b/c this time it was exile from sin, which means this fulfillment is heightened). This temple
rebuilding activity points to the one who will be both lord and servant of the temple (and the
fulfillment to that which the temple points). This is not to say that the rebuilding of the physical
temple was not crucial, even though God’s intention was to transition from a physical to a spiritual
temple. It is crucial to remember that the timeline of the history of redemption is not the same as the
history of revelation. The temporal interval b/t Zechariah’s time and the coming of Jesus (520 yrs)
is more than the interval b/t Zechariah’s time and the kingship of David (450 yrs). Although
canonically we may feel as if we are on the cusp of the NT era, historically we are far from it. God
restores his people to life in the land and provides priests to sustain this community for many yrs.
until the arrival of Jesus. The NT reveals the role of the temple and its worship in nurturing
messianic hope. Thus in Lk 2:21-40 we meet 2 people in the temple courts who are awaiting the
These four pictures are pointed out by Scobie, The Ways of Our God, pg. 163-4.
I have added this one, in light of the fact that his paradigm does not emphasize enough the importance of the postexilic community
that was called to rebuild the temple.
arrival of Christ: Simeon and Anna. They are reps. of the remnant community who were sustained
through the ministry of the temple and priests established in Zech.’s time.
(7) The present kingdom—Mark 1:14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into
Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 1:15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of
God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came,
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. Eph1:9-10 He made known to us
the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an
administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ,
things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him. Christ, though his humiliation and exaltation,
inaugurates the kingdom. The resurrection proved the success of Jesus’ rescue mission on the cross
and signal the dawn of the “new creation.”
(8) The proclaimed kingdom—During these “last days,” the redemptive kingdom of Christ,
inaugurated in his person and work, is extended (instrumentally speaking) to the ends of the earth
through God’s restored vice-regents/ambassadors, the church.
(9) The perfected kingdom—Revelation 21-22 describes a fully restored kingdom: God’s people,
Christians from all nations, in God’s place, the new heavens and earth, under God’s rule.
The Canonical Horizon
Crucial to this horizon is the continuity b/t the promises of God and his fulfillment of those
promises. This is the essential glue holding the diverse epochs together. The promisefulfillment motif is fundamental and the authors write with the knowledge that God has been
faithful to his promises in times past, and so will be in the future.
One important biblical means of presenting promise-fulfillment is through the use of typology.
Typology allows for the promises of God to often have two or more fulfillment horizons. The
many Old and New Testament prophecies about the future and their fulfillments accustom us to
expect a “gradual” filling up of a foretold event. “Prophecy, in the sense that it reveals some part
of God’s redemptive purpose, is capable of being filled, of a achieving a fullness, so that when it
is filled full it is fulfilled. If we understand prophecy in this sense, we no longer ask the
question, ‘Is prophecy capable of more than one fulfillment?’ It is capable of more and more
filling until it is entirely fulfilled” William LaSor, Tyndale Bulletin 29 (1978): 55.
For example, the promise to Abraham regarding descendants and a great nation was fulfilled in
Isaac, later in the nation of Israel, supremely in Jesus (church), and ultimately in the new heavens
and the new earth (Gen 12; 13; Exod 3; 33; Jn 8; Acts 7; Gal 3; Rev 21-22).
Typology rests on the recognition that the way God spoke & acted in the OT was preparatory &
anticipatory of the definitive word & act of God in Christ (Goldsworthy, GCH, 243).
Typology Defined: “The interpretation of earlier events, persons, and institutions in biblical
history which become proleptic entities, or ‘types,’ anticipating later events, persons, and
institutions, which are their antitypes. It is thus actually a way of looking at history. . . it requires
a history that is under God’s sovereign control and is proceeding according to divine plan.”14
Duvall’s Definition of Typology: “A biblical event, person or institution which serves as an
example or pattern for other events, persons, or institutions.”
“Typology implies that, just as earlier revelation is ultimately understood only in light of later
revelation, so the later revelation can only be understood in relation to the earlier.”15
Goldsworthy: “The essence of typology is the recognition that w/i Scripture itself certain events,
people, and institutions in biblical history bear a particular relationship to later events, people, or
institutions. The relationship is such that the earlier foreshadows the later, and the later fills out
or completes the earlier” (Goldsworthy, 77). “It is a way of saying that “this is that,” that is, that
a later significant event is what an earlier one points to (Acts 2:16). (Goldsworthy, 77).
“Typology is sometimes written off as just a form of allegory that is thus uncontrolled and
invalid. . . . There are some similarities in that allegory and typology both recognize some kind
of correspondences. The difference, however, is vital. On the one hand, allegory was a method
that saw the old events and images as largely unimportant in themselves. The real task was to get
Dan McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 163.
behind them to the deeper spiritual meaning” which was “often quite unrelated to the original
historical meaning.” (Goldsworthy, 77)
“Typology, on the other hand, recognizes that the original historical meaning of the text is
theologically related to the later expression that fills it out and usually completes it. . . . Typology
helps us to deal w/ questions of how God actually ‘saved’ people before the one and only saving
event of Jesus Christ was revealed. While allegory sees mainly a superficial conceptual
relationship b/t OT events and the Christian gospel, typology sees the type as part of the
theological process of revelation that leads to the antitype or fulfillment in the gospel. . . . It is
theologically bound up w/ the antitype in a unity that means that those who related to the type are
similarly related to the antitype” (Goldsworthy, 77)
Typology: The idea that persons (e.g., Moses), events (e.g., the exodus) & institutions (e.g., the
temple) can—in the plan of God—prefigure a later stage in that plan & provide the conceptuality
necessary for understanding the divine intent (e.g., the coming of Christ to be the new Moses, to
effect the new exodus & to be the new temple)—G Cole, He Who Gives life, P. 289.
But identifying types is somewhat risky, unless one has controls:
(1) To be identified as a type, an event’s redemptive-historical function must be known, and must show an
organic relationship to the later redemptive history that it foreshadows.
(2) The nature of the type must lie in the main message of the material, not in some incidental detail
(Goldsworthy adds: “If the person or event is so incidental to the main narrative that it is difficult to
perceive the theological significance of the event in its own epoch, there is probably not a lot to be
gained (McCartney, 1-3, pg. 167)
(3) The antitype (fulfillment) must be greater than the type (an intensification)
(4) Some evidence that the type is ordained by God to foreshadow the antitype must be present (John
Currid, in Goldworthy, pg. 111)
(5) It must be grounded in history; both type and antitype must be actual historical events, persons, or
institutions (John Currid in Goldsworthy, 111)
(6) Typology deals not w/ words, but historical events (David Baker in Goldsworthy, 111)
(7) It identifies real correspondences b/t historical events (David Baker in Goldsworthy, 111)
The Use of the OT in the NT
Methods characteristic of the NT’s Use of the OT (McCartney, 68-9; see E.E. Ellis, “How the NT Uses the
(1) Generally, the NT cites from the LXX, but not exclusively. Thus, we have warrant for using
(2) Often introductory formulas are used, such as “it is written” or “the Holy Spirit says,” indicating that
(OT) Scripture confirms NT revelation, & that the OT is therefore prophetic in character. Thus the NT
indicates a high regard for Scripture as God’s speech.
(3) The NT treats OT events are genuine history, constitutive for the present state of affairs. Thus, the NT
warrants a grammatical-historical method.
(4) History is understood as being under divine control; it is going somewhere. God accomplishes salvation
in history. Thus, we look for a redemptive-historical meaning.
(5) OT history is understood as indicating where it was going. Thus, the OT should be understood
typologically & eschatologically.
(6) As in the OT, man is regarded both individually & corporately (the body of Christ) in the NT. Thus, we
apply a covenantal understanding.
(7) Christ fulfills the role & character of the corporate entities, mankind (Adam) & Israel (see Heb 2:8; Rom
5:12ff; 1 Cor 15:27), and thus those who are united to him become the true Israel (Gal 6:16; Phil 3:3) &
the perfect man (Eph 4:13; Col 1:28). Thus Scripture is interpreted Christocentrically &
(8) Scripture is regarded as a mystery that is now revealed (Mark 4:11; Eph 3:3), and “uncovered secret.”
Thus, we use an expositional method.
(Bock, Scripture citing Scripture, 271ff):
• “Prophetic Fulfillment”: Some texts reflect directly prophetic fulfillments. In such cases, the
human author and the divine author share the expectation, and only one event or series of events
is in view. The NT fulfillment of Dan 7:13-14 is an example of such a fulfillment (cf. Luke
21:27, 22:69; Mark 14:62)
• “Typological-Prophetic”: This means that pattern and promise are present, so that a short-term
event pictures and mirrors a long-term fulfillment. 2 Types of typological-prophetic fulfillment:
A. Typological-Prophetic fulfillment. In these texts, there is a short-term historical referent, and yet
the promise’s initial fulfillment is such that an expectation remains that more of the pattern needs
“filling up” to be completely fulfilled. An example is Isaiah 65-66 where the descriptions of
victory over the enemies are so idyllically portrayed as a new creation that the expectation arose
of a greater, ultimate fulfillment. Perhaps the best Christological example of this category is the
Servant figure of Isaiah (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). In Is 49:3, this figure is
explicitly called “Israel.” Even Jewish hope saw a future for a glorified servant figure, viewed in
terms of the nation; but they did not know how to integrate his suffering into the image or how to
deal with the individuality of the expression in Is 52-53.
B. “Typological-prophetic” fulfillment. Here the pattern is not anticipated by the language, but is
seen once the decisive pattern occurs. Only then does the connection of design become clear. It
works differently from the previous category in that the pattern is not anticipated or looked for
until the fulfillment makes the working out of a pattern apparent. The outstanding illustration
here is the use of Hos 11:1 in Matt 2:15 (“out of Egypt I have called my Son”). In Hosea, when
the book is read historically-exegetically, this remark apples to Israel as she was called out in the
Exodus. Everything about the passage looks to the past, although it is important to observe that
Hos 11:8-11 does not give up hope for Israel. So the review of history is set in a larger context
that does remind the nation that God’s care for her will not end, despite her past unfaithfulness in
the face of his faithfulness. Jesus’ reenactment of the nation’s Exodus experience invokes the
pattern of God working for his people again so that the connection can be made when one
recognizes that the Exodus itself is a pattern image for salvation and that Jesus as King (and as
the one in the many) is able to represent (and thus recapitulate) the nation’s history.
• ‘Authoritative Illustration”. The term is reflected in the example of the Exodus used by Paul in 1
Cor 10:1-13, where Paul explicitly spoke of Exodus events as ‘types’. Here the goal is not a
prophetic use but one of exhortation. The Corinthians are to learn from a past example about
behavior to avoid, namely, associating closely with activities related to idolatry. The use simply
points to the lessons of the past.
• Ideas or Summaries: Here no specific text is cited, but the teaching of the OT is summarized and
stated in fresh words in a proposition. An example is Luke 24:44-47, where the OT is said to
teach about Christ’s death and resurrection and the promise that repentance shall be preached to
all the nations in Jesus’ name. No texts are cited explicitly, but one senses that all texts Luke
uses in Luke-Acts stand behind the remark.
Preaching Christ Organically from the Old Testament when there is no type (Insights from Keller and
• “Most of the preaching I hear and too much that I do attempts to build upon ‘common human
experience.’ ‘Are you depressed? Everyone has been depressed at one time or another. Down in
the dumps. There is a story of someone who was down in the dumps, in the pit, so to speak. His
name was Joseph. He was thrown into a pit. . . .’” The consequence of such preaching is
lamentable: “Unable to preach Christ and him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved”
(William Willimon “Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized”).
• The temptation to be human centered in preaching is always a tendency, given the preacher’s
desire to be relevant to his listener. One of the prevalent tendencies in preaching the Old
Testament is biographical preaching (or character preaching). This approach tends to look for
attitudes and actions of biblical characters which the hearers should imitate or avoid.
Example: A sermon on Genesis 22 called “Parents and children must worship the Lord together.”
The sermon has four points:
i. Father and son walked together
ii. Father and son talked together
iii. Father and son worked together
iv. Father and son sacrificed together.
On the contrary, very passage in the Old Testament has its burden, echoed in various ways, the
message: “God is acting! God is coming! God is faithful to his covenant promises! His mercy
indeed endures forever! God will not cast off His chosen people! God is preparing salvation!”
(Herbert Mayer in Concordia Theological Monthly 1964)
(1) Theme Resolution—There are at least 20 inter-canonical (D.A. Carson) or longitudinal (Greidanus)
themes that move across the biblical corpus. These themes have thickening plots that like all good
stories have a dramatic tension within the theme that as the plot continues on appears irreconcilable.
Only in Christ are the themes reconciled and fulfilled (as Alex Motyer states: the answer in the back of
a. Kingdom and King. God created Adam and Eve as the image of God (which in the Ancient Near
East is kingly language) to rule has his viceregents. The essence of God’s kingdom expression
on earth is God’s people (his viceregents) in God’s place (where his revelatory presence dwells)
under God’s rule (faith and obedience). Adam and Eve had the task of extending the boundaries
of Eden (where his kingdom was expressed) in order to fill the earth (extending the kingdom
borders). As the narrative proceeds through Abraham and Israel, it is apparent that the depth of
their brokenness and enslavement reveals no mere human king is enough. Only God becoming a
man would a big enough king to deal with the brokenness and fulfill humankind’s calling as the
supreme viceregent who extends God’s glory presence to the end of the earth, which is the
eschatological hope (Num 14:21; Hab 2:14; Ps 72:19; Ps 85:9; Isa 11:9). Therefore, everyone in
leadership in Israel points to the fact they don’t have the true king.
b. Grace and Law (Influenced by Ray Dillard)—How the holiness and the love of God can relate in
a covenant. From the giving of the Law to Chronicles, there is a tension that propels the
narrative. God is absolutely holy and merciful but how can he be both? Israel’s history is caught
in a tension. We are caught in a dilemma between whether God’s covenant is conditional or
unconditional. How can God be holy and still remain faithful to the covenant? That’s the
question. What you have in many place is that God seems to be saying his covenant is
conditional. You must obey or I will cut you off. Other places he seems to indicate his covenant
is unconditional. No matter what “I will be your God.” The biggest mistake interpreters make is
the tendency to try to resolve the tension by basically saying that you will not be happy unless
you obey. The promises of the Old Testament are conditional. Unless you live right your
children won’t turn out right. This is a legalistic way to read the Old Testament. There is also a
liberal way to read the OT as well. The covenant is completely unconditional. God loves
everybody and no matter how you live God is going to accept you. However, the tension will
not be resolve in the OT and so the question of how God can still be holy and faithful to his
people can’t be answered either by the conservative or liberal approach. The answer is in the
cross where the law of God and the love of God are fulfilled. So is the covenant conditional or
unconditional? Yes. Its only yes if Christ can and fulfilled the covenant so that we can be saved
by grace through faith. The cross means we have a God far more holy than any legalists dare to
believe in because you have to be absolutely perfect; yet, we also have a God far more loving
than any liberal dare to believe in because he had to die and liberals don’t believe he had to die to
(2) Law Completion—Paul says that the Law is meant to lead us to Christ. Gal 3:24: Therefore the Law has
become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 1 Tim 1:5-11 is another
crucial passage where Paul makes it clear that the purpose of the Law is to drive sinners to Christ. In 1
Tim 1:5, Paul’s focus is on what the Gospel does to people in their hearts, faith, and conscience. This
gives rise to love. But if we turn it around and start using the law as the direct means of sanctification
we fall under the criticism of 1 Tim 1:7. Thus, when we take an ethical principle or a command/law, if
we really consider it, it is apparent that it is impossible to keep it. If you don’t preach Christocentrically, you will always pull your punches in preaching ethical themes. You might say “you can do
it” but in reality you aren’t really listening to the law. In Christ-centered preaching we realize Christ
will have to fulfill the ethical principles for us or we are dead. That means you can always get to Christ
from any ethical principle. Jesus is the only way to take the law seriously. The law demands that we be
perfectly holy so we aren’t really listening to the law if we think we can obey it. The law is saying, in
effect, that you can never fulfill me. You need a savior.
Example: the Tithe in the Old Testament. What about the NT? As recipients of the New Covenant and
the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1), are we more indebted to the grace of God or less
indebted?—more. Therefore, is it possible that God would expect us to give less than 10%?—No. We
should be giving sacrificially but we will never do it. But look at the generosity of Christ (2 Cor 8:9).
Unless you emphasize the saving work of Christ (in whatever ethical principle, including giving), you
will never have your heart melted enough by faith to even begin to fulfill this ethical principle. It is lack
of faith in Christ’s finished work that precludes us from ever beginning to fulfill/obey the ethical
principle. We might call this mediated application. Jesus is the fulfiller of the ethical principle both
objectively and subjectively in that the former gives us the basis to be right with God and seeing him
fulfill the principle gives us the desire to obey it our own lives.
Example: Don’t commit sexual immorality. We can’t explain what “thou shall not commit adultery” is
until we look at the jealous love Jesus showed us in his holy life and the cross. His jealous love defines
sexual fidelity so that unless we have his jealous love we will never be able to practice jealous love.
Unless we know what he has done “for us” we will never have the moral fortitude to be as sexually
faithful as we ought. Jesus is, therefore, not just the example of sexual fidelity, he is the fulfiller “for
us” both objectively and subjectively.
(3) Story Insertion—Here you take any particular narrative and put it into the bigger story.
A. All the individual stories in the Bible point to Jesus especially as you insert them into the bigger
story: the history of redemption. For instance, Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the
temptation test and whose obedience is imputed to us. He is the true and better Abel, though innocently
slain, has blood now that cries out not for our condemnation but for our acquittal. He is the true
Abraham who answered the call of God to leave home to a foreign land. He is the true Isaac who is the
true Son of laughter offered up for us all. He is the true Jacob who wrestled with God, took the blow of
justice we deserve, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace just to wake us up. He is the true
Joseph who sits at the right hand of the king, mediates salvation for his brothers and the nations, and
who forgives those who betrayed him using his power to save them. He is the true and better Moses
who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and mediates a new covenant. He is the true
rock of Moses, who is struck with the hand of God’s justice and gives us water in the desert. He is the
true Joshua who is the general of the Lord’s army. He is the true and better Job who is the only real
innocent sufferer who intercedes from his friends. He is the true and better Samson whose death
accomplishes salvation for his people and judgment on his enemies. He is the true and better David
whose head crushing victory becomes his people’s victory though they never lifted a stone to
accomplish victory for themselves. He is the true Ecclesiastes teacher because he leads us through
despair to help us fear God. He is the true Jonah who went into the belly of the whale so people could
B. But this is not just true of individuals. Its also true of corporate story lines. He is the leader of a
community so its not just the story of individuals but the story of the “people of God.” That is, the story
of the people of God is a type of Christ. All the major events in the formation of the people of God
point us to Christ. Jesus is the one through whom all people are created thus the creation story itself
points to the new creation in Christ. Jesus went through temptation in the wilderness; thus is the Israel
who went through the forty days in the wilderness. Therefore, the story of the fall and the wilderness
testing points to the active obedience of Christ. The Exodus points to the true Exodus Jesus led for his
people (Luke 9:31). Whereas Moses only delivered them out of economic and political bondage, Jesus
brings us out of the bondage of sin and death itself. The Exile points to Jesus being taken outside the
gate to suffer. He went into exile at Mr. Calvary. Jesus is the true Israel. He is the one faithful to the
covenant. He is the remnant of one. God will save a remnant of faithful people. This is one of the ways
the conditional/unconditional aspects of the covenant are satisfied in Christ. He earns all of the
conditions of the covenant for all who believe in him. When Hosea talks about the exodus he calls all of
Israel “my son” but when Matthew quotes this verse (2:15; c.f. Hos 11:1), he is talking about Jesus.
Note: The New Testament, in fact, moves back and forth between the individual and corporate types that
• For instance, it is not an arbitrary detail that the New Testament story commences with a
genealogy. Interestingly, Matthew’s genealogy begins with the Greek expression biblos
geneseōs, which can be translated “the book of genesis or genealogy.” This expression appears
in two places in the LXX: Genesis 2:4, which is the book of the genesis of the heaven and earth;
and Genesis 5:1-2, which is the book of the genesis or genealogy of Adam. In other words,
Matthew is elucidating the record of the new age, the new creation, procured by the new Adam.
Furthermore, Matthew’s genealogy recapitulates the entire history of Israel, a genealogy that
surmises with “Jesus Christ the son of David” (Matt 1:1-17); thus immediately placing kingship
on his schema. That is, by tracing Jesus’ lineage all the way to Abraham, Matthew seems to be
alluding that it is through this “seed” of Abraham that the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth
will be procured. Matthew wants his Jewish audience to know that this one is the “anointed”
Davidic king; the faithful servant, the one who will rule as God’s representative human king on
• Stephen Motyer argues that Jesus here is portrayed as the embodiment of Israel as they should
be. Matthew communicates this idea first by demonstrating that Jesus’ birth brings light to the
Gentiles: “his star” is seen rising in the east by the Magi (2:2), which means his being “a light for
the nations,” and the crushing of the enemy’s head (Num 24:17). Jesus’ fulfilling the goal of
Israel is also seen by Matthew’s applying the Exodus verse Hosea 11:1 to Jesus (Matt 2:15), and
then by conveying the narrative in a way that makes Jesus re-enact Israel’s history: the Exodus
from Egypt (2:19-20), the crossing of the Red Sea (3:13-17), and the temptations in the desert
• The forty days and nights of Jesus temptation in the wilderness echo Israel’s forty years in the
wilderness (Matt 4:2). Moreover, each response by Jesus to Satan corresponds to Moses’
response to Israel’s failures in the wilderness (Matt 4:4, Deut 8:3; Matt 4:7, Deut 6:16; 4:10,
Deut 6:13). “Jesus, as true Israel, is the micro-Israel who has replaced the macro-national
• After Jesus’ encounter with Satan, he immediately goes to Capernaum near the borders of
Zebulun and Naphtali, where his mission is depicted as the Davidic king in Isaiah 9 who will
bring light to the nations (Matt 4:12-17; c.f. Is 9:1-2). Undoubtedly, Matthew is clear that this
Jesus is the remnant, the “true Israel,” the hope of the nations (c.f. Matt 5:13-16; 8:11; 12:18-21;
13:47; 21:42-44; 24:14; 25:32-34; 28:19). Everything Jesus is “in his perfect humanity, he is on
our behalf as our representative and substitute.”
• After the Sermon on the Mount, which is depicted as a new Torah by a new Servant of God who
transcends Moses (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 38-39, 43-44), Jesus heals a leper, a Gentile
centurion’s servant (Matt 8:1-13), and many others who were sick or afflicted by demons (Matt
8:14-16). Notably, Matthew links Jesus’ actions with that of the suffering servant of Isaiah (Matt
8:17; c.f. Is 53:5-6).
• Matthew also depicts Jesus as the new Davidic shepherd who has come to restore the lost sheep
of Israel (Matt 9:36; 10:6; c.f. Ezek 34:23); which also seems to be an allusion to the servant
whose mission was to restore Jacob (Is 49:5). As Matthew continues, three titles are given to
Jesus that underscores his role: Son of Man (Matt 16:27; 17:22, note here where “Son of Man” is
used instead of “Servant”, which seems to combine Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53), Servant (Matt
20:25-29), and Son of David (Matt 15:32; 20:30, 31).
Luke’s narrative also presents a royal Davidic Christology: Jesus’ legal father was “of the house
of David” (1:27); Gabriel adapts the Davidic covenant text (2 Sam 7:1-17) to describe Jesus to
Mary; Zechariah praises God for having “raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his
servant David” (1:69; c.f. Ps 132:17); Jesus birthplace is called the “City of David” (2:4, 11);
Joseph’s Davidic lineage is repeated for emphasis (2:4); the first witnesses to the birth of the of
the Son of David are “shepherds” (2:8-20) possibly alluding to Micah 5:1-3; The Spirit descends
on and anoints Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22), words reminiscent of Psalm 2:7, the royal
coronation hymn of the Davidic kings and Isaiah 42:1-4, which was an appointment to
viceregency; Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy through David (3:23-28); Jesus compares himself and
his disciples to David and his men (Luke 6:1-5); at the transfiguration, the divine voice repeats
the royal coronation hymn (Ps 2:7): “This is my Son, my chosen one”16(9:35); Jesus’ statement
“All things have been delivered to me by my Father” recalls the father-son relationship of God to
the Davidic monarch (Ps 2:7-8; 8:4-8; 72:8; 89;25-27); upon entry to Jericho, Jesus is declared
twice by a blind man as “Son of David” (18:35-43); Jesus’ triumphal entry (19:28-48)
corresponds to Zechariah 9:9-10, which in turn uses images of Solomon’s coronation procession
in order to describe the coming eschatological king, most certainly a Davidide (c.f. Zech 12:713:1); at the Last Supper, Jesus speaks of a “new covenant,” echoing Jeremiah 31:31 and the
broader context (Jer 30-33), which foresees a new covenant uniting Israel and Judah under the
Davidic monarchy; Luke 22:29-30 suggests several Davidic images: the bestowing of a kingdom
by covenant (Ps 89:3-4); eating at the king’s table (2 Sam 9:9-13); and ruling from thrones over
Israel (Ps 122:3-5); and Davidic titles are used of Jesus (with contempt but accurately): “King of
the Jews” (23:37-38; c.f. 2 Sam 2:11) and “Chosen One” (23:35; c.f. Ps 89:3-4).
Not only is Luke consistent with Matthew in portraying Jesus as the faithful “Son of David,”
Luke also portrays him as the faithful Israelite (3:22). The Spirit’s descending on Jesus is
notable because the prophetic expectation was of an outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel (Is 44:23; Ezek 36:25-27). “Here, at last, is a Son with whom God is truly pleased.”17 Like David upon
his anointing by Samuel, Jesus, as the people of God’s representative, marches into battle against
the enemy of God (Luke 4:1-13; Matt 4:1-13). Luke is inferring, along with both Matthew and
Mark (Mark 1:12-14), that Jesus is the long awaited son of David, the māšîah, who embodies
Israel’s eschatological hopes and calling.
Finally, Luke depicts Jesus as the new Adam. Whereas Matthew and Mark place the temptations
immediately after the baptism of Jesus, Luke intriguingly places the genealogy of Jesus between
the baptism and the temptations. Moreover, unlike Matthew who begins with Abraham and
works down toward Jesus, Luke begins with Jesus and works back to Adam, with which it ends:
“the son of Adam, the son of God” (3:38). Luke is emphasizing that Jesus is the Last Adam. In
other words, the wilderness temptations are a rerun of the Garden. The new Adam is doing what
the first Adam did not, taking dominion and subduing the serpent.
This notion can be supported by reflecting on Satan’s last temptation, which involves a quotation
from Psalm 91:11-12: “they will lift you up on their hands, so that you will not strike your foot
against a stone.” Beal helpfully points out that the next verse in the Psalm states: “You will tread
upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (91:13). The
allusion is clear: Psalm 91:13 is Genesis 3:15 language. Jesus as the new Adam, the seed of the
woman, was coming to crush the head of the serpent and his refusal to given into Satan’s
temptations was the first step, but also a proleptic step, of victory that includes the vanquishing
of the enemy and the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth the imago Dei, as his viceregents.
C. Its not just individual types and corporate types that point us to Christ. Sometimes there is no type at
all but it’s the way the story works itself, which signals the way God saves us in Christ. That is, the
“Chosen” is also an epithet of David (Ps 89:3).
Motyer, “Israel (nation),” 585.
narrative pattern of life through death or triumph through weakness where God turns things upside down
as he works through the weak or apparent defeat, that points us to Christ.
Example: in the narrative of Naaman (2 Kgs 5), every person with power and status is clueless about
salvation. On the other hand, every servant, ever marginal person knows what’s going on. This is a
major pattern in the Bible. It’s the grace story line. For instance, the law is given only after the
redemption out of Exodus. God saves them then gives them the 10 commandments. They are saved in
order to obey-not vice-versa. It’s the narrative pattern of the Gospel. The Gospel reverses the values of
(4) Symbol Fulfillment—A sampling of eight Old Testament themes fulfilled in Christ proves this
contention. First, Jesus exceeds and accomplishes in full the ministries of Israel’s leaders.18 Second,
Jesus is the completion of old covenant institutions.19 Third, Christ is the supreme purpose of creation as
he is the one in whom, through whom and for whom all things were created (Col 1:15-20; c.f. Eph 1:911). Fourth, Christ is the terminus of the Old Testament covenants and laws (Luke 1:46-55, 68-79,
2:29-32; Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4). Fifth, Christ is the fulfillment of prophecy (Matt 5:17).20 Sixth, Christ
is the meaning of the believer’s existence (Col 3:4; Phil 1:21).21 Seventh, the coming of the Spirit on the
Day of Pentecost is a Christological event, and its pneumatological import should be seen in that light.22
Eighth and finally, Christ himself is the very significance of his second coming.23
He is eternal and thus greater than Abraham (John 8:53-56). He is greater than Jacob because he is the gateway between
heaven and earth (John 1:51; c.f. Gen 28:12), and the giver of a spring of water that wells up to eternal life (John 4:12-14). He
exceeds Moses because he inaugurates a covenant of grace rather than law (John 1:17) and because he offers the true bread from
heaven (John 6:32-35). He is greater than Jonah in his forceful call to repentance (Matt 12:41). He goes beyond Solomon in wisdom
that attracts the nations (Matt 12:42). Finally, he is the faithful Adam (Luke 3:38; Rom 5:15-21) and faithful Israelite (Matt 2:15;
3:17). I am dependent on this aspect of the discussion on Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of
Biblical Application (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 50, and Graeme Goldsworthy, The Gospel in Revelation in The Goldsworthy
Trilogy (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2000), 172-76.
He fulfills all that the temple represents, for he is the very presence of God (Matt 12:26). Accordingly, he is the
fulfillment of what the land typified (Heb 4; John 15). He is the final high priest, giving access to God (Heb 7-10). He is the good
shepherd (Matt 9:36; John 9:1-10:18; c.f. Ezek 34:1-16), and the “great prophet” (Luke 7:16, 26). Christ is the faithful Davidic king
and David’s Lord (Matt 22:41-46). He is the final judge (Matt 25:31-46), and the very wisdom of God (Luke 7:31-35).
Goldsworthy argues that Matthew 5:17 does not mean that he merely fulfilled certain messianic predictions but rather is
an inclusive statement that means all that the prophets spoke is fulfilled in Christ (c.f. 2 Cor 1:20; Acts 13:32-33). Ibid., 173.
By this idea Goldsworthy means that as a consequence of the person and work of Christ, everything that Christ is
before God, he is for us. He is the sinless Son for us. He is the true covenant partner for us. He is the beloved for us. “He is the
righteous and holy one, the judged sinner, the new life, the Spirit-filled man, the perfect worshipper of God—all FOR US.” Ibid., 174.
Sinclair Ferguson aptly makes this case. Arguing from 1 Corinthians 15:45, among other passages, Ferguson points
out that Christ upon his ascension came into such absolute possession of the Spirit that economically the resurrected Christ and the
Spirit are one to believers. “He (the Spirit) is alter Christus, another Christ, to us; ministerially he is indeed allos paraklētos.” To be
sure, Ferguson argues that this idea is not a statement of ontological fusion. Yet, Paul’s understanding of the relationship between
Christ and the Spirit parallels John’s witness where both Christ and the Spirit function as paracletes, and do so successively in the
earthly sphere, the Spirit being another of the same kind as the Son (c.f. John 14:15, where “another” [allos] conveys the notion
“another of the same kind”). “Thus, to have the Spirit is to have Christ; to have Christ is to have the Spirit. . . . There is clear
ontological distinction, but economic or functional equivalence” (c.f. Rom 8:9-11; 2 Cor 3:13, 17-18). Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy
Spirit, ed. Gerald Bray (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 54-55.
That is, Christ will not return to do some new work but to consummate the finished work of his life, death and
resurrection. Goldsworthy, The Gospel in Revelation, 175.
(5) NT Scripture Using OT Scripture— Related to the aforementioned one, if one is looking at an OT
verse/passage that is referred to in the NT, it is important to see how the NT writer is using the passage;
this will often indicate how the OT passage may be Christologically focused and ecclesiologically
applied. For instance, when we read Gen 2:2-3, we learn that God’s finishing of the creative work
established the divine pattern that led to the hallowing of the 7th day. But we might not see the
connection to the Israelites’ typological entry into the Promised Land and the final entry into the eternal
rest of the true people of God, if it were not for Hebrews 4. Hebrews gives us a better understanding of
the meaning of God’s rest on the 7th day in Genesis (McCarntey, “Let the Reader Understand” 200).
The Gospel Coaltion Asks About Cautions for Christ-Centered OT Teaching
1. Don’t “get to Christ” so soon in the sermon that you don’t unfold the meaning and application of the text to
the original hearers. If you “jump to Christ” too soon that often means you inspire people but you don’t give
them concrete application for how they are supposed to live.
2. Don’t “get to Christ” so late in the sermon that he seems like an add-on, a mere devotional appendix. If you
wait too long to get to Christ listeners won’t see how Jesus’ work is crucial if the listeners are going to obey or
heed the text.
3. Don’t get to Christ artificially. This is a big subject of course, but I believe two of the best ways are (a) by
identifying in your text one of the many inner-canonical themes that all climax in Christ (Don Carson’s
language), and (b) identifying in your text some “Fallen Condition Focus,” some lack in humanity that only
Christ can fill (Bryan Chapell’s language).
1. Study constantly how the NT writers use the OT. That will give you insight into how you should move from
the Old to the New.
2. Make good use of available tools, not least the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
For even when you are preaching from the OT, the indexes in the volume will alert you to any use of your OT
passage within the NT.
3. Ensure that this sort of study does not overlook or set aside complementary disciplines—e.g., understanding
what genre of literature you are dealing with and how it makes its appeals, where this literature falls along the
axis of redemptive history, and so forth.
David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological
Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan:
I’m massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and
especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to
Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.
However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end
of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.
Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption,
Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the
first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he
saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”;
he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”
I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old
Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:
1. They were saved by obeying the law.
2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.
3. They were saved by a general faith in God.
4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.
Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but
also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in
order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the
blur that often surrounds this question.
What Do You Mean When You Talk about Christ in the Old Testament? (by Nancy Guthrie)
A couple of weeks ago I was preparing to speak to a small women’s group about seeing Christ in the Old
Testament. I intended to set the scene with Jesus’ words on the road to Emmaus found in Luke 24, and to
illustrate what I meant using numerous examples in the Old Testament. But as I prepared, I envisioned a sea of
perplexed expressions on the faces staring back at me trying to make sense of what I was talking about, and
more importantly, wondering how to incorporate it into their own study of the Scripture.
Only a few years ago my own understanding of how Christ is seen in the Old Testament was mostly limited to
prophecies of Christ’s coming and a few of the more obvious types and symbols that point to Christ. But I
experienced a real breakthrough as I began to listen to Christ-centered preachers who presented Christ from
every part of the Scripture. And a real light came on for me when I heard Bryan Chapell’s message
“Communicating the Gospel Through Preaching,” given at the Advance 09 Conference. He explains that the
Old Testament points to the need for Christ by repeatedly leading us to dead ends.
He suggests that we need to read the Old Testament as a Hebrew book that uses eastern, oriental thinking,
working its way though the law, which the people could not obey; the time of the judges, when the people did
what is right in their own eyes; the kings, who did not rule with righteousness; and the prophets, to whom the
people did not listen. Chapell concludes that there is a sense of “not this . . . not this . . .not this,” and then, in
the coming of Christ, “but this.” Only in the New Testament do we find resolution to the unresolved tensions of
the Old Testament.
But how would I concisely and clearly communicate this to the group in only 40 minutes?
As I went through my list of examples of how the Old Testament points to and prepares us for Christ, I realized
what was needed was every note-taker’s dream: a numbered list. So I went to the experts—those practitioners
who have taught me the most about seeing Christ in the Old Testament—and looked over their lists.
According to Sidney Griedanus, author of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, there are seven ways of
preaching Christ from the Old Testament, including:
New Testament reference
In his seminar taught with Edmund Clowney, “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World,” Tim Keller presents
four ways of getting to Christ from the Old Testament:
Theme resolution (i.e. image of God, kingdom, Sabbath rest, judgment, and justice themes that only
resolve in Christ)
Law reception (focusing on the impossibility of keeping the law apart from Christ)
Story completion (not just stories of individual people but also the story of the people of God, i.e. life
through death, triumph through weakness)
Symbol fulfillment (i.e. Passover, bronze snake, prophets, priests, kings, sacrifices, temple, cleanliness
In his paper “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament,” Sinclair Ferguson writes that while we want to develop
an instinct to preach Christ, it can be broken down into four subordinate principles:
The relationship between promise and fulfillment
The relationship between type and antitype
The relationship between the covenant and Christ
Proleptic participation and subsequent realization
All of these have been profoundly helpful to me, and I’m sure to many others who seek to present Christ from
all the Scriptures. But I also knew that while these lists may be preacher-friendly, they would likely not be layperson friendly, especially for those for whom the idea of seeing Christ in the Old Testament is a new concept. I
needed a lay-friendly list of ways that the Old Testament points to and prepares us for Christ. Here’s the list I
came up with, and I welcome your suggestions for refining and improving upon it:
A problem that only Christ can solve (the curse, our inability to keep the law, our alienation from God)
A promise only Christ can fulfill (blessing, presence of God with us)
A need that only Christ can meet (salvation from judgment, life beyond death)
A pattern or theme that only comes to resolution in Christ (kingdom, rest)
A story that only comes to its conclusion through Christ (the people of God,
A person who prefigures an aspect of who Christ will be or what he will do by analogy and/or contrast
(Joseph, Moses, David)
An event or symbol that pictures an aspect of who Christ will be or what he will do (ark, exodus,
A revelation of the pre-incarnate Christ (wrestling with Jacob, commander of the Lord’s army)
The reality is that we need biblical theology not only preached from the pulpit on Sundays, but also taught and
embraced in the men’s and women’s Bible studies that meet throughout the week. So we have to learn not only
how to present Christ from all the Scriptures, but also how to help our listeners to develop an instinct for seeing
Christ throughout the whole of the Bible as they read and study on their own.
Contemporary Horizon--Bridging between the world of the Bible and the contemporary world.
• Our goal in preaching should be to produce (instrumentally speaking), true piety that results in “willing
service” (Calvin, Institutes,1.2.1) and “willing reverence” (Institutes,1.2.2). Indeed, unless our people
“establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him”
• This piety “is not so terrifed by the awareness of his judgment as to wish to withdraw, even if some way
of escape were open. But it embraces him no less as punisher of the wicked than as benefactor of the
pious. For the pious mind realizes that the punishment of the impious and wicked and the reward of life
eternal for the righteous equally pertain to God’s glory. Besides, this mind restrains itself from sinning,
not out of dread of punishment alone; but, because it loves and revers God . . . it worships and adores
him as Lord, Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone” (Institutes,1.2.2).
• In short, “true piety” only comes through knowing “the only true God” through Jesus Christ (John 17:3).
Therefore, it stands to reason that our preaching must center upon this goal: knowing God through Jesus
• As Peter Jensen argues: “The knowledge of God depends upon the gospel of Jesus Christ” (“The
Revelation of God” p. 31).
• Indeed: “The supreme revelation of God’s purpose in history is . . . the coming of Jesus Christ into the
world: It is the purpose and will of the Creator that give history its pattern, and the intrusion of the
eternal in the fullness of the time was nothing else than the assertion, in the history, of the eternal
purpose of God” (Hoekema, The Bible and the Future , 28-29.)
• This truth is affirmed by the Apostle who asserts that Jesus is the “alpha and omega” (Rev 1:8; 21:6;
22:13), the “beginning and the end” (22:13), and the “first and the last” (1:17; 2:8; 22:13).
• To be sure, the person & work of Christ “do not merely crown God’s work of revelation and redemption
as a sort of splendid ornament or even as the best example of God’s activity in the world. The person
and work of Christ constitute the defining chapter of the whole narrative, the hinge of history, the basis
upon which everything else in creation makes sense” (Stackhouse, Jr., Evangelical Landscapes: Facing
Critical Issues of the Day. P. 166).
• Therefore, “If you preach a sermon that would be acceptable to the members of a Jewish synagogue or
to a Unitarian congregation, there is something radically wrong with it. Preaching, when it is truly
Christian, is distinctive. And what makes it distinctive is the all-pervading presence of a saving and
sanctifying Christ. Jesus Christ must be at the heart of every sermon you preach (Adams).
• “The Scriptures are full of moral instruction and ethical exhortation, but the ground and motivation of all
is found in the mercy of Jesus Christ. We are to preach all the riches of Scripture, but unless the center
holds, all the bits and pieces of our pulpit counseling, of our thundering at social sins, of our positive or
negative thinking—all fly off into the Sunday morning air. . . . Let others develop the pulpit fads of the
passing seasons. Specialize in preaching Jesus” (Clowney).
• “Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in
every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ. . . . The goal of the preacher is not
to find novel ways of identifying Christ in every text but to show how each text manifests God’s grace
in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ” (Chappell).
“Jesus said that all Scripture is about him [Luke 24:27; John 5:39, 46]. This does not mean that every
phrase, punctuation mark, or verse directly reveals Christ but rather that all passages in their context
disclose his nature and/or necessity” (Chappell)
Gospel Conduct: Phil 1:27: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. ”The gospel
informs behavior. We need to study our Bible w/ a special eye to connecting the gospel w/ behavior. 1
Cor 6 Paul appeals to them to flee sexual immorality. Notice that he wants the gospel to function as it
should. He reminds them of the gospel (1 Cor 6:20). W/o connecting it to the gospel, it will fail. Eph
4:32-5:2. Eph 5:25; 2 Cor 8:9. A big part of your job in preaching is to make the connections. This
defines effectiveness in preaching. Gal 2:14; Phil 2:1-11
The Importance of Application in Exposition
a. An expository sermon is not merely an exegetical exercise. “The nature of the sermon is to
apply the word of God to the wills of the hearers with a view to moving them to want to conform
to that word. Exegesis is an important aspect of the preparation of any sermon, but exegesis is
not the sermon. Exegesis seeks to understand what the text means in its own immediate context.
A sermon must move from the meaning of the text to the legitimate application of that meaning
to our contemporary context in the light of the gospel” (Goldsworthy, PWB, 121-2)
b. Ramesh Richard: By the end of the sermon the audience must have the answers to three
important questions: (1) What did the preacher speak about? (Explanation); (2) So what
difference does or should it make? (argumentation) (3) Now what do I do w/ God’s claims in this
c. Yet as Haddon Robinson asserts, more heresy is spread in the preacher’s attempt to apply
Scripture than in his presentation of Scripture’s meaning. Preachers want to be faithful to the
Scriptures, and going through seminary, they have learned exegesis. But they may not have
learned how to make the journey from the biblical text to the modern world. . . . Sometimes we
apply the text in ways that might make the biblical writer say, ‘Wait a minute, that a wrong use
of what I said.’ This is the heresy of a good truth applied in a wrong way’ (Robinson, “The
Heresy of Application” Leadership Journal vol 18, no. 4, Fall 1997, pg. 21).
d. The most dangerous misapplication is one that promotes some form of synergism in the
e. That is, no matter how true, moral, or practical your application is, it is sub-Christian if it fails to
present Jesus Christ & our union with him as the means of justification & sanctification.
f. There are two ways to focus on Christ: the “fallen condition focus (FCF) (what aspect of the
fallen condition of mankind does this passage address) and the “redemptive-historical focus”
(God has a gracious, sovereign plan to redeem his people; “What aspect of the divine plan does
this passage reveal?)
g. The FCF is a more experiential path; the RHF is the more theological perspective.
General Principles for Application using the FCF and the RHF (Doriani, 170ff):
(1) Every passage in the Bible presents Christ both as the remedy for human fallenness and as the end point
of God’s plan of salvation.
(2) Every passage of the Bible touches on some aspect of the fallen human condition and presents part of
God’s remedy in Christ.
(3) Since Jesus himself says the entire Bible speaks of him, then every Christian lesson should, in its own
way, present Jesus as Redeemer and Lord.
Comparing and Contrasting the FCF and the RHF:
• Theological Emphasis: FCF (Doctrine of man: the Fall and Sin); RHF (Doctrine of God: grace and
• Initial appeal: FCF (The experience of human need); RHF (The unfolding of the divine plan)
• Special Insight: FCF (Every text shows how Christ meets a universal human); RHF (Every text
manifests a need for a redeemer, the work of the Redeemer, or the consequences of redemption).
• Final Goal: FCF (To present Christ from every text); RHF (To present Christ from every text)
Applicational Questions using the FCF and the RHF:
RHF: Centers on Christ by observing how each text of the Bible presents some aspect of his person and
work. It examines the unfolding of God’s saving plan in space and time. Within that plan, every
prophecy, every event, every law, and every song plays its role. The essential insight of the RHF is that
Jesus is the focal point of Scripture. Lk 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke
to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the
Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."45 Then he opened their minds to understand the
Scriptures, 46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day
rise from the dead,47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name
to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Unique salvation-historical—Does the main point address a text that thrusts forward the unfolding
plot of redemption in history?
FCF: Dwells on the person and work of Christ by observing the many ways in which people need him.
“Fallen condition” means any aspect of human nature that requires God’s grace. FCF is the mutual
human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written
that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him” (Chapell, 48-50). It
is too easy to preach on a doctrinal topic or an exegetical insight w/o considering the spiritual burden
of the text for real people in the daily struggles of life. . . . The greater intellectual and spiritual task is
to discern the human concern that caused the Holy Spirit to inspire this aspect of Scripture so that God
would be properly glorified by His people. Consideration of a passage’s purpose ultimately forces us to
ask, ‘Why are these concerns addressed? What caused this account, these facts, or the recording of
these ideas? What was the intent of the author? For what purpose did the Holy Spirit include these
words in Scripture? . . . We do not have to guess whether there is a purpose for a particular text” (2
Tim 3:16-17). . . Since God designed the Bible to complete us for the purposes of his glory, the
necessary implication is that in some sense we are incomplete. We lack the equipment required for
every good work. Our lack of wholeness is a consequence of the fallen condition in which we live. . . .
The corrupted state of our world and our beings cries for God’s aid. He responds with the truths of
Scriptrue and gives us hope by focusing his grace on a facet of our fallen condition in every portion of
his Word. No text was written merely for those in the past; God intends for each passage to give us the
‘endurance and the encouragement’ we need today [c.f. 1 Cor 10:13]. Preaching that is true to these
purposes (1) focuses on the fallen condition that necessitated the writing of the passage & (2) uses the
text’s features to explain how the Holy Spirit address that concern then & now. The FCF present in
every text demonstrates God’s refusal to leave his frail and sinful children without guide or defense in a
world atagonistic to their spiritual well-being. However, an FCF not only provides the human context
needed for a passage’s explanation but also indicates the biblical solutions must be be divine and not
merely human. . . . Ultimately, a sermon is about how a text says we are to respond biblically to the
FCF as it is experienced in our lave—identifying the gracious means that God provides for us to deal
with the human brokenness that deprives us of the full experience and expression of his glory” (Chapell,
Motivation in Application:
“The consequence of making personal gain our primary motivation for obedience is that our seemingly moral
activities will become a transgression of the first commandment to have no other gods before God. The
motivations that spring from full apprehension of God’s grace do not change the rules but do change the
reasons for our obedience. Grace encourages and enables us to serve God out of love for him and for his
glory. Grace makes true obedience possible because a thankful response to unearned merit is motivated more
by love for God than by love for self. Guilt drives sinners to the cross, but grace must lead us from there or we
cannot serve God. . . . The application of an expository sermon . . . is not complete until the pastor has
disclosed the grace in the text that rightly motivates obedience. Listeners who fully apprehend the grace of God
toward them will also discover their greatest strength for obedience, which is a greater love for God that
produces a desire to please him—a desire that also provides their greatest satisfaction when it is fulfilled”
Recognizing Nonredemptive Messages (Chapell, 288—295)
“Messages that are not Christ-centered inevitably become human-centered . . . These preachers do not
deliberately exclude Christ’s ministry from their own, but by consistently preaching messages on the order of
“Five Steps to a Better Marriage,” “How to Make God Answer Your Prayer,” they present godliness entirely
as a product of human endeavor. . . . No message is more damaging to true faith. By making human efforts
alone the measure and the cause of godliness, evangelicals fall victim to the twin assaults of theological
legalism and liberalism—which despite their perceived opposition are actually identical in making one’s
relationship with God dependent on human goodness” (Chapell, 289).
The Deadly Be’s [Chapell, 289]
(1) “Be Like” Messages “focuses the attention of listeners on the accomplishments of a particular biblical
character. “A difficulty with much biographical preaching . . . is that it typically fails to honor the care
that the Bible also takes to tarnish almost every patriarch or saint within its pages. Without blushing,
the Bible honestly prevents the human frailties of its most significant characters so that we will not
expect to fin, within fallen humanity, any whose model behavior merits divine acceptance. . . . To be
faithful to Scripture, we must not shy away from passages that encourage us to use people in the Bible
as examples [1 Cor 11:1; Heb 11:39]. Still, before we preach on such passages, we must be sure to
identify the source of the character quality that Scripture commends. Since the source of any holy trait
is God’s grace, we must echo the biblical caution, “Where then is boasting?”
“The commendable aspect of biblical characters function in Scripture like aspects of God’s law. They
are necessary to know, proper to follow, and are the instruments of God’s blessing in our lives. But
these same righteous standards become spiritually deadly when they are perceived or honored as the
basis of God’s acceptance” [Chapell, 289-90].
(2) “Be Good” Messages “When the focus of a sermon becomes a moralistic ‘Don’t smoke or chew or go
with those who do’ [or even a more sophisticated ‘Renew your heart by doing what God commands’],
listeners will most likely assume that they can secure or renew their relationship with God through
proper behaviors. Even when the behaviors advocated are reasonable, biblical, and correct, a sermon
that does not move from expounding standards of obedience to explaining the source, motives, and
results of obedience places persons’ hopes in their actions. . . . Preaching of this sort sound biblical
because the Bible can be quoted at length to support the exhortations. As it runs its course, however,
such preaching destroys all Christian distinctives. . . . ringing clearly through such preaching is the
implied promise, ‘Obey God because he will love you if you do and will get you if you don’t. . . .
Evangelistic preaching that implies we are saved by grace but kept by our obedience not only
undermines the work of God in sanctification but ultimately casts doubt on the nature of God and thus
makes salvation itself suspect when we honestly assess our imperfections. . . . Yet the truth of the gospel
is that sanctification is based on what Jesus did eternally. Because Jesus died and rose again on our
behalf, we are cleansed of our sin and reconciled to God. ‘There is now no condemnation for those who
are in Christ Jesus’ [Rom 8:1], and we progressively live for God in the confidence that we are in union
with his life and power solely on the basis of what he has fully and finally accomplished on the cross
[Gal 2:20]. Our experience of his blessings, pleasure, and nearness still relies on our obedience, but
the reality of our relationship is not and never was based on our goodness. God has fully and
completely applied to us the merits of Christ’s righteousness, even though we are striving to live in
conformity with his law in loving response to his redeeming work [Rom 5:15-21; 1 Cor 6:1; Eph 5:2527]. . . . Preaching applications should readily and vigorously exhort obedience to God’s commands,
but such exhortations should be based primarily on responding in love to God’s grace, not on trying to
gain or maintain it [Rom 12:1].” [Chapell, 291-2]
(3) “Be Disciplined” Messages “Close kin to ‘be good’ messages are sermons that exhort believers to
improve their relationship with God through more diligent use of the means of grace. . . . disciplines
that allegedly lift them to higher planes of divine approval. . . . Spiritual disciplines enable those made
righteous by Christ’s work to breathe more deeply the resources that God freely and lovingly provides
for the wisdom, joy, and strength of Christian living. Through disciplines, we inhale more deeply the
air God provides for the Christian race, but such disciplines do not produce or maintain the oxygen of
God’s love. Preachers should encourage more prayer, stewardship, study, and fellowship not to
manufacture blessing but so that believers can experience more fully the benefits of union with Christ
that God freely offers. With this perspective, disciplines become regular refreshment for those who
hunger and thirst for ever deeper fellowship with the God they love [Ps 19:10]. The same disciplines,
however, will become distasteful duty of bitter pride for those who think that their devotion keeps them
on the good side of a God whose measure of love is determined by the grade of their performance”
[Chapell, 293]. “It is important to stress that these are means of grace, not means to grace” [Chapell,
In short: “Be messages are not wrong in themselves; they are wrong by themselves” [Chapell, 294].
“In Christ-centered preaching, the rules of Christian obedience to not change; the reasons do. Believers
are exhorted to serve God in response to his sure mercy rather than in payment for his conditional favor”
Sanctification by faith in Christ: From Doctrine (God’s Deeds in Christ) to Doxology (Our Thankful
Worship) to Duties (Our Reasonable Service)
• At the end of “The Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis demonstrates how the major religions agree on moral
absolutes. Christians find that in today’s culture wars, they often are on the same side with believing
Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. In other words, when a Christian preacher resorts to mere moralistic
oriented sermons he is joining exponents of other philosophies. But when we ask, “Why be moral?” the
other systems say, “In order to find God,” but Christianity must say, “Because God has found you.”
That is, instead of obeying to make God indebted to them, Christians obey because they are indebted to
• Unfortunately, in much contemporary preaching application equals law—to do lists—rather than
employing the text to “absolve sinners of their guilt & rescript them in their new roles as those who have
been transferred from the covenantal headship of Adam to Christ” (Horton, CC, 145).
• J. Gresham Machen: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving
myself but knowledge of how God has saved me” (“Christian Faith in the Modern World” pg. 37).
• Of course, Machen’s charge was directed at liberalism but could clearly be addressed to contemporary
• As Horton warns, much of our preaching today is law without gospel, “exhortation without news,
instructions, without an announcement, deeds without creeds, with the accent on “What Would Jesus
Do?” rather than “What Has Jesus Done?” (CC, 106).
• Likewise, Goldsworthy there is the lamentable tendency to separate ethics and godly living from their
roots in the gospel. By way of example, a preacher may describe the qualities of a mature church, which
is like describing what a healthy oak tree should be. The implication is that the church needs to be more
diligent in producing these marks of maturity. However, what is missing is the exposition of the gospel.
The primary focus is law, not gospel. That is, describing a healthy tree doesn’t help us grow one, it only
enable us to recognize one if we should see it. To grow one, we need to know about the soil, the seed,
and the forces that actually produce the tree. Without the gospel all the exhortations of the New
Testament become not just law, but legalistic (PWB, 20).
• “The Law is natural to man. . . . But the gospel is a supernatural doctrine which our nature would never
have been able to approve without a special grace of God” (Theodore Beza).
• Its important to remember that we are not justified by faith in Christ’s work but we are also sanctified by
faith in Christ’s work.
• But what we often do is that we say to sinners that you have to trust in Christ, not your works and he
will save you but when talking to Christians about how to grow we basically exhort them to try really
hard to live like Jesus.
• Yet, “even as a Christian, my faith will actually be weakened when it is assumed that I already know the
gospel and now I just need a steady diet of instructions. I will naturally revert to my moralistic impulse
and conclude either that I am fully surrendered or that I cannot pull this off and might as well stop
trying. When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either
my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression. In other words, it will draw me away from my location
in Christ and gradually bring me back to that place where I am turned in on myself” (Horton, CC 130).
• “Our intuition tells us that if we just hear more practical preaching (that is, moving exhortations to
follow Jesus), we will improve. When this becomes the main diet, however, we do not find ourselves
improving. We neither mourn nor dance. But bring me into the chamber of a holy God, where I am
completely undone, and tell me about what God has done in Christ to save me; tell me about the
marvelous indicatives of the gospel—God’s surprising interventions of salvation on the stage of history
despite human rebellion—and the flickering candle of faith is inflamed, giving light to others” (Horton,
• “As counterintuitive as it may seem, being grounded in the gospel of Christ relieves stress in deeper
places than we even knew we had inside ourselves, and I have witnessed countless examples of young
people liberated from boredom induced addictions and sinful patterns by becoming captivated with
God’s amazing grace in his Son. Nobody had to tell them that drugs were wrong; they knew that. And
all the banal lectures on self-esteem and emotional summer camp calls to ‘surrender all’ only made them
more cynical.” (Horton, CC, 145)
“Genuine sanctification, let it be repeated, stands or falls with its continued orientation towards
justification and the remission of sins” (Berkouwer)
The bond between sanctification and faith alone in justification has been neglected and the impression
created today is that sanctification is the humanly operated successor to the work of justification.
A failure to live a holy life is not just due to a lack of commitment but most fundamentally that I am not
living in faith that Christ is my Savior. So we have to exhort morally but we have to preach Christ as
Savior in the particular way this text is revealing him.
“Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and
move on to something else, and you lose both” (Horton, Christless Christianity, p. 62).
How does it work? All sin is rooted in inordinate lust for something that we are trusting in rather than
Christ for our salvation (functionally speaking). Unless we believe the Gospel we will be driven in all
we do either by pride or fear.
Unless we understand justification by faith, we can’t do a good work. Ironically, until we know our
works aren’t any good, they aren’t any good. As soon as we know they aren’t any good, they begin to
have a germ of something real—we are doing it for God’s sake (faith, not fear [that I’m going to lose
something] or pride [now I know that I’m better than other people]).
Therefore, moral effort with hopes that God will bless me and give me a happy life actually restrains the
heart from doing bad things but it doesn’t really change the heart. Moral effort jury rigs the evil, pride,
selfishness, etc. of the heart to produce moral effort motivated by self interest but it’s only a matter of
time before it will collapse.
Furthermore, moralism assumes that we are not helpless sinners who need rescue but good, decent
people who just need some good examples, exhortations, instructions. Certainly, unbelievers need to be
saved by the gospel but believers merely need prodding with good examples (Horton, CC 151).
Common Virtue and True Virtue
• According to Jonathan Edwards, there is a common virtue and a true virtue. The former is motivated by
self interests and the latter animated by the highest good—the glory of God.
• For example, there is a common virtue honesty. There is a secular version (irreligious) inspired by fear.
“Be honest or it will cost you.” It can also be inspired by pride: “Be honest, it pays” or “don’t be like
those dishonest people who hurt others and have no virtue.” There is also a religious version inspired by
fear: “if you aren’t honest God will punish you.” Or inspired by pride: “Don’t be like the sinners; be a
good person who doesn’t lie.” Edwards says that common virtue is a form of common grace and is
God’s means of keeping the world from being as bad a place as it would be. This is how God continues
to take us Cains with murderess hearts and protect us from imploding. But what’s the main reason we
are dishonest? This is important for preaching. Why does a person lie? (or commit any other sin). We
don’t just sin simply because we are sinners but we sin because something other than Jesus Christ at that
moment has become my functional savior (my real trust). We are breaking the 1st Commandment or we
wouldn’t be breaking any of the other commandments. In common virtue you restrain the heart but you
have not changed the heart. So one may lie because they have an approval idolatry (or something else).
So as preachers, we aren’t dealing with lying at the fundamental level unless we communicate that (in
this case), Christ’s approval is all a person needs, which animates them not to lie to get man’s approval.
That’s what will save the one seeking approval; not the approval of man. That is, our life is hidden with
Christ, not men (Col 3:1-4). It all comes from lack of faith. If you tell people they better tell the truth or
God is going to get them, that’s actually true but your people will hear it moralistically. What they will
do is have their hearts restrained, not changed. Furthermore, at some point they will find that honesty is
not practical or humiliating and they will end up lying.
• With true virtue, you are honest (as an example) not because it profits you or makes you feel better but
only because you are smitten with the beauty of God and you have come to love truth telling not for
your sake but God’s sake. It grows when I see Christ being my substitute. This destroys both fear and
pride (he did it for me when I was an enemy [this slays pride], which means there is nothing I can do to
wear out his love for me [slays fear].
Christ/Gospel-centered Application: Not Just Moralism—
• “Because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy, a kind of empty image of righteousness in place
of righteousness itself abundantly satisfies us. And because nothing appears within or around us that
has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure
—so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption. Just so, an eye to which
nothing is shown but black objects judges something dirty white or even rather darkly mottled to be
whiteness itself. . . . For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever
meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet
when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on
earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our
keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in
estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our
own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but
demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how
completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be
shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in
its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its
very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is,
what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God” (Calvin, Institutes, 1.1.3).
“The gospel is the heart of the Bible. Everything in Scripture is either preparation for the gospel,
presentation of the gospel, or participation in the gospel. . . . Accurately understanding and continually
applying the gospel is the Christian life” (Dave Hunt).
5 Macro-Strategies (Keller [the first three] Frame [the fourth]; Michael Lawrence [the fifth)
Critiquing Religion and Irreligion—24
• Religion (as seen for instance in the legalism rampant beginning the early 20th century) substitutes its
own regulations for the weighty matters actually commanded by God. Sin is not a condition that
corrupts even our best works but the violation of certain taboos. “We didn’t necessarily have to love
God & our neighbor perfectly, but we had to stay out of bars and pool halls” (Horton CC, 108).
• On the other hand, irreligion is a rebellion against fixed doctrines & norms. Horton points out that
thanks to the Boomer generation, which blossomed into adulthood in the 60’s & 70’s, there seems to a
reaction against this older legalism in the direction of irreligion (Christless Christianity, 108).
• The Gospel is neither religion or irreligion; that is, it is neither mere morality or immorality—rather, it is
a 3rd way. In Galatians 2:14 Peter wasn’t walking in line with the truth of the Gospel. Paul didn’t say
“you are breaking the racism rule” (that that’s not wrong in itself). Paul is saying though if you are in
line with the Gospel you shouldn’t feel superior to other people. In fact, if you do obey after a mere
moralistic injunction, you will feel superior to racists. Of, if you don’t live up to it you will feel crushed.
• But the Gospel changes the things in the heart that causes racism—the need to feel superior in order to
make a name for myself.
• One of the great threats in evangelical churches is the “assumed gospel” (David Gibson, “Assumed
Evangelicalism: Some Reflections En Route to Denying the Gospel”). This is the idea that the gospel is
necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the remainder of the Christian life is all the fine print:
conditional forgiveness. That is, we got in by grace but now we stay in (or at least to be victorious fully
surrendered Christians) by following steps and principles. (Horton, 120).
Ironically, there is emerging among young adults a kind of religious secularism that sociologist Christian Smith terms “moralistic,
therapeutic deism.” The working theology of this spirituality is expressed in a 5fold way: (1) God created the world; (2) God wants
people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible & most world religions; (3) The central goal of life is to be happy
& to feel good about oneself; (4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to solve a problem;
(5) Good people go to heaven when they die. (Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, “Soul Searching: The Religious and
Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). As Michael Horton notes, in a therapeutic WV,
there is no sin & guilt to be forgiven by God but only burdens & feelings of guilt for failing to live up to the expectations of oneself or
other human beings. In other words, for Christianity there is objective guilt & justification; in moralistic therapy, there is only
subjective guilt & a cathartic release by simply telling someone else about it (CC).
Religion is outside in. If I work hard God will bless me. The problem with this approach is that even
when we have done the right thing as far as other people are concerned, if our sincerity were weighed, it
would actually count against our righteousness.
The Gospel is inside out. Christ does not come merely to improve my existence in Adam but to end it
(Horton). God has accepted me in Christ therefore I obey.
Being immersed in the gospel’s story of Christ’s life, death, & resurrection works to dislocate us (from
Adam & the reign of sin & death) and relocate us (in Christ) (Horton,118).
The average Christian bases his/her justification on his/her sanctification rather than the other way
around. Intellectually and theologically we may not do this but functionally we do.
There are also 3 practical reasons why religion needs to be critiqued: (1) There are many professing
Christians who aren’t believers at all. They are pure elder brothers who are geographically there with
the Father but spiritually are fare away; (2) There are many true Christians who are elder brother(ish).
They need to have their practice (justification based on their sanctification) brought in line with their
theology (sanctification based on justification). This is the way of true renewal; (3) Most people in this
country who think they have rejected Christianity havn’t really rejected Christianity but rather moralism.
Unless we show them this they won’t be open.
Legalism (moralism) is under-realized eschatology, because you are under realizing the future
vindication of God that is present now in Christ.
Irreligion (relativism) is over-realized eschatology because the law isn’t necessary. God accepts us as is.
On the one hand, moralism (religion) stresses truth over grace. We have to obey the truth in order to get
grace. This is well exemplified in the censorious tone of Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” (of SNL fame).
On the other hand, irreligion (relativists) stress grace over truth. We are accepted by God-truth or no
truth. This is exemplified in Al Franken’s “Stuart Smalley” (of SNL fame).
Of course, for the irreligious (secular people), there is still belief in sin, judgment, and punishment but
irreligion denies any universal standard established by God, much less moral culpability before this God.
Of course, people make mistakes and hurt each other. “But if people are held guilty, the punishment, of
course, has to be in this world, not the next. Secular people don’t burn in hell, they burn in the court of
public opinion” (Barry Kosmin, a public policy professor who studies secularism in Cathy Lynn
Grossman, “Is Sin Dead” USA Today, March 19, 2008).
Jesus came full of grace and truth.
Propitiation is the key doctrine to critique both groups. It is the heart of the Gospel. If you ask a
religionist if God loves him/her. The response may be “yes, I’m working very hard.” This denies the
glory of the cross. If you ask the irreligionist if God loves him/her. The response may be “yes, God
accepts everyone.” But does this kind of God sacrifice for love in any way? In short, both approaches
deny the power of the Gospel in their own ways.
If your preaching of the Gospel doesn’t turn off moralists and intrigue outsiders then you aren’t
preaching it like Jesus preached.
Discouragement: the moralistic approach is that you are in disobedience—therefore repent. The
relativist approach to discouragement is that you need to love and accept yourself and loosen up. The
Gospel approach is to expose that one is trusting in something besides Jesus Christ too much. The
person doesn’t believe in what Jesus says he is for us. He/she has something in his life that is too
important to him—a pseudo Savior. Therefore, one needs to repent for unbelief. In short, the moralist
tends to look at behavior and the relativist emotions but the Gospel goes to the heart.
Suffering: Moralists feel God owes them. If you contribute to your salvation (even in a small way) then
you feel there is a limit to what God can ask of you. You are like a tax payer who has paid his dues. But
if you are saved by grace alone, there is nothing he can’t ask of you. Thus, if you believe you play a role
in your salvation then you won’t be able to handle suffering. God owes you. God is at your debt. So
the moralist will either say “I hate Thee” or he may feel he has deserved the suffering because of his
lack of performance and says “I hate me.” On the other hand, for the relativist, there is no “I hate me.”
It’s all “I hate Thee.” We are all good and God owes us a good life. The cross shows us that we have a
suffering God. On the one hand we see him suffering without complaint for us. This eliminates self
pity. On the other hand, when the Gospel is believed, it teaches us that we aren’t “punished” for our sin.
The “I hate Thee” is taken away because we deserve what Jesus experienced “for us” but the “I hate me”
is also taken away because God demonstrates his value for us in dying for us.
Family: Moralism can make you a slave to parental expectations. The family can become everything. You
end up putting your hopes in the family. Or you feel your children have to live up to your expectations so
that they won’t make you look bad or so that you can reach your untapped dreams through them.
Relativism sees no need for keeping family covenant at all if they don’t meet my needs. But the Gospel
frees us from making parental approval or individual autonomy the thing I have to have. If God is my
ultimate Father, that frees me from being too dependent or hostile to my parents.
Critiquing the Motivation behind the Behavior
• The goal in reaching the moralist/religionist is to show them they aren’t living up to God’s standard, nor
can they. We naturally think that if you want people to do the right thing, you tell them what to do w/
passion. This however, avoids both the law & the gospel. ‘If we really come to grips w/ God’s righteous
will, we are undone” (Horton, CC, 123).
• The goal in reaching the relativist/irreligious is to show them they are actually religious. They are self
justifiers in that they are looking to something to justify their existence. They have relationships in their
lives: e.g. work, lover, hobbies, etc., that have to be characterized as adoration/worship.
• The key here to expose the heart motives takes 4 parts: (1) Here is what the text says we have to do/or
be. (2) But here is why we can’t do it. (3) However, there is one who did do this in a perfect and holy
way “for us.” In other words, God does not relax his righteousness that it revealed in his law but
imputes Christ’s righteousness to every believer. In this way, God’s justice is not satisfied to his love;
rather, his love and his justice are mutually satisfied. (4) Here is how knowing and rejoicing in what he
did ( and melted by what he did), how you can do it too.25
• There is always in every text a moral principle even though there may not be a direct command. It
might come out of the character of God displayed in the text or a good example or bad example. This
principle says “you need to be like this” (More loving for example). But there is a crisis you create in
the listener if you are going to be an effective Gospel preacher. You say: “if you are really going to
listen to this principle there are insurmountable problems with trying to do this.” This is the plot
thickening. Even without a narrative you can still develop tension which is what a narrative is. But then
you show light by demonstrating how Christ has accomplished this for us. Its here you move from
lecture to sermon. They are getting a sense of the need for Christ. If it’s a narrative you show how
Christ is the ultimate example or if its didactic you show how he is the embodiment of the principle.
Here we show that our inability to do what the text says stems from a lack of faith in him, not just a lack
of effort (that gets us away from moralism and points them to the Gospel).
Example: Gospel analysis of why we lie in a particular situation reveals that we usually lie if there is
something we feel we need at that moment besides Jesus Christ to be truly happy. We won’t get over
lying by simply saying “you shouldn’t lie. You are a Christian.” Actually, we need to repent of our
failure to believe the Gospel. For the moralist, Jesus may be used merely as an example “so go out and
tell the truth like Jesus.” Or with the relativist, there may be the god of the gaps where even though we
fall down time and time again God accepts us anyway. Jesus may be in these sermons but we aren’t
applying the Gospel to stimulate their faith. We are either using Jesus as a whip or a band-aid (“there
there, he loves you anyway).
• One key is to provide the biblical motive. We want to give love over fear as motive; that is, we must
take way both self-protection and personal gain as the primary reasons people are doing something. To
answer “why I should do what God requires?” the mode of hierarchy is this: The first reason is love for
God, b/c of the mercy of his Son. Second is love for others. We tell people to do things b/c God loves
other people, and if you love God, you’ll love those he loves. The last reason is love of self.
Horton offers an insightful warning though: “This doesn’t mean, however, that one should preach every passage as direct
republication of ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel.’” These classifications are guardrails, but not the content itself. “Each passage has its own life
within a larger context of its own place in both Scripture and redemptive history. If every sermon sounds the same, then the
categories have become the content rather than the method, rendering every sermon ‘topical’ instead of being genuinely exegetical
and redemptive-historical. To say that all of Scripture points to Christ is not to suggest that we can trample on the immediate context
and content of a passage. It is more like a light illumining all of Scripture rather than a vacuum inhaling all of it. The revelation of
Christ in the history of redemption is the reference point for interpretation, but should in no way mute the specifics of a given
passage. If we fail to recognize that each passage has its own place and must be given its due, we risk turning ‘preaching Christ,’
‘Law-and-Gospel,’ or ‘redemptive-historical interpretation’ into new ways of doing merely topical preaching” (Modern Reformation,
Considering 3 Perspectives in Application: (1) Doctrinalistic; (2) Pietistic; (3) Cultural
Vern Poythress argues that when we are applying a text, there are three perspectives to consider or you
will inevitably be out of balance.
(1) Doctrinal—This perspective looks at a text to see how it supports sound doctrine. If you only do this
then you are making the Enlightenment mistake that you can have objective knowledge without making
(2) The Pietist—This perspective looks at a text as it relates to me psychologically and devotionally.
The text is used to answer questions of how it helps me relate to the Lord; how does it help my prayer
life?; how does it help the non-believer trust Christ; how to handle personal problems.26
(3) The Cultural Transformationist—This perspective looks at a text as it relates to cultural and
corporate issues. How does it help us deal with social justice, community building, economic fairness,
etc. It looks at the cross reversing the values of the world in God’s plan to renew the whole world
through the inauguration of the kingdom.
Example: Luke 4:31-37
The Doctrinalist in this passage would teach the deity of Christ b/c the passage calls him “the Holy One
of God.” It also demonstrates his complete sovereignty over evil spirits as well as the grace of God to
those in bondage.
The Pietist would teach, based on the fact that this view emphasizes that a central purpose of the Bible is
to promote a life of intimate personal devotion to the Lord, that in this passage Christ can solve my
problems if I let him and that I have to tell my friends about what he has done in my deliverance (v. 37).
The Cultural-Transformationist would teach from this passage that Jesus has an active presence in the
world liberating people from oppressive structures and that the miracle signals the coming
transformation of creation. The passage show Christ transforming the world, so that we ourselves my
engage in active transformation under the authority of Christ.
Important Caveat: Christ-centered Application Does Not Mean There is No Christian Duty
• We have a duty before the Lord God because his lordship involves his authority over our lives.
• Thus, we teach people what God says to do, and we teach what God says don’t do. The chief means to
do what God requires is consistent adulation of the mercy of God in Christ. Our greatest way of
enabling people is to adore the mercy of God before them, so they’re constantly getting the message of
how wondrous and beautiful his love is. Their primary power is the faith God has put in them. Faith is
confidence that I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. My identity is that of a child of God. I have that
privilege now. I am a fundamentally different creature. By faith I don’t have to listen to the lie of Satan
that says I can’t change. It’s teaching people that they are new creatures in Christ Jesus; by virtue of
their union w/ him they have the power to do what God requires. This leads to Frame’s proposal that the
Bible gives three reasons to do good works.
Biblical Reasons To Do Good Works: the Lordship of God27:
• (1) The History of Redemption (Sovereignty)—There are basically three ways in which Scripture
encourages believers to do good works. First, it appeals to the history of redemption. This is the chief
motivation in the Decalogue itself: God has redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt; therefore, his people
should obey him. In the New Testament, the writers often urge us to do good works b/c of what Christ
did to redeem us (John 13:34; Col 3:1-3; Rom 6:1-23; 13:11-12; 1 Cor 6:20; 10:11; 15:58; Eph 4:1-5,
25, 32; 5:25-33; Phil 2:1-11; Heb 12:1-28; 1 Pet 2:1-3; 4:1-6). However, our focus on the history of
The warning here is that ever present in a pietistic approach is the tendency to concentrate on the act of faith rather than on the
object of faith; our experience with Jesus Christ rather than the person and work of Jesus Christ himself. Or the testimony of what
happened to us rather than the apostles’ testimony of what happened to Christ. “My Story” begins to take precedence of “His Story.”
It is illuminating that almost entirely absent from the Gospel narratives is a description of what happened to the disciples; so focused
are they on being witnesses to the Story of Jesus. And yet, their lives’ plots are rewritten, their characters recast, their roles
transformed. E.g., Matthew the greedy tax collector is no longer to exist, but is to be made one of the 12, each of whom is to be to the
NT what the 12 tribes are to the OT. (Horton).
Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 29-32.
redemption is not limited to the past. It is also an anticipation of what God will do for us in the future.
God’s promises of future blessing also motivate us to obey him (Matt 6:33; Future Grace [Piper]).
(2) The Authority of God’s Commands (Authority)—Scripture also motivates our good works by
calling attention to God’s commands (Rom 8:4; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 9:8-9; 14:34, 37; Gal 4:21-22; Eph 4:2024; 6:1-3; 1 Thess 4:1; 2 Tim 3:16-17; Tit 2:1; James 1:22-25; 2:8-13; 1 Pet 1:16; 1 Jn 2;3-5; 3:24; 5:2).
(3) The Presence of the Spirit (Covenant Presence)—Scrpture calls us to a godly life, based on the
activity of the Spirit within us (Gal 5:16-17; Eph 5:8-11; Rom 8:1-17; Gal 5:22-26).28
A Shepherd’s Taxonomy29
• First, everyone listening to you falls into the following three pairs:
o Christian or non-Christian: We need to address both in every sermon.
o Complacent or Anxious: The complacent need warnings more than promises, because God’s
promises don’t mean much to them. They’re content in this world, like the rich young ruler (Matt
19). The anxious needs promises, because they’re already feeling what they lack, & they need
hope. Lord, help me to see. I do believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24). We don’t want to tempt
the fearful to discouragement or the proud to self-sufficiency.
o Legalistic or Licentious: The legalistic will listen intently for anything you say about law &
rules, but may overlook the gospel promises. The licentious will be eager to hear the gospel
promises of grace, but may not appreciate teaching on repentance & Christ’s lordship.
• Second, assume the following is true of everyone listening:
o Idolatry: Everyone is struggling with idolatry in one way or another. As John Calvin said, our
hearts are idol-factories. Therefore try to specifically identify some of the idols the passage
speaks to, as they are expressed in our culture—power, pleasure, pride, security, wealth, etc.
o Self Justification: Ever since the Garden of Eden, we have attempted to justify our idols, to
excuse ourselves from our sin & commend ourselves to God. We see it in our desire for praise
from this world. But we need to understand that our desire for the praise of men is simply part of
a larger conspiracy. Though we were made to give praise to God, in our hearts we long to receive
praise from God based on our merits.
o Love of the World: Love of the world takes a multitude of forms: sex, money, power,
possessions, entertainment, beauty, etc. The list is endless, but underneath the variation lays the
constant theme of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (1 John 2:15-17).
• Third, there are different kinds of errant sheep that need the Word (1 Thess 5:12-14):
o The idle: These aren’t lazy sheep so much as headstrong & impulsive sheep; they reject disciple
& insist on going their own way. Paul says these worldly brothers & sisters need to be warned.
This may well include preaching in the second person at times, rather than always using the
softer, gentler first-person plural.
o The timid: These are sheep who aren’t obeying the Word, but not because they’ve rejected it
outright. Rather they are fearful of the consequences, & perhaps responsibilities, that come with
faithful obedience. These sheep need to be encouraged with the promises of the gospel & the
worth of our inheritance in Christ.
o The weak: In one sense all of us are weak, but here Paul seems to have in mind those whose lack
of faith & obedience stems from spiritual weakness that is the result of poor teaching. A diet of
These three motivations correspond to 3 verses where Paul in opposing Judaizers (who think that one must be circumcised to enter
the Kingdom), intends to show the highest priorities of the Christian life: Gal 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6. Frame notes that these three
verses, in turn, correspond to the three aspects of God’s lordship: Gal 6:15 “new creation” is the great redemptive-historical work of
God’s sovereign control of history (sovereignty); 1 Cor 7:19 corresponds to God’s lordship attribute of authority and Gal 5:6
corresponds to God’s covenant presence.
Lawrence revises a more complex version of this taxonomy that was developed by Williams Perkins, a 16 th century Puritan.
milk without meat might keep a sheep alive, but it won’t grow them into the strength of maturity.
These sheep need to be helped, says Paul, & we help them most through sound instruction.
Fourth, and finally, pay attention to the physical, as well as the spiritual circumstances of your hearers.
How does the text speak specifically, & perhaps differently to these categories?
o Men & women
o Single, married, & widowed
o The elderly, middle-aged, & children
o Employed, unemployed, & retired
o Wealthy & poor
o Educated & un(der)educated
o Employers & employees
Application Arenas of Life (Richard 117)
There are five arenas of life where truth must apply (“so what?”) and be specified (now what?). Think through
these five arenas in developing your applications to discover how God’s truth will make a difference and how it
will call His people to obedience.
What kind of a person does God want us to become in:
(1) Personal life
(2) Home life
(3) Work or study life
(4) Church life
(5) Community life.
Application Avenues of Life (Richard 117)
How should this truth affect our:
(1) Attitudes—toward God, others, circumstances
(2) Knowledge of God
(3) Behavior—habits to develop, habits to change, habits to confirm
(4) Relationships—where do I need to forgive, seek forgiveness, encourage, rebuke, submit, lead?
(5) Motives—Am I doing right for the wrong reasons?
(6) Values and Priorities—who are what comes first? Who or what should?
5 Ways the Biblical Text Generates Applications for the Contemporary Audience (See Doriani who
actually gives 7 ways, 82ff)
• (1) Rules—summons obedience to specific commands. They require definite action in narrowly
defined cases. E.g., Jesus said that when one disciple sins against another, the offended party
should go in private and correct him so as to win his repentance (Matt 18:15).
• (2) Ideals—Guide a wide range of behavior without specifying particular deed. E.g.: “Love your
neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39); “Seek firs the kingdom of God and his righteousness” Matt
6:33); “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pet 1:15-16); “If it is possible, as much
depends on you, live at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18). Like rules, ideals need not have the
form of a command. For example, God says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6; Matt
• (3) Doctrines— states the cardinal truths of the faith, the fundamentals of the Christian belief
system. The form of applying doctrinal statements is “if doctrine X is true, what follows?”
• (4) Redemptive Acts in Narratives—When teaching narrative, we should focus first on the
redeeming work of God.
• (5) Exemplary Acts in Narratives—If some rush to draw ethical points from Scripture, others so
fear moralism that they resist the idea of using narratives for moral lessons. But Jesus himself
justifies the search for ethical principles from biblical narratives. In the temptation, his replies to
Satan draw lessons from Israel’s experience in the wilderness (Matt 4:4, 7). Similarly, when the
Pharisees’ questioned Jesus’ Sabbath observance, he justified himself by drawing upon David’s
ritually illegal act in taking the priest’s showbread when he fled from Saul. Biblical narratives
generally show moral lessons rather than spelling them out. The books of Kings & Chronicles
label the action of kings “right” or “not right” before the Lord about 20 times, but otherwise the
Bible rarely spells out its lessons. A key to guarding against moralism here is that the moral
lesson is often related to the subject’s posture toward the covenant (their gospel). This is clearly
seen in Hebrews 11 where the writer in seeking to encourage Jewish Christians to persevere in
the faith (12:1-3), considers those who actually did persevere in the faith—that is, faith in the
Caveat: Yet, even with this five-fold approach, we must be extremely careful to guard against
any kind of works-based sanctification. After all, we are hard-wired for law. As Doriani asserts,
there are 4 classes of legalism: (1) Class-one legalists are auto-soterists; they declare what one
must do in order to obtain God’s favor (rich young ruler; elder brother). (2) Class-two legalists
declare what good deeds or spiritual disciplines one must perform to “retain” God’s favor. (3)
Class-three legalists love the law so much they create new laws, laws not found in Scripture, and
require submission to them (Pharisees). (4) Class-four legalists avoid these gross errors, but they
so accentuate obedience to the law of God that other ideas shrivel up. It reflects an emphasis on
duty—a “just do it” approach. In short, all four ways, in varying degrees, undermine the gospel
of grace, which is the only power effectual for salvation (Rom 1:16). “If obedience were merely
a defensive posture that listeners assume to avert divine wrath or to curry divine favor, then
human holiness would be but a euphemism for selfishness. When self-protection and selfpromotion become the primary motivations of Christian obedience or preaching, then we have
inadvertantly made self-satisfaction the Lord of our faith” (Chapell, 314).
Why we serve God is also how we serve him. Overwhelming love based on an understanding of
the sufficiency, efficacy & majesty of his grace makes us willing & able to obey God (Chapell,
“Generic Principle” in Application [a biblical standard that applies to later situations (Robert J.
McQuilkin “Understanding and Applying the Bible, 1983; pg. 258-65)
(2) It might be stated directly in the text, as in “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18; Mk
(3) In historical portions it might be implied on the basis of the text’s explicit interpretation of the event, as
when Scripture itself commends the occurrence (Acts 2:42-47).
(4) It may apply indirectly in terms of general principles rather than the specific situation if the
cultural/supracultural indicators so dictate (such as the holy kiss being the same as the loving greeting of
Principles for Application (Fabarez, 40-42)
(1) Put yourself in their sandals. This means we consider the historical, grammatical, and literary context
of the passage we are studying. When Satan came to Jesus in the wilderness, he quoted Psalm 91 to
tempt Jesus to throw Himself from the temple. Jesus exposed this misapplication of the passage. In the
psalm, Yahweh is hailed as the loving protector and refuge for those who trust Him. Satan quotes the
part of the psalm which promises that Yahweh “shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all
your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone” [91:11-12].
Satan’s application suggests it would be the “biblical thing” to jump from the pinnacle of the temple,
just as though it would have been the biblical thing for the psalmist to throw himself in the path of an
oncoming spear. Satan extracted the verses of Psalm 91 from their context to precipitate action that was
unrelated to the initial purpose for that Scripture. The psalmist placed examples in the context of Psalm
91 to help discover his intended application: protection from sickness and disease [vv. 3, 6]; dangers in
battle [vv. 5, 7]; and hazards of traversing the wilderness [v. 13]. These have nothing in common with
throwing oneself in front of an oncoming arrow—or jumping from the pinnacle of the temple.
In short, believe that every Scripture was given for a purpose and persevere until you find it.
(2) Target the imperatives. When imperative verbs are encountered, especially in the epistles, the
application is usually obvious
(3) Decide if a narrative passage was given to serve as a Template for them to follow. For instance, Luke
wrote in Acts 8:4 that “those were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. It is important to
determine whether this statement was simply made to explain the situation, or presented to serve as an
example to those who received his book. On the other hand, Jesus said, “Sell all that you have and
distribute to the poor” [Luke 18:22]. The application here must be carefully considered to avoid
creating problems the passage never intended.
(4) Use and Compare Other Clear Imperatives to Keep Your Determinations on Track. For instance,
studying the list of widows eliminated from the financial rolls of the church at Ephesus [1 Tim 5:4-16],
may lead you to conclude these first century Christians were to help as few people as possible. Hoever,
by consulting other parts of Scripture we conclude this could not have been an accurate or intended
application for the early church.
Note the Factors That Limit the Transfer of Application (Fabarez, pp. 43-45)
(1) Does the Immediate Context Limit the Target of the Application?
The Pastoral Epistles are a good example. Many of the commands to Timothy and Titus are universal
and timeless in scope. Yet note that some of the application is directed specifically to pastors and
ministerial leadership in the church.
(2) Does Any Part of the Bible Limit the Target of the Application?
For instance, the application of Leviticus to your audience is removed from the immediate context of the
epistles because the rest of the Bible shows us that the sacrificial and ceremonial system of Leviticus has
been fulfilled in Christ (Heb 10:1-14; Matt 5:17).
(3) Does a Cultural Condition Limit the Target of the Application?
An example is Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “use a little wine” for his stomach and frequent illnesses
[1 Tim 5:23]. Wine was used in the first century for medicinal purposes. In this case it is appropriate to
modify the application in light of the first-century culture of medicine dna that of today’s.
(4) Does a Unique Historical Condition Limit the Target of the Application?
When Jesus called the rich young ruler to follow Him with “sell all that you have . . .” (Luke 18:22), the
historical setting and its comparison with the rest of Scripture provide clues as to the reason for this kind
of summons. Jesus did not require the others he called to sell everything they had, nor does the rest of
New Testament teaching. In this case Jesus demanded a break from the hold that money had on the rich
man, hence this distinctive command.
Note the Facts That Call for the Direct Transfer of Application (Fabarez, 46-48)
(1) What Aspect of the Application is Rooted in God’s Character?
For instance, when Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you,” He rooted His lesson
in the nature of God’s character: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven . . .” [Matt 5:44-45].
The application of this passage will be directly transferable because Scripture bases its practice on the
nature of God. This is an elaboration on the theme that we are to be “holy because God is holy” [Lev
11:45; 1 Pet 1:16], and is specifically linked to timeless application of several biblical teacings [e.g.,
love, 1 Jn 4:7; forgiveness, Col 3:13; acceptance, Rom 15:1].
(2) What Aspect of the Application is Addressing Man’s Depravity?
Preaching the Bible is designed to equip people for every good work [2 Tim 3:16]. That kind of
preaching is used by God to accomplish a progressive pattern of sanctification.
FCF [see Chapell]
(3) What Aspect of the Application is Reflecting God’s Created Order?
In Matthew 19:5 Jesus quotes Gen 2:24 in His defense of monogamy, as does Paul in Ephesians 5:31.
This argument is rooted in God’s created order and applies to every age.
(4) What Aspect of the Application is Delivered as Counter-cultural?
Jesus pointed out to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount, “you have heard that it was said,” but
quickly raised the bar by adding “But I say to you . . .” [Matt 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43]. The specific life
change He was calling for in these passages ran against the grain of the culturally accepted mores of the
day. This is a helpful indication suggesting the application He was seeking was not bound to the
specific context in which it was delivered. If the application was originally counter-cultural, then it
often calls us to make a relevant transfer to our audience regardless of its cultural stance.
Add Your Knowledge of Your Audience to the Application [Fabarez, pp. 48-51]
(1) What Specifically Does Your Audience Have in Common with the Original Audience?
For instance, Colossians 2:16-17 states: “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding
a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is of
Christ.” Commonalities: both audiences are professing Christians; both are exposed to religious forms
that are not biblically pertinent, etc.
(2) In What Specific Areas Does Your Audience Lack Commonality with the Original Audience?
Unlike the original audience, your audience is not pressure to engage in Jewish or OT customs, etc.
(3) How Is My Audience Practicing the Application?
Spending too much time exhorting them to do what they already do, or to believe what they already
believe, will cause you to lose valuable time as well as the interest level necessary to effect change. Yet,
remember, it is important to preach “the same things . . . again . . . as a safeguard” [Phil 3:1]. Moreover,
even when he exhorts is readers in an area in which they excel, as he does in 1 Thess 4:2, his call
invilves clear direction as to how they are to do so “more and more.”
(4) How is My Audience Currently Neglecting or Abusing the Application?
When Paul initially told the Corinthians to avoid associating with sexually immoral people in 1
Corinthians 5:9-11, some believers apparently misunderstood his intent and withdrew from any and all
sexually immoral people. The intended application had limitations that, when missed, led to abuse of
Crystallize How You Will Target Your Audience with the Application [Fabarez, pp. 51-54]
(1) What is the Greatest Need My Audience Has as It Relates to the Application?
Pondering an appropriate pattern of obedience can be helpful step in guiding the contemporary
application. Ask yourself, “How will the hearer act, talk, think, or behave if he loves people who are
irritating in the way Christ would love them?” If you can’t provide a solid answer, chances are your
hearers can’t either.
(2) What Should My Audience Know About the Application?
I might conclude that if my hearers are going to love irritating people the way Christ loves them, then
they must understand something of the quality of divine love as set against the backdrop of their sin.
(3) What Should My Audience Feel About the Application?
(4) What Should My Audience Do About the Application?
I want my audience to identify the irritating people in their lives and start extending tangible expressions
of Christ-like love to them beginning this week. Make is something that can be acted upon; something
Preach to the Ignorant, the Doubtful, and Sinners
By Mark Dever
I often hear the question, "how do you apply the text in an expositional sermon?"
Behind this question may be many questionable assumptions. The questioner may be remembering
"expositional" sermons he has heard (or maybe preached) that were no different from some Bible lectures at
seminary—well-structured and accurate but demonstrating little godly urgency or pastoral wisdom. These
expositional sermons may have had little if any application. On the other hand, the questioner may simply not
know how to recognize application when he hears it.
William Perkins, the great sixteenth-century puritan theologian in Cambridge, instructed preachers to imagine
the various kinds of hearers and to think through applications for each—hardened sinners, questioning doubters,
weary saints, young enthusiasts, and so on.
Perkins’ advice is very helpful, but hopefully we do that already. I want to approach the topic of application
slightly differently: not only are there different kinds of hearers, there are also different kinds of application. As
we take a passage of God’s Word and explain it clearly, compellingly, even urgently, there are at least three
different kinds of application which reflect three different kinds of problems encountered in the Christian
pilgrimage. First, we struggle under the blight of ignorance. Second, we wrestle with doubt, often more than we
at first realize. Third, we still struggle with sin—whether through direct disobedient acts or through sinful
negligence. As preachers, we long to see changes in all three ways, both in ourselves and in our hearers every
time we preach God’s Word. And all three problems give rise to a different kind of legitimate application.
Ignorance is a fundamental problem in a fallen world. We have alienated God from us. We have cut ourselves
off from direct fellowship with our Creator. It is not surprising, then, that informing people of the truth about
God is itself a powerful type of application—and one that we desperately need.
This is not an excuse for cold or passionless sermons. I can be every bit as excited (and more) by indicative
statements as I can be by imperative commands. The commands of the gospel to repent and believe mean
nothing apart from the indicative statements concerning God, ourselves, and Christ. Information is vital. We are
called to teach the truth and to proclaim a great message about God. We want people who hear our messages to
move from being ignorant to being knowledgeable about the truth. Such heartfelt informing is application.
Doubt is different from ignorance. In doubt, we take ideas or truths familiar to us and we question them. This
kind of questioning is not rare among Christians. In fact, doubt may be one of the most important issues to be
thoughtfully explored and thoroughly challenged in our preaching. Addressing doubt is not something a
preacher takes up with non-believers for a little pre-conversion apologetics. Some people who sit listening to
sermons week after week may well know all the facts that the preacher mentions about Christ, or God, or
Onesimus; but they may well have struggled with whether or not they really believe those facts are true.
Sometimes people may not even be aware of their doubts, much less be able to articulate them as doubts.
But when we begin to consider Scripture searchingly, we find lingering in the shadows questions, uncertainties,
and hesitancies, all of which make us sadly aware of that gravitational pull of doubt off there in the distance
drawing us away from the faithful pilgrim’s path. To such people—perhaps to such parts of our own hearts—we
want to argue for and to urge the truthfulness of God’s Word and the urgency of believing it. We are called to
urge on hearers the truthfulness of God’s Word. We want people who hear our messages to change from doubt
to full-hearted belief in the truth. Such urgent, searching preaching of the truth is application.
Sin, too, is a problem in this fallen world. Ignorance and doubt may be themselves specific sins, the result of
specific sins, or neither. But sin is certainly more than neglect or doubt.
Be assured that people listening to your sermons will have struggled with disobeying God in the week just
passed, and they will almost certainly struggle with disobeying him in the week that they are just beginning.
The sins will be various. Some will be a disobedience of action; others will be a disobedience of inaction. But
whether of commission or omission, sins are disobedience to God.
Part of preaching is to challenge God’s people to a holiness of life that will reflect the holiness of God himself.
So part of applying the passage of Scripture is to draw out the implications of that passage for our actions this
week. We as preachers are called to exhort God’s people to obedience to his Word. We want our hearers to
change from sinful disobedience to joyful, glad obedience to God according to his will as revealed in his Word.
Such exhortation to obedience is certainly application.
VII. THE GOSPEL
The main message that we need to apply every time we preach is the gospel. Some people do not yet know the
good news of Jesus Christ. And some of them may have even been sitting under your preaching for a time—
distracted or asleep or day-dreaming or otherwise not paying attention. They need to be informed of the gospel.
They need to be told.
Others may have heard, understood, and perhaps even accepted the truth, but now find themselves struggling
with doubting the very matters you are addressing (or assuming) in your message. Such people need to be urged
to believe the truth of the good news of Christ.
And, also, people may have heard and understood, but remain slow to repent of their sins. They may even
accept the truth of the gospel message, but not want to give up their sins and trust in Christ. For such hearers,
the most powerful application you can make is to exhort them to hate their sins and flee to Christ. In all our
sermons, we should seek to apply the gospel by more often or more thoroughly, it is not wrong for you to
preach to those who need to be informed or who need to be exhorted to forsake sin, even if the person talking to
you isn’t so aware of that need.
One final note. Proverbs 23:12 says, "Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge." In
English translations, it seems that the words translated "apply" in the Bible almost always (maybe always?)
have reference not to the preacher’s work (as homiletics teaches us) nor even to the Holy Spirit’s (as
systematics rightly teaches us) but to the work of the one who hears the Word. We are called to apply the word
to our own hearts, and to apply ourselves to that work.
That, perhaps, is the single most important application we could make next Sunday for the benefit of all of
God’s peopleinforming, urging, and exhorting.
One common challenge we preachers face in applying God’s Word in our sermons is that individuals who
experience problems in one pronounced area will think that you are not applying Scripture in your preaching
because you are not addressing their particular problem. Are they right? Not necessarily. While your preaching
might improve if you start addressing every category.
“Word of God” can be parsed in several different yet legitimate ways: (1) a divine communication via human
language [Mark 1:11]; (2) the person of Jesus Christ [John 1:14-18]; (3) the preaching of the Gospel, especially
by the apostles [Acts 4:31]; (4) the words of Scripture [2 Tim 3:16]. It is the last sense that informs the burden
of this essay. The doctrine of the Bible controls all other doctrines of the Christian faith. That is, any diluting
of this emphasis will remove the Bible as the authoritative voice in theology, thereby endangering central
principles such as salvation by grace and even the authority of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the means by which
the apostolic memory of what God was doing in Christ is given specificity and substance. Yet, in these
Postmodern times in the West, there are challenges to the “Claim” of Scripture. For instance, neo-liberal James
Barr asserts that there is no “the Bible” that claims to be divinely inspired; that is, there is no “it” that has a
“view of itself.” There is only this or that source, like 2 Timothy or 2 Peter, which makes statements about
certain other writings, these rather undefined. No doubt, Barr is correct that merely to cite 2 Timothy 3:16 is
not enough. It begs the question since: (1) Paul here refers to the OT, not the entire Christian canon; (2)
Evidence must then be offered that 2 Timothy 3:16 is itself Scripture, to show that it gives Scripture’s view of
Scripture; (3) Evidence must be furnished what Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3:16 can also be applied to the NT
canon. However, even w/ that admission, it must be stated that Barr is wrong. The doctrine of Scripture is not
found only in a few isolated texts of Scripture. Rather, it pervades the entire Scriptures. When we read
Scripture on its own terms [intra-textually], there is a canonical-self consciousness from Genesis to Revelation.
From what we witness of God’s activity in redemptive-history, it is evident that God intends to rule his people
thru a book, a written constitution, which is nothing less than his Word. That is why any discussion of Scripture
must begin w/ the Bible’s view of itself for as w/ any doctrine of the Christian faith, including our doctrine of
Scripture, we must substantiate it by an appeal to Scripture as it is the constitution by which God rules his
The Scripture’ view of itself may be summarized in four propositions.
(1) There is evidence w/I the OT of a canonical self-consciousness; a recognition that what is written is
given by God to rule and direct his people. This is indicated by the fact that God’s covenantal
relationship w/ his people is always accompanied by written documentation and is intended to rule and
direct their lives [see Deut 5:22, 32; 29:9; 30:9-16; 31:24-29; Josh 1:7-8; 8:34]. The rest of the books
are written, in various ways, in exposition of this authoritative, canonical, covenantal word. Out of this
flows, in part, the Chronicler’s covenantal, canonical interpretation of history and the confidence of the
prophetic “Thus says the Lord.” New Scripture is written in the confidence that it is Scripture only b/c
of its inherent relationship to what God has already given.
(a) When God brought Israel out of Egypt and gathered them at Sinai he entered into a covenant
relation w/ them. Covenant is a literary form of the ancient Near East, sometimes called the
Suzerain Treaty. Here a great king imposes on a lesser king the status of servant-ally. The great
king speaks as the author. He begins by giving his name. Then there is a historical prologue—
he explains how he helped the servant king in the past. Then he sets forth his law, the
obligations the servant must perform. Then comes the sanctions: blessings or curses. [e.g. Ex
(b) The written document is not peripheral to the covenant; indeed, being the provisions of the
covenant it is the covenant. The disobey the document is to disobey the covenant and vice-versa.
The covenant is written by the great king and is kept in 2 places: the sanctuary of the great king
and the sanctuary of the lesser king. At first, the document that God gives Israel includes only
the 2 tablets of the 10 commandments. In that document, God speaks as author, giving his name
in the usual location for the great king. The passage strongly emphasizes his authorship in that it
is written by God’s own finger [Ex 24:12; 31:18]. Later more words are added. In Deut 32, God
teaches his people a song by which they are to remember his mercies and remember to obey him.
It is God’s song, and Moses writes it down [31:22]. It is a song of witness [31:19]. When Israel
sins, the song will accuse and convict them.
(c) The entire law is placed in the ark of the covenant as a witness against the people [31:26]. It is
holy b/c it is God’s own word. For that reason, no one may add to or subtract from these words
[Deut 4:2; 12:32; Josh 1:7; Prov 30:6; cf. Rev 22:19-20]. From time to time until Malichi, God
adds new words to the canon of Scripture. Prophets have God’s word in their mouths [Deut 18]
and many of their prophecies are written down [Is 8:1; 30:8ff; 34:16-17; Jer 25:13]
(2) There is in the NT the clear recognition of the divinely given canon we now know as the OT.
Throughout the NT the writers assert from the OT canon “It is written” in perfect tense [Matt 4:4; Mark
1:2; Luke 4:4; 24:26; John 8:17; Acts 1:20; Rom 1:17; 1 Cor 1:19, 31; 2 Cor 8:15; Gal 3:10, 13; 1 Pet
1:16; Heb 10:17]. In Jesus’ life, Scripture must be fulfilled b/c it is Scripture [Matt 5:17-19]. When
Jesus makes belief in Moses the prerequisite to belief in his own word [Jn 5:45] and when he denies that
Scripture should ever be broken [Jn 10:33-36; he calls Scripture “law” and was quoting from Psalm
82:6, which is not in the Pentateuch or in any portion of Scripture of “formally legal contents.” In other
words, Jesus, with this statement, attributes legal authority to the entirety of Scripture.], he is adding his
witness to the teaching of the written old covenant. When Paul speaks in 2 Tim 3:16 and when Peter
speaks in 2 Pet 1:21 they are referring to the OT. Furthermore, Scripture Equated With God. Two
examples of these include: (1) Galatians 3:8, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the
heathen through faith, preached the gospel unto Abraham, saying, “In thee shall all the nations be
blessed” (cf. Gen 12:1-3); (2) Romans 9:17, “The Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, even for this same
purpose have I raised thee up” (cf. Ex 9:16). Finally, there is God Equated with Scripture. A couple of
examples include: (1) Matthew 19:4-5, “An he answered and said, ‘Have ye not read that he which made
them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave his
father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the twain shall become one flesh?” (cf. Gen 2:24);
(2) Acts 4:24,25, “Thou art God, who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, ‘Why do the heathen
rage and the people imagine vain things” (cf. Ps 2:1). It is also beneficial here to see that even minor
details in the OT were seen to be historically true by NT authors [Matt 12:3-4, David ate the bread of
presence; Matt 12:40, Jonah was in the whale; Matt 12:41, The men of Ninevah repented; Matt 12:42,
the Queen of the South came to hear Solomon; Luke 4:25-26, Elijah was sent to the widow of
Zarephath, Luke 4:27, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy, Hebrews 11, many details of the
lives of OT saints, Rom 5:12, Adam; 2 Pet 2:16, Balaam’s donkey spoke].
(3) There is in the NT a consciousness among authors that the authority of their own writing is on a par w/
that of the OT and that the content of the revelation given to them is, in some sense, superior to it, not in
terms of inspiration, but in the clarity and progress of the revelation recorded. [cf. Eph 3:2-6]. This
consciousness is tantamount to a deliberate addition to the canon in order to bring it to completion in the
light of Christ’s coming. In this sense, the NT canon is virtually demanded by the coming of Christ. If
the older revelation, which was incomplete and fragmentary [Heb 1:1-2], was inscripturated, how much
more is inscrupturation anticipated of the consummation of revelation? [Heb 2:2-3]. We have no gospel
w/o the apostles [Rom 2:16; 1 Thess 4:2; Jude 17ff; Col 4:16: 1 Thess 5:27; 2 Thess 3:14; 1 Cor 14:37;
2 Pet 3:16]. Like the old, the NT records a covenant [ 1 Cor 11:25]. And since covenants are verbal, we
expect nothing less than a NT canon. This canon-consciousness emerges in the opening and closing
sections of Revelation. It assumed that it will be read in public to the church [1:3]. Both reader and
hearer are promised blessing; i.e. a divine, covenantal benediction. In view of this, a similarly covenant
warning closes the book [22:18-19]. These words reflect the apex of canon-consciousness in the NT.
They echo the warning of the OT [Deut 4:2; 12:32].
(4) In the NT we also notice that some sources express a sense not only of their own canonical character
but of the existence of a class of literature sharing that status. 1 Tim 5:18 quotes both Deut 25:4 and
Luke 10:7 as Scripture. 2 Pet 3:16 Peter affirms Paul’s writings as Scripture.
It is out of this self-attesting canonical, covenantal consciousness that one can begin a doctrine of Scripture.
Of course, this leads to a kind of “circularity” in our formulation but when it comes to ultimate criterions
and highest authorities in anyone’s WV, a kind of circularity is unavoidable. The truth of a fundamental
principle [principium] cannot be proved; it can only be recognized.
In constructing a doctrine of Scripture, fundamental is the discussion on its attributes.
Everything that exists has attributes that define it, make it what it is, and distinguish it from everything else, and
so the Holy Scripture has attributes that define it, make it what it is, and distinguish if from all other writings.
Narrow Sense (forgiveness of sins through Christ’s substitution)
1. ESV Acts 10:36-43 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of
peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), . . . To him all the prophets bear
witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his
Peter says that the gospel he preaches is that of “peace through Jesus Christ,” by which he means
specifically the good news “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins
through his name.”
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to
everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is
revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Paul defines the gospel in terms of “salvation” and the righteousness of God being revealed
through faith. It becomes clear through the rest of the book that he’s talking here about
forgiveness of sins (justification) being through faith, not works. His focus in Romans is not on
the coming kingdom, but on how one becomes a part of it. And that he calls “gospel.”
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with
words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the
cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The gospel Paul is sent to preach is “the word of the cross.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-5 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which
you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I
preached to you- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also
received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he
was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to
The gospel Paul preached to them and which they received was that “Christ died for
our sins . . . was buried . . . [and] was raised.” The continuing references to the
appearances shouldn’t be taken as part of “the gospel,” as if we have to tell someone
that Jesus appeared to Peter, the Twelve, and James or we’re not telling them the
gospel. Those references are meant to establish the resurrection as real and historical.
1. ESV Matthew 4:23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their
synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease
and every affliction among the people.
This is the first mention of the word “gospel” in Matthew’s account, so we should expect some
contours to be given to the term. To fill in the content of the “gospel of the kingdom” which Jesus
preached, we look back to verse 17, the first mention of “kingdom.” There, Jesus is recorded as
preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
The gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached was the message that a) the kingdom had dawned,
and b) those who repent could enter it.
2. ESV Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee,
proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of
God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
With the exception of the very first verse, this is the first use of the
word in Mark’s account. The “gospel of God” which Jesus proclaimed
was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent
and believe in the gospel.”
The gospel of God is the message that a) the kingdom has dawned, and b) those who repent and
believe can enter it.
Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to
set at liberty those who are oppressed,
This is the OT passage from which Jesus launches his public ministry. The word “good news,” as
it’s used in Isaiah 61, is I think referring to the full-orbed establishment of God’s kingdom-rule.
Acts 13:32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has
fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, . . .
Verse 38 is very clear that the good news Paul brought was that forgiveness of sin comes through
“this man.” But also, in verse 32 the “good news” is said to be “that what God promised to the
fathers, this he has fulfilled . . . by raising Jesus.” Surely God’s promises to the fathers, now
fulfilled in Jesus, included but were not limited to forgiveness of sins?
So looking carefully into the New Testament, it seems that the word "gospel" is used in both a broad way
and in a more narrow way. Broadly, as in Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4, and Acts 13, it refers to all the
promises made to us through the work of Jesus—not only forgiveness of sins, but also resurrection,
reconciliation with both God and others, sanctification, glorification, coming Kingdom, new heavens and
new earth, and so forth. You might say that in those cases, “gospel” refers to the whole complex of God’s
promises secured through the life and work of Christ. In the narrow sense, such as we see in Acts 10, the
whole book of Romans, 1 Corinthians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15, “gospel” refers specifically to the atoning
death and resurrection of Jesus and the call to all people to repent and believe in him.
Now let me make two other things explicit. First, the broad use of the word “gospel” necessarily includes
the narrow. Look at those examples from Matthew and Mark. Jesus doesn’t just proclaim the onset of the
kingdom, as many have said. He proclaims the onset of the kingdom and proclaims the means of entering
it. Look closely: Jesus did not preach the gospel saying “The kingdom of heaven has come!” He preached
the gospel saying, “The kingdom of heaven has come. Therefore repent and believe!” This is crucial, the
difference indeed between Gospel and not-Gospel: To proclaim the inauguration of the kingdom and
the new creation and all the rest without proclaiming how people can enter it---by repenting and
being forgiven of their sins through faith in Christ and his atoning death---is to preach a nonGospel. Indeed, it is to preach bad news, since you give people no hope of being included in that new
creation. The broad sense of “gospel” is not merely the proclamation of the kingdom. It is the
proclamation of the kingdom together with the proclamation that people may enter it by repentance and
faith in Christ.
Second, it’s worth noting explicitly, again, the fact that the New Testament calls the specific, narrow
message of forgiveness of sins through Christ “The Gospel.” Therefore, those who would argue
something like, “If you’re just preaching the forgiveness of sins through Christ, and not God’s intention to
remake the world, you’re not preaching the gospel,” are wrong. Both Paul and Peter (just to grab names
from the above examples) seem quite happy to say that they have preached “The Gospel” if they have told
people about the forgiveness of sins through the substitutionary death of Jesus, full stop.
What is the Gospel?
"...Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?...If you would enter life, keep the
- Matthew 19:15-17
"God bids us do what we cannot, that we may know what we ought to seek from him."
"For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes
knowledge of sin." Rom 3:20
In short, the Gospel is the life-altering news that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man,
lived a sinless life under the Law, died for sinners and rose again to reconcile them to himself,
eternally victorious over every enemy that stood between God and man. Now, because of this
redemptive work, there is nothing that separates those who believe from their Creator and all the
benefits that He promises in him. D.A. Carson says the gospel centers "upon Jesus Christ and what
God has done through him. The essential points of the gospel are Jesus Christ's status as the Son of
God, his genuine humanity, his death for our sins, his burial, resurrection, subsequent appearances,
and future coming in judgment. That no one is justified but in the gracious work of Jesus Christ in his
death and resurrection. It is not merely a recital of theological truths and historical events; rather, it
relates these truths and events to situations of every individual believer."
But in order to fully understand what the Gospel is, it is important to understand why the Gospel is
It is helpful to see the gospel in the context of human history starting with God's creation of all things,
man's rebellion against the Creator, his subsequent fall into corruption and God's redemption of that
which was lost. Adam, the first man, had the capacity to do every good work the law required; which
men, since the fall, have not. Having fallen headlong into sin, God cursed Adam with death (Gen 2:17,
3:19-22), and with the removal of His Spirit (1 Cor 2:14), a penalty he passed on to all his posterity.
Man squandered his stewardship and put himself in the position of a moral debt he cannot repay.
Now mankind's spiritually bankrupt condition and fallen nature, which is beyond repair, render it
necessary that if he is to be restored, the help will have to come from the outside. That redemption
comes from God and comes in the form of the gospel. This gospel is not something man made up or a
well-informed opinion, but is good news directly revealed from Almighty God regarding what He has
done in Jesus Christ to rescue all those who have called on His name. Yes, it is a divine rescue, a
complete deliverance ... not advice, not a moral improvement program, nor a philosophy of life, since
we need sovereign mercy, not assistance. The proud, or those who fail to see their moral impotence to
save themselves, will reject this gospel. But this is GOOD NEWS to the poor and broken hearted, (the
spiritual bankrupt who have lost all confidence in their own efforts) ... So all you poor, broken sinners,
abandon despair and banish your laments because of what God has done in His Son, Jesus Christ the
Messiah to deliver His people from their sins.
I once heard it said that there are two religions in the world: 1) human attainment and 2) Divine
accomplishment. Lets consider the first one; human attainment, which is the natural inclination of us
all. In His Law, God calls us to perfect obedience to His holy commands, yet an honest assessment of
ourselves will force us to acknowledge that we all fall woefully short of doing so, leaving no hope in
ourselves. But in the Gospel, Jesus mercifully obeys the commands for us. Christ’s full obedience to all
the prescriptions of the divine law…and His willing obedience in bearing all the sanctions imposed for
our disobedience to that law is both the ground of God’s justification of sinners like us and makes
available a perfect righteousness that is imputed or reckoned to those who put their trust in him. In
other words, The gospel is not about any merit I have, but is based upon Jesus' Person and merit
alone. It is not what we have done for Jesus, but what Jesus has done for us (Rom 5:19, 2 Cor 5:21,
Phil 2:8). Where Adam failed, Jesus prevailed. It is God's promise to us, not our ability to keep our
promise to Him. In the covenant rainbow sign with Noah, God says He "remembers" never to flood
the world again, so likewise in the covenant in Christ's blood, God "remembers" not to treat us as we
justly deserve for our sins. The mystery of God has been made manifest in the Person and work of the
Son, who, in his wrath absorbing sacrifice, frees the prisoners, gives sight to the blind, breaks loose
the chains and changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. We were once taken captive to do Satan's
will and could not escape using our own resources, but Christ has set us free. Christ, in His cross
work, does for us what we could not do for ourselves. He lived the perfect life that we should have
lived and died the death we should have died, in order to free us so that we might then proclaim His
excellencies, make known his gospel and spread justice and mercy to the poor.
Dr. Tim Keller once said "...the gospel is news about what God has already been done for you, rather
than instruction and advice about what you are to do for God. The primacy of his work, not our work,
is part of the essence of faith. In other religions, God reveals to us how we can find or achieve
salvation. In Christianity, God achieves salvation for us. The gospel brings news primarily, rather than
instruction. " ...the gospel is all about historic events, and thus it has a public character. "It identifies
Christian faith as news that has significance for all people, indeed for the whole world, not merely as
esoteric understanding or insight." [Brownson, p. 46] ...if Jesus is not risen from the dead,
Christianity does not "work". The gospel is that Jesus died and rose for us. If the historic events of his
life did not happen, then Christianity does not "work" for the good news is that God has entered the
human "now" (history) with the life of the world to come....the gospel is news about what God has
done in history to save us, rather than advice about what we must do to reach God. The gospel is news
that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in history has achieved our salvation...Jesus does not just
bring good news; he is the good news."
There is no salvation outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. So trust in Christ and not in your own
righteousness. But some refuse the free gift of God because they trust in their own goodness. As the
Puritan Thomas Watson once said:
[Some people think] ...they are so good, that they scorn God's offer of mercy. Indeed these are often in
the worst condition: these are they who think they need no repentance (Luke 15:7). Their morality
undoes them. They make a "savior" of it, and so on this rock they suffer shipwreck. Morality shoots
short of heaven. It is only nature refined. A moral man is but old Adam dressed in fine clothes. The
king's image counterfeited and stamped upon brass will not go current. The moral person seems to
have the image of God—but he is only brass metal, which will never pass for current. Morality is
insufficient for salvation. Though the life is moralized, the lust may be unmortified. The heart may be
full of pride and atheism. Under the fair leaves of a tree, there may be a worm. I am not saying, repent
that you are moral—but that you are no more than moral. Satan entered into the house that had just
been swept and garnished (Luke 11:26). This is the emblem of a moral man, who is swept by civility
and garnished with common gifts—but is not washed by true repentance. The unclean spirit enters
into such a one. If morality were sufficient to salvation, Christ need not have died. The moral man has
a fair lamp—but it lacks the oil of grace."
Jesus is Lord and creator - the only rightful king of all creation ... king of all things both seen and
unseen. To those who worship the false idols of their hearts (any God-replacement) take heed ... Jesus
will soon be invading with His armies and will overthrow his enemies and all injustice with the breath
of His mouth. But He is offering pardon in advance of His invasion to all those who receive Him (John
1:12, 13). Those who have joined themselves to Him now before He invades will be considered His ally
and He will raise them up to be co-heirs with Christ as sons. The alternative is to be under the wrath
of the king. We herald this announcement: that the True King is on the throne and he'll be invading.
The gospel is not merely an invitation it is a command to all those going their own ways. Will you
heed the command? Jesus is Lord, repent and believe."(Bill Wilder) But because of the blindness sin has
cast over us, Jesus says, no one can believe in Him unless the Father grants it through the regenerating work of
the Holy Spirit (John 6:63-65). So those who, by the grace of God, trust in Jesus and His work can be assured,
on the sure testimony of Scripture, that their sins are forgiven and have the promise of God: eternal life.
Man was created to glorify God & Enjoy Him forever
"Worthy are you, our Lord and our God to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things." (Rev
4:11) "Do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31)
Man has failed to glorify God & is under His just condemnation
"For all have sinned..." (Rom 3:23) The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23) "These will pay the penalty of eternal
destruction" (2 Thes 1:9)
Jesus fully bore the wrath and suffered the punishment sinners deserve
Not wishing that sinners perish forever, God determined to save a people for Himself in the Eternal Son who
became a man and lived the life we should have lived and died the death we justly deserve. God loves sinners
and sent His Son to be the wrath absorbing sacrifice for their sin (1 John 4:10; John 6:37) he "...gave His life as
a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45) & "rose again" from the dead (2 Cor 5:15) on their behalf.
All who, by the grace of God, turn to Jesus in submissive faith are forgiven
If you confess you are a sinner in need of Christ then God has begun to work in you a life-changing, eternally
satisfying relationship with Himself! "Repent and believe the gospel (Mk 1:5) "In Your presence is fullness of
Joy (Ps 16:11). So leave your self-righteousness, and your sins. Fly unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and receive his
righteousness to be your covering, and his blood to be your atonement. If your trust is in Jesus alone for your
salvation (that is, if you have no hope save for Christ's mercy alone) then you can be assured that your sins are
forgiven and He has granted you eternal life.
The Bible’s Central Theme: Various Views
The OT storyline appears best to be summarized as: the historical story of God who progressively reestablishes
his new creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant,
and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to extend that new creation rule and resulting
in judgment for the unfaithful (defeat and exile), all of which issues into his glory; the NT storyline can be
summarized as: Jesus’ life of covenantal obedience, trials, judgmental death for sinners, and especially
resurrection by the Spirit has launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-and-not-yet promised new
creation reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to extend
this new creation rule and resulting in judgment for the unfaithful, unto God’s glory.
God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in
him may have eternal life!
God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all
those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result.
The Bible tells how the loving Creator God restored a lost humanity and cosmos through reestablishing his rule
through Jesus Christ and the provision of life to His honor.
God has made promises to bring His people to Himself and He is fulfilling them all through Christ.
A holy God sends his righteous Son to die for unrighteous sinners so we can be holy and live happily with God
Apprenticing with Jesus to become human again.
God glorifies himself in the redemption of sinners.
The Triune God is the beginning, middle, and end of everything, 'for from him (as Creator) and through him (as
Sustainer and Redeemer) and to him (as Judge) are all things' (Rom 11:36).
Jesus is the promised Savior-King.
The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit
who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good.
The message of the Bible in one sentence is that genuine truth, unlike every human philosophy, is far too
luxuriant, too enthralling, too personal, too all-encompassing, too sovereign, and too life-changing to be
reducible to one sentence (or, as Einstein once put it, the challenge is to 'make everything as simple as possible,
but not simpler').
God is redeeming his creation by bringing it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
'God so loved the world that the gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but
have eternal life' (John 3:16).
God, who made us and everything else, loves us and gave himself for us that we might live forever with him as
new creatures in a new creation—the news is good!
The message of the Bible is the transforming grace of God displayed preeminently in Jesus Christ.
The Lover of our souls won't let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever.
God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on
the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life.
The Bible is the record of God's promise of and deliverance through Jesus Christ.
The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ's
atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God.
God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new
earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave
himself on the cross for our salvation.
Verbum caro factum est.
The first sentence that comes to mind is that of my colleague Michael D. Williams, who describes the Bible's
story about the world as follows: God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it!
The main message of the Bible is that the one true God is displaying his glory primarily in redeeming and
restoring his fallen creation by fulfilling his covenant promises and commands through the glorious person and
atoning work of Christ.
Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had
turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed
warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation
of the wilderness into the Garden City.
He—God in Christ—shall reign forever and ever; so today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart but
believing the good news take up your cross and follow Jesus.
The Gospel as a Three-Legged Stool
Trevin Wax Counterfeit Gospels,Gospel,Gospel Definitions
From an exegetical standpoint, the word “gospel” is used in the New Testament primarily when speaking of the
announcement of Jesus Christ. So, at its core, the gospel is the specific announcement about what God has done
through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to bring about our salvation. The announcement of Jesus is the
Yet this Jesus-centered message needs context. The “Story for the individual” group is right to insist that the
back story (God’s character, our sin, etc.) is needed if the gospel announcement is to make sense. And the New
Creation crowd is right to insist that we place our individual salvation within the bigger picture of God’s glory
in the renewal of all things and the calling out of a people. This discussion brings us to the image that forms the
heart of my book on the gospel .
The Three-Legged Stool
I propose that the gospel is like a three-legged stool. Each leg of the stool is important to understanding the
- The Gospel Story
First, there is the gospel story, the overarching grand narrative found in the Scriptures. The Bible tells us about
God’s creation of a good world which was subjected to futility because of human sin. God gave the Law to
reveal his holiness and our need for a perfect sacrifice, which is provided by the death of Jesus Christ. This
same Jesus will one day return to this earth to judge the living and the dead and thus renew all things. The
gospel story is the Scriptural narrative that takes us from creation to new creation, climaxing with the death and
resurrection of Jesus at the center.
- The Gospel Announcement
The second leg of the stool is the gospel announcement, namely that God – in the person of Jesus Christ –
lived a perfect life in our place, bore the penalty for our sin through his death on the cross, was raised from the
dead to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as Lord of the world. The announcement centers upon
Jesus and what he has done to reconcile us to God. Our response to this announcement is to repent of our sins
and put our complete trust in the work he has accomplished on our behalf.
- The Gospel Community
The third leg of the stool is the gospel community. Our response to the gospel announcement (repentance and
faith) is not a one-time event, but a lifelong expression of gratitude that wells up from the bottom of our hearts
and overflows into love for God and his beloved community. We are shaped by the gospel into the kind of
people who herald the grace of God and spread the news of Jesus Christ. God has commissioned the church to
be the community that embodies the message of the gospel. Through our corporate life together, we “obey the
gospel” by living according to the truth of the message that Jesus Christ is our Savior and the Lord of the world.
How They Relate
Here’s how the relationship between the gospel story, announcement, and community work:
STORY: Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration. This is the grand narrative of Scripture that provides context
for the announcement.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Jesus Christ. The announcement of his perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection,
and exaltation is made within the context of the Story.
COMMUNITY: The gospel announcement calls for the response (repentance and faith) that God uses to birth
the church. The church is the embodiment of the gospel. Though the church is not the “good news,” it puts on
display the good news. Thus, the church is a result of the gospel, but I want to reiterate that it is a necessary
Why It’s Helpful to Think of the Gospel This Way
Thinking within the framework of the three-legged stool has helped me rethink lots of areas, including
missiology. When we witness to the gospel, we need all three legs of the stool. We need to begin with the big
story of Scripture, make the announcement of Jesus within that context, and then invite people to witness the
gospel community in action, as we provide an embodied apologetic of the truth of the announcement.
Thinking within this framework has also helped me spot potential pitfalls in taking one leg of the stool to the
exclusion of the others. The “story for the individual” can give the impression that the church is an optional
implication of the gospel, not the necessary result of the announcement. Likewise, some can emphasize the
vastness of God’s redemptive work in a way that pushes out the cross and diminishes the practice of urging
people to repent of sin and trust in Christ.
This framework has also made sense of my experience in times of suffering. When I’m facing a trial, the gospel
story explains the fallenness of our world and reminds me of the future hope. The gospel announcement gives
me the tools to deal with suffering, and also reminds me that my life has significance in relation to (not apart
from) Christ as the focal point of human history. The gospel community has embodied the gospel to me during
suffering by holding me up and reminding me of the promises I have in Christ.
In the next few weeks, I’ll give you a peek into my my book , where I analyze “counterfeit gospels” by
showing the damage they do to the three-legged stool.
For now, I look forward to your feedback. Does the three-legged stool approach help you think about the gospel
and its implications? If so, how?
Compiled by Trevin Wax
Definitions from Christians in the Past
Like so many Bible terms, the word GOSPEL has been given various definitions contrary to its
original and proper meaning.
The word has its origin “in Christ before the foundation of the world.” This was contained in the
“promise” God made before the foundation of the world. (Tit. 1:2) The “gospel,” the “good
news” or “good tidings” is the declared fulfilment of that promise.
In Isaiah 61:1‐3 is found the outstanding proclamation made by the Sum and Substance of the
good tidings, — Jesus Christ Himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good
tidings to the meek, He has sent Me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the
captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable
year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn. To appoint to
them that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the
garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”
The Redeemer repeated this same proclamation of Himself in the synagogue.
While this prophetical statement is often quoted, its full significance is rarely understood. In
this one sweeping declaration, there is encouched – not the beginning of the gospel, not a part
of its fulfilment, – the grand total of what the Son of Man declared on the cross: “IT IS
The Greek word “evanggelion” is translated “gospel” in the King James Version. This word,
together with its rendering of “good tidings,” glad tidings” and “preach the gospel” occurs some
one hundred and eight times in the New Testament, none of which intimate anything less than
“finished redemption” in Christ.
“Only one saving message is attested by the NT. The “gospel to the circumcision” preached by
Peter and his colleagues did not differ in content from the “gospel to the uncircumcised”
entrusted to Paul (Gal. 2:7), though the form of presentation might vary according to the
audience. Paul’s testimony is, “Whether therefore it was I or they [Peter and his colleagues], so
we preach, and so you believed” (1 Cor. 15:11).
The basic elements in the message were these:
1. the prophecies have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ;
2. he was born into the family of David;
3. he died according to the Scriptures, to deliver his people from this evil age;
4. he was buried, and raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures;
5. he is exalted at God’s right hand as Son of God, Lord of living and dead;
6. he will come again, to judge the world and consummate his saving work.”
The gospel of Christ in general is this:
It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ.
More largely it is this:
As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of
death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal
darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement
to reconcile them to Himself again…Namely, the second person of the Trinity takes man’s
nature upon Himself, and becomes the Head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin.
He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making
satisfaction by keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness He tenders up to
the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him…And now this mediation
of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever
nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to
believe in Him and, upon believing, promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but
that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever
hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the
number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and they
they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
“The Gospel” Summarized in 6 Parts
1. The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets. (Acts
2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ. (Acts 2:22‐31)
3. By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as
Messianic head of the new Israel. (Acts 2:32‐36)
4. The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory. (Acts 10:44‐
5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ. (Acts 3:20‐21)
6. An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and
salvation. (Acts 2:37‐41)
Robert A. Guelich
‘The answer to our dilemma of how the gospel of the Kingdom and the gospel of the cross
relate is that the gospel of the cross is integral to the gospel of the Kingdom if we understand
both to mean expression of the same “gospel,” namely, Isaiah’s promised “gospel” of God.
The “gospel” then is the message that God acted in and through Jesus Messiah, God’s anointed
one, to effect God’s promise of shalom, salvation, God’s reign.’
‐ ‘What is the Gospel?’
Inaugural Address, Fuller Theological Seminary (9 May 1989)
J. Hampton Keathley
8 Aspects to ”The Gospel”
1. The gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1; 1 Cor. 9:12) or the gospel of God’s Son (Rom. 1:9).
These two descriptions speak of the good news of salvation that comes through the
person and work of Jesus Christ who is the very Son of God in human flesh. Again, this is
a good news of deliverance from sin’s penalty, power and presence through the two
advents of Christ.
2. The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) emphasizes that salvation in all of its
aspects is on the basis of grace rather than on some meritorious system of works.
3. The gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) is the good news that God will
establish His kingdom on earth through the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. The gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15) describes how this good news of salvation in Christ
brings peace in all its many aspects (peace with God, the peace of God, peace with
others, and world peace) through the victory accomplished by the Savior.
5. The eternal or everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6) expands our perspective of gospel as we
normally think of it. This gospel as proclaimed by the angel has several key elements of
gloriously good news that are developed in three commands and two reasons:
Command #1: “Fear God.” This refers to a holy reverence that recognizes the sovereign
authority and power of God to deal with man in His holy wrath and thus, to bring an end
to the world of sin as we now know it. To fear God is to recognize Him as the true God
who can destroy the soul and not just the body as God will do with the beast of
Revelation and His anti‐God system.
Command #2: “Give Him glory.” This refers to the praise and honor that should accrue
to God from mankind due to our recognition and high estimation of God as the
sovereign Creator of the universe.
Command #3: “And worship Him who made …” The word “worship” means to show
reverence or respect. This word emphasizes the external display as seen in our
obedience, prayer, singing, and formal worship. The word “fear” emphasizes the
reverential mental attitude behind the worship. In the Tribulation people will be forced
to fear and formally acknowledge the beast and his image. In this message the angel is
demanding that mankind reject the beast and formally turn to God to worship Him (cf.
Reason #1: “The hour of his judgment has come” is a reference to the final judgments of
the Tribulation—the bowl judgments—which are about to occur that will put an end to
the system of the beast and bring the rule the Lord Jesus, the King of kings. These will
conclude with the return of Christ Himself (Rev. 19) and lead to the removal of all
unbelievers from the earth. The emphasis is to not delay because the time is short.
Reason #2: This is seen in the reference to God as the Creator in verse 7b. Here we are
called to pay attention to the ageless and universal message of the creation itself. Age
after age creation has called mankind to recognize God’s existence and to seek after
Him (cf. Acts 17:26‐27 with Psalm 19:1‐6). This means people are without excuse and
that, when the angel proclaims this gospel, the hour of the Creator’s judgment is about
to fall (see Rom. 1:18f). Though this is the essential and primary element of the angel’s
everlasting gospel, perhaps he will say more than this for from age to age a person’s
capacity to reverence, glorify and worship God has come only through believing and
knowing Christ (cf. John 14:6 with Acts 4:12; John 4:23‐24).
George Eldon Ladd
“I can only bear witness at this point to what Heilsgeschichte means to me. My sense of God’s
love and acceptance is grounded not only in the resurrected Christ but also in the Jesus of
history. He taught something about God that was utterly novel to his Jewish auditors: that God
is not only gracious and forgiving to the repentant sinner but is also a seeking God who, in
Jesus’ person and mission, has come to seek and to save the lost…
God has shown me that he loves me in that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me (Rom.
5:8). This is not faith in history; it is not faith in the kerygma; it is not faith in the Bible. It is faith
in God who has revealed himself to me in the historical event of the person, works and words
of Jesus of Nazareth who continues to speak to me though the prophetic word of the Bible.”
‐ “The Search for Perspective,” Interpretation 25 (Jan. 1971), 56 and 57.
“This is the good news about the kingdom of God. How men need this gospel! Everywhere one
goes he finds the gaping graves swallowing up the dying. Tears of loss, of separation, of final
departure stain every face. Every table sooner or later has an empty chair, every fireside its
vacant place. Death is the great leveller. Wealth or poverty, fame or oblivion, power or futility,
success or failure, race, creed or culture — all our human distinctions mean nothing before the
ultimate irresistible sweep of the scythe of death which cuts us all down. And whether the
mausoleum is a fabulous Taj Mahal, a massive pyramid, an unmarked spot of ragged grass or
the unplotted depths of the sea one fact stands: death reigns.
“Apart from the gospel of the kingdom, death is the mighty conqueror before whom we are all
helpless. We can only beat our fists in utter futility against this unyielding and unresponding
tomb. But the good news is this: death has been defeated; our conqueror has been conquered.
In the face of the power of the kingdom of God in Christ, death was helpless. It could not hold
him, death has been defeated; life and immortality have been brought to life. An empty tomb in
Jerusalem is proof of it. This is the gospel of the kingdom.”
‐ from The Gospel of the Kingdom
At its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man
for us, that he died and was raised, and that he has been established as Lord over all things.
This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and
incidents (in Christ’s ministry) which are set forth in the four Gospels, yet he includes the whole
gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the
Romans, where he says what the gospel is, and then declares:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he
promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel concerning his
Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power
according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.
There you have it. The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s son, who died and was
raised, and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.
‐ Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, pg. 94
“The word ‘gospel’ in the New Testament is applied exclusively to the announcement of certain
events occurring at a particular time in the history of the world. These are, the Incarnation,
Birth, Baptism, Temptation, Ministry, Miracles, Betrayal, Condemnation, Death, Burial, and
Resurrection of Jesus. This is the meaning of the word ‘gospel’ in the opening sentence of St.
Mark’s Gospel. This is its meaning in the opening sentence of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans…
When St. Paul in another place, sets forth in so many words the gospel which he preached, and
by which his converts were saved, he declares it to be the record of three facts…
“If this be the aspect under which the Gospel is set before us in the New Testament, then a
Church which would set forth the Gospel as it is contained in Scripture must adhere to this
Scripture form of it. It is not given to any Church to assume to be more spiritual than God’s Holy
Spirit—so as, in place of the sequence of events recorded in Scripture as ” the Gospel,” virtually
to substitute a sequence of certain doctrines beginning (say) with the secret decree of God
respecting the election of the individual soul, proceeding to set forth the effectual calling,
conversion, and justification of that soul so elected, and culminating in the present assurance of
“Presenting the Gospel under such a form as this would not be scriptural, for the Scriptures do
not set forth this as the Gospel. I am not now denying that all this (or something like it)
respecting individual election, calling, justification, and sanctification, is to be found in
Scripture, or to be inferred from some Scripture statements. I am pronouncing no opinion upon
it, except that it is not presented in Scripture as ‘the Gospel.’
“The Gospel does not appear in Scripture under the aspect of certain dealings of God with the
individual soul apart from its fellow souls. It does appear as certain events or outward facts
having to do with the Second Person in the ever‐Blessed Trinity, which facts are—the
Incarnation, Birth, Life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Son of God.”
M.F. Sadler, Church Doctrine, Bible Truth 1867
“What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed
ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father,
pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? We are now
brought to heaven under the covenant of grace by a way of love and mercy.”
‐ Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed
“Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful
tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy… [This
gospel is] all of Christ the right David, how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the
devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death,
overcome of the devil are without their own merits or deservings loosed, justified, restored to
life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favor of God and set at one with him
again: which tidings as many as believe laud, praise and thank God, are glad, sing and dance for
‐ William Tyndale, A Pathway into the Holy Scripture, 1531
The gospel is… the doctrine which the Son of God, our Mediator, revealed from heaven in
Paradise, immediately after the fall, and which he brought from the bosom of the Eternal
Father; which promises, and announces, in view of the free grace and mercy of God, to all those
that repent and believe, deliverance from sin, death, condemnation, and the wrath of God;
which is the same thing as to say that it promises and proclaims the remission of sin, salvation,
and eternal life, by and for the sake of the Son of God, the Mediator; and is that through which
the Holy Spirit works effectually in the hearts of the faithful, kindling and exciting in them, faith,
repentance, and the beginning of eternal life.
Or, we may, in accordance with the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth questions of the
Catechism, define the gospel to be the doctrine which God revealed first in Paradise, and
afterwards published by the Patriarchs and Prophets, which he was pleased to represent by the
shadows of sacrifices, and the other ceremonies of the law, and which he has accomplished by
his only begotten Son; teaching that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is made unto us
wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; which is to say that he is a perfect
Mediator, satisfying for the sins of the human race, restoring righteousness and eternal life to
all those who by a true faith are ingrafted into him, and embrace his benefits.
‐ Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 1534‐83
Definitions from Christians in the Present
“I define the gospel in my Axioms message as being the good news that Jesus Christ came from
heaven, died on the cross having lived a perfect sinless life, bore then in His body the full
penalty of our sins, was raised from the dead. Those who repent of sin and place their faith in
the perfect work of Christ can and will be saved. There’s the gospel.”
‐ Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary, from 2009 interview at Kingdom
“Gospel (from the Old English godspel, ‘good tale’) means ‘good news,’ and this is the best news
there can be: in Jesus, the kingdom of God has come!”
‐ The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story
Here’s the gospel in a phrase. Because Christ died for us, those who trust in him may know that
their guilt has been pardoned once and for all. What will we have to say before the bar of God’s
judgment? Only one thing. Christ died in my place. That’s the gospel.
‐ from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter
“The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God’s kingdom
has entered history to renew the whole world. Through the Savior God has established his
reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our
relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us. We
witness this radical new way of living by our renewed lives, beautiful community, social justice,
and cultural transformation. The good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and
empowers every aspect of our living and worship.”
‐ Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional
Pope Benedict XVI
“The term has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far
short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term
figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors,
and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving
message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.
“When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their
writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods,
illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message
that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative
speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into
the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is
not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at
once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot
actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God –
who goes into action.
“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
‐ Pope Benedict XVI, from Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46‐47.
“Taken together we can infer from I Corinthians 15:3 – 5, Romans 1:1‐4 and II Timothy 2:8, that
the gospel is both about the person and work of Christ.
“God promised in the scriptures that He would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is
the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus
died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins, and through faith in Him and His work
believers are reconciled to God.
“The new age has been launched and God has revealed His saving righteousness in the gospel
so that He justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death.”
‐ Michael Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
“The gospel is a glorious declaration of the mighty acts of God when he invaded this earth in
the person of his eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel is the good news about the great salvation purchased by Jesus Christ, by which He
reconciled sinful men to a holy God.
Gospel, or “good news,” designates Jesus’ message of the appearance of God’s kingdom, a
message entailing liberty for those held captive to any form of affliction and demonstrated
most dramatically in acts of healing. In some instances the term encompasses the whole story
of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…
The reader of the Gospels must be wary of reading a post‐Easter definition into the Evangelists’
use of the term gospel (such as is found in Pauline writings). In the Synoptics, it is found in the
mouth of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry… They use the term to designate Jesus’ message
without prior definition, implying that it was a term known to their audience.
‐ IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pg 282, 283
Robert F. Capon
“Christianity is NOT a religion; it is the proclamation of the end of religion. Religion is a human
activity dedicated to the job of reconciling God to humanity and humanity to itself. The Gospel,
however – the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the astonishing
announcement that God has done the whole work of reconciliation without a scrap of human
assistance. It is the bizarre proclamation that religion is over – period.”
The gospel is integrally tied to the Bible’s story‐line. Indeed, it is incomprehensible without understanding that
story‐line. God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us,
his image‐bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance,
attracts his implacable wrath. But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the
initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations,
temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what
God is planning and what he expects. In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He
comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in
returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate
gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new
earth, the home of righteousness. The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in
the torments of hell. What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the
alternative is to disobey the gospel.
Summarizing 1 Corinthians 15
1. The gospel is Christological.
2. The gospel is theological.
3. The gospel is biblical.
4. The gospel is apostolic.
5. The gospel is historical.
6. The gospel is personal.
7. The gospel is universal.
8. The gospel is eschatological.
‐ D.A. Carson, from “What is the Gospel?” – Gospel Coalition Address
“[Paul's] gospel is ‘the word of the cross’ (1 Cor. 1:17‐18); nowhere is there a comparable
reference to ‘the word of the resurrection.’ In I Corinthians 1:23‐24 it is ‘Christ crucified’ who is
identified as ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God,’ not as we might have expected
(especially in the case of ‘power’), Christ resurrected…. Both the cross and the resurrection are
‘of first importance’ in Paul’s gospel (I Cor. 15:3‐4). Unless Christ has risen from the dead, the
preaching of the cross (and of the resurrection) is a waste of time (15:14); but once the
resurrection has occurred, the cross remains central.”
“The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus, in [two] senses. It is the proclamation announced by
Jesus – the arrival of God’s realm of possibility (his “kingdom”) in the midst of human structures
of possibility. But it is also the proclamation about Jesus – the good news that in dying and
rising, Jesus has made the kingdom he proclaimed available to us.”
‐ Andy Crouch, Culture Making, page 146
“Here is what I understand the good news to be: the good news is that the one and only God,
who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him.
In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus
fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who
would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted
Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent
of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in
Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God. Now that is good news.”
‐ from The Gospel and Personal Evangelism
“The heart of genuine gospel proclamation must be a firm theological understanding of what
God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ… The basic themes that help us
understand the biblical and theological aspects of the gospel message.
1. God as Creator and the place of men and women in God’s creation
2. The fall of humanity into sin
3. God’s provision in Jesus Christ
4. God’s salvation of men and women from their estranged, guilty, and dreadful plight
5. God’s ultimate work of redemption
“In conclusion, we confess and affirm that Jesus Christ, as the God‐man, has fully revealed God
to men and women. Having lived a sinless life, Christ, as our substitute, died a death for the sins
of the world. Having been raised from the dead, he now sits exalted at God’s right hand, a
position of honor and exaltation, exercising his rule and dominion. We gladly acknowledge
Jesus Christ as Lord, our prophet, priest, and king who has fully revealed God, who has
reconciled men and women to God, and who now sits enthroned as ruler of God’s kingdom and
head of his Church. In him we place our trust and hope, offering our thanksgiving, praise, and
worship for the gift of salvation he has provided for us by grace through faith.”
‐ David Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, pg 70, 95.
“The gospel is the word about Jesus Christ and what he did for us in order to restore us to a
right relationship with God.”
‐ Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan
“The gospel is the event (or the proclamation of that event) of Jesus Christ that begins with his
incarnation and earthly life, and concludes with his death, resurrection and ascension to the
right hand of the Father. This historical event is interpreted by God as his preordained
programme for the salvation of the world…
“It cannot be stressed too much that to confuse the gospel with certain important things that
go hand in hand with it is to invite theological, hermeneutical and spiritual confusion. Such
ingredients of preaching and teaching that we might want to link with the gospel would include
the need for the gospel (sin and judgment), the means of receiving the benefits of the gospel
(faith and repentance), the results or fruit of the gospel (regeneration, conversion,
sanctification, glorification) and the results of rejecting it (wrath, judgment, hell). These,
however we define and proclaim them, are not in themselves the gospel. If something is not
what God did in and through the historical Jesus two thousand years ago, it is not the gospel.
Thus Christians cannot ‘live the gospel,’ as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe
it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a
once‐for‐all finished and perfect event done for us by another.”
‐ Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel‐Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of
Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 58‐59.
“First, in order to understand the place of the gospel in biblical theology, tentative definitions of
both gospel and biblical theology are called for. One way to define the gospel is in the terms
Paul uses in Romans 1:1‐4. Here he states four crucial things about the gospel.
“Verse 1. Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
First point: it is God’s gospel, which is probably self‐evident. However, the epistle to the
Romans implies that this gospel is God’s solution to his own problem of how to justify the
ungodly. Verse 2. [The gospel] which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy
Scriptures, Second point: it is the gospel of the Old Testament prophets and cannot be regarded
as replacing or discarding the Old Testament antecedents to the coming of Jesus. It means that
Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecy. This fact alone makes biblical theology necessary. Verse 3.
[The gospel] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh Third
point: it concerns the Son of God whose lineage goes back to the theologically significant figure
of David. We may infer from this that, though there can be no gospel without the Father or the
Holy Spirit, its focus is on the incarnate Son. This Davidic lineage also points to the structure of
biblical theology in redemptive covenant and kingdom history. Verse 4. and [he is the Son who]
was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his
resurrection from the dead.
“Fourth point: the defining moment is the resurrection which, of course, implies the death of
Jesus which, in turn, implies the life of Jesus. The resurrection fulfils the promises concerning
the rule of the son of David. The gospel, then, is God’s message of the person and work of
Jesus, testified to by the Old Testament, and coming to its climax in the exaltation of Jesus.”
‐ Graeme Goldsworthy, from his lecture at Southern Seminary titled “The Necessity and
Viability of Biblical Theology”
The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered
history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather
than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work
“Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing
us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we
can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”
‐ Tim Keller, from Christianity Today
A.B. Luter, Jr.
The Greek word euangelion, frequently translated “gospel,” means “glad tidings,” or “good
news,” and in Pauline usage it refers to the message of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. Of the
seventy‐six instances of “gospel” in the NT, sixty are found in the Pauline corpus… Euangelion is
for Paul the classic expression of the grace of God, responded to by faith.
‐ IVP Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
“Sometimes it seems as though we find two gospels in the New Testament–the gospel of Jesus
and the gospel about Jesus. The gospel of Jesus is usually taken to mean His announcement of
the kingdom and the life He embodied in His loving actions toward the world. The gospel about
Jesus refers to his atoning work on the cross and His resurrection, through which we can
receieve the forgiveness of sin through our faith and repentance.
“I believe, however, that the two are actually one gospel and that when we lose the tension
that comes from holding both together, we experience an unhealthy and unbiblical pendulum
swing in our faith.
“If all we value is the salvation gospel, we tend to miss the rest of Christ’s message. Taken out
of context of the kingdom, the call to faith in Christ gets reduced to something less than what
the New Testament teaches. The reverse is also true: if we value a kingdom gospel at the
expense of the liberating message of the Cross and the empty tomb and a call to repentance,
we miss a central tenet of kingdom life. Without faith in Jesus, there is no transferring of our
lives into the new world of the kingdom.”
‐ Rick McKinley, This Beautiful Mess
“The gospel is the work of God to restore humans to union with God and communion with
others, in the context of a community, for the good of others and the world.”
‐ Scot McKnight, Embracing Grace
“God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.
But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God,
from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.
The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit
for you – so you all can live as the beloved community.
If you enter into Jesus’ story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to
yourself, to others, and to this world.
Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God’s community and will find themselves
eternally in union with God and communion with others.
Those who preach this gospel will not deconstruct the church. Instead, they will participate in
what God is doing: constructing the kingdom community even now.”
The gospel – the central message of Christianity – is that Jesus was born, and he died and rose
again, and that his death was for our sins that we might receive forgiveness and new life in
relationship to God now and forever through faith alone.
Moved by His incomprehensible love for mankind, the Triune God was pleased not to abandon
our rebellious and corrupt race to the misery and hell that it justly deserved, but to undertake
to save a great multitude of human beings who had absolutely no claim on His mercy.
In order to bring this plan into execution, the second Person of the Godhead, the Son, took
unto himself a full human nature, becoming in all things like his brethren and sisters, sin
excepted. Thus he became the Second Adam, the head of a new covenant, and he lived a life of
perfect obedience to the Divine Law.
Identifying with his own, he bore the penalty of human sin on the cross of Calvary, suffering in
the place of the sinner, the just for the unjust, the holy Son of God for the guilty and corrupt
children of man.
By his death and resurrection he has provided the basis
for the reconciliation of God to humans and of humans to God;
for the propitiation of a righteous Trinity, justly angry at our sins;
for the redemption of a multitude of captives of sin whose liberty was secured at the
great price of His own blood.
He offered himself as an expiatory sacrifice sufficient to blot out the sins of the whole world
and secured the utmost triumph over the enemies of our soul: sin, death, and Satan.
Those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ are thus to be absolved from the guilt
of all their sins and are adorned with the perfect righteousness of Christ himself. In gratitude to
him they are to live lives of obedience and service to their Savior and are increasingly renewed
into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This good news of salvation by grace through faith is to be proclaimed indiscriminately to
mankind, that is to every man, woman, and child whom we can possibly reach.
“I formulate the Gospel this way: it is information issuing in invitation; it is proclamation issuing
in persuasion. It is an admonitory message embracing five themes. First, God: the God whom
Paul proclaimed to the Athenians in Acts 17, the God of Christian theism.
Second, humankind: made in God’s image but now totally unable to respond to God or do
anything right by reason of sin in their moral and spiritual system. Third, the person and work of
Christ: God incarnate, who by dying wrought atonement and who now lives to impart the
blessing that flows form his work of atonement.
Fourth, repentance, that is, turning from sin to God, from self‐will to Jesus Christ. And fifthly,
new community: a new family, a new pattern of human togetherness which results from the
unity of the Lord’s people in the Lord, henceforth to function under the one Father as a family
and a fellowship.” (44, emphasis added)
‐ Packer, J.I. Serving the People of God: Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer. Vol. 2.
Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1998.
Fundamentally, the gospel is the good news that the eternal Son of God entered our sinful
world and lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, died as a sacrifice in the place of
sinners, and rose triumphantly as a sign of sin’s defeat and the Father’s acceptance. In all this,
the Son established a righteousness for those who had no righteousness of their own.
Therefore, there is “now no condemnation” for those who trust in Christ alone. Jesus’ death
and resurrection are the permanent placeholders for the sinner’s right standing before the holy
The Gospel is “good news.” It is good news only to the degree that the bad news can be
understood first. The world is a messed‐up place. It is not just our generation that is notices this, but every
generation has had to deal with their share of problems. Today is not really any worse than it was 100 years ago
or 1000 years ago. The good news is that God is fixing what is broken in every generation. This is called
redemption. Redemption means to “buy back” or restore to a previous condition.
God is in the process of putting his messed up creation back in order. The Gospel is the good
news that that which was broken is being fixed.
But the brokenness had its genesis in us, mankind. God is different. He is perfect and demands
perfection because of his character. In other words, as the Bible puts it, God is righteous. Our
brokenness is due to choices that we have made. All of us have messed things up. This is called
We have sinned through our selfishness, pride, hatred, and perversion of his creation. It is not
the way it was supposed to be.
God allows us to reject him and suffer the consequences, but he also offers us hope. This hope
is the Good news. It is the hope that God has not abandoned us. It is the hope for redemption.
God loves us in spite of our perversion of good. God loves us in spite of our rejection of him. He
did not wait for us to live up to his standard, which can never happen, but he sent his Son, Jesus
Christ, 2000 years ago to live a life that we could not.
God the Son became man and never failed, never perverted, and showed us who God is.
Because Christ lived a sinless life, he could take the place of man, creating a new race . . . a redeemed race.
Christ was rejected and killed on a cross by man. But God allowed this so that Christ could take
the punishment that man—that you and I—deserved. In doing this, he died instead of you. He
took your penalty of death and separation from God on a execution cross.
But since he was God the Son and since he never sinned, he did not stay dead. After three days
he came back to life and proclaimed victory over all the death, perversion, sin, and penalties
that man had afforded creation.
But this Good News does not apply to everyone. It is only for those who believe and trust in
what Christ did for them. If you believe in him, you will have life. If you trust in him, not in yourself or your
works, but in him alone, you will live forever, witnessing and being a part of a redeemed creation.
One day Christ will come back to call into account all people. You can either stand on your own, giving account
for your own sin or you can accept the free gift of salvation and stand with
Christ. The bad news is that without Christ, you stand alone and hopeless. The Good News—the
Gospel—is that you can stand with Christ full of hope.
‐ Michael Patton, director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries
“The heart of the gospel is the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead. What
makes this good news is that Christ’s death accomplished a perfect righteousness before God and suffered a
perfect condemnation from God, both of which are counted as ours through faith alone, so that we have eternal
life with God in the new heavens and the new earth.”
– Christianity Today, June 2009
“The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of his Son’s life, God has done everything
necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever‐increasingly happy, namely, himself.”
‐ John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ
“The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again,
eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who
believe, but only everlasting joy.”
‐ John Piper, The Gospel in 6 Minutes
The Gospel is the good news of our final and full enjoyment of the glory of God in the face of
Christ. That this enjoyment had to be purchased for sinners at the cost of Christ’s life makes his
glory shine all the more brightly. And that this enjoyment is a free and unmerited gift makes it
shine more brightly still. But the price Jesus paid for the gift and the unmerited freedom of the
gift are not the gift. The gift is Christ himself as the glorious image of God – seen and savored
with everlasting joy.
‐ John Piper, God is the Gospel
“The gospel is the good news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. This
includes his incarnation in which he took to himself full (yet sinless) human nature; his sinless
life which fulfilled the perfect law of God; his substitutionary death which paid the penalty for
man’s sin and satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s
satisfaction with his sacrifice; and his glorification and ascension to the right hand of the Father
where he now reigns and intercedes for the church.
“Such news is specific: there is a defined ‘thatness’ to the gospel which sets forth the content of
both our saving faith and our proclamation. It is objective, and not to be confused with our
response. It is sufficient: we can add nothing to what Christ has accomplished for us–it falls to
us simply to believe this news, turning from our sins and receiving by faith all that God has done
for us in Christ.”
The gospel is the good news that God is calling out all people to be redeemed by the power
residing in the life, death, and ultimate resurrection of Jesus the Liberating King. These “calledout
ones” are rescued from a life of slavery, sin, and failure to become emissaries in a new
kingdom set to join the redemption of the entire creation, groaning and longing to be
“There is no greater message to be heard than that which we call the Gospel. But as important
as that is, it is often given to massive distortions or over simplifications. People think they’re
preaching the Gospel to you when they tell you, ‘you can have a purpose to your life’, or that
‘you can have meaning to your life’, or that ‘you can have a personal relationship with Jesus.’ All
of those things are true, and they’re all important, but they don’t get to the heart of the Gospel.
The Gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you
and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m
not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged.
And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the
righteousness of another.
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect
obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I
couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He
offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.
The great misconception in our day is this: that God isn’t concerned to protect His own
integrity. He’s a kind of wishy‐washy deity, who just waves a wand of forgiveness over
everybody. No. For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own
Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the
dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So the Gospel is something
objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did.
And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated
to us? How do I get it? The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by
our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive
the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do
that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your
sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.”
The gospel is the good news that God, who is more holy than we can imagine, looked upon with
compassion, people, who are more sinful than we would possibly admit, and sent Jesus into
history to establish his Kingdom and reconcile people and the world to himself. Jesus, whose
love is more extravagant than we can measure, came to sacrificially die for us so that, by His
death and resurrection, we might gain through His grace what the Bible defines as new and
”The Gospel is the the good news that in and through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God
makes all things new.”
‐ from Tullian’s Blog
“The good news of the gospel is simply this: in the midst of our hopeless and helpless
circumstance, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to save sinners like you and me.”
‐ Tullian Tchividjian, Do I Know God?
“The gospel is not ‘God loves us,’ but ‘God loves us at the cost of his Son.’”
“Jesus Christ, God’s promised rescuer and ruler lived our life, died our death and rose again in
triumphant vindication as the first‐fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together
by the Holy Spirit to live under his gracious reign as His Kingdom people.”
“So what is the gospel? According to the Synoptic Gospels, the good news of Jesus Christ is
primarily that Jesus has come to inaugurate the kingdom of God, to establish God’s good reign
over all of creation. In the same way that Aslan drew near and brought springtime into the
bitter winter of Narnia, Jesus has drawn near to bring the springtime of his redemption into the
bitter winter of our fallen world. He died to pay the price for our rebellion and to free creation
from Satan’s dominion. He will return one day to bring it all to completion and fully establish
the kingdom of God. This is good news. This is the gospel!” Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi, Kingdom Come
“What a great question. I guess I’d probably…my instinct is to say that it’s Jesus coming, living,
dying, and being resurrected and his inaugurating the already and the not yet of all things being
restored to himself…and that happening by way of himself…the being made right of all
things…that process both beginning and being a reality in the lives and hearts of believers and
yet a day coming when it will be more fully realized. But the good news, the gospel, the
speaking of the good news, I would say is the news of his kingdom coming the inaugurating of
his kingdom coming…that’s my instinct.”
‐ from Said at Southern podcast #2
“The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins
and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world.
When this gospel is preached, God calls people to salvation, out of sheer grace, leading them to
repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord.”
– Christianity Today, June 2009
“The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks
at us, at every baptized and believing Christian, he says to us what he said to Jesus on [the day
of his baptism]. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ.”
– Mark for Everyone, pg. 4.
“The gospel itself refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the
one, true and only Lord of the world.”
‐ from “Paul in Different Perspectives: Lecture 1″
“The idea of ‘good news,’ for which an older English word is ‘gospel,’ had two principal
meanings for first‐century Jews. First, with roots in Isaiah, it mean the news of YHWH’s long awaited
victory over evil and rescue of his people. Second, it was used in the Roman world of
the accession, or birthday, of the emperor. Since for Jesus and Paul the announcement of God’s
inbreaking kingdom was both the fulfillment of prophecy and a challenge to the world’s present
rulers, ‘gospel’ became an important shorthand for both the message of Jesus himself, and the
apostolic message about him. Paul saw this message as itself the vehicle of God’s saving power
(Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
‐ from the Glossary in Wright’s For Everyone series
Trevin Wax: Could you give us a brief definition of “the gospel”?
N.T. Wright: I could try taking a Pauline angle. When Paul talks about “the gospel,” he means
“the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord
of the world.” Now, that’s about as brief as you can do it.
The reason that’s good news… In the Roman Empire, when a new emperor came to the throne,
there’d obviously been a time of uncertainty. Somebody’s just died. Is there going to be chaos?
Is society going to collapse? Are we going to have pirates ruling the seas? Are we going to have
no food to eat? And the good news is, we have an emperor and his name is such and such. So,
we’re going to have justice and peace and prosperity, and isn’t that great?!
Now, of course, most people in the Roman Empire knew that was rubbish because it was just
another old jumped‐up aristocrat who was going to do the same as the other ones had done.
But that was the rhetoric.
Paul slices straight in with the Isaianic message: Good news! God is becoming King and he is
doing it through Jesus! And therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to
And in the middle of that, of course, it’s good news for you and me. But that’s the derivative
from, or the corollary of the good news which is a message about Jesus that has a second‐order
effect on me and you and us. But the gospel is not itself about you are this sort of a person and
this can happen to you. That’s the result of the gospel rather than the gospel itself.
It’s very clear in Romans. Romans 1:3‐4: This is the gospel. It’s the message about Jesus Christ
descended from David, designated Son of God in power, and then Romans 1:16‐17 which says
very clearly: “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.”
That is, salvation is the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself.
‐ from my interview with N.T. Wright, November 2007
Organizational and Corporate Definitions
The gospel is the story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is
established as Lord. Churches forming the Antioch Network desire to join together to proclaim
the good news that God’s Kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of
Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of the Word of God.
The gospel we declare evokes faith, repentance and discipleship — its accompanying effects
include the forgiveness of sins, justification, reconciliation, adoption, wisdom and the gift of the
Holy Spirit. We accompany our proclamation of the gospel with cooperative works of
compassion and mercy for those in need or distress.
‐ Antioch Network of Churches Doctrinal Confession
An Evangelical Celebration
This Gospel of Jesus Christ which God sets forth in the infallible Scriptures combines Jesus’ own
declaration of the present reality of the kingdom of God with the apostles’ account of the
person, place, and work of Christ, and how sinful humans benefit from it. The Patristic Rule of
Faith, the historic creeds, the Reformation confessions, and the doctrinal bases of later
evangelical bodies all witness to the substance of this biblical message.
The heart of the Gospel is that our holy, loving Creator, confronted with human hostility and
rebellion, has chosen in his own freedom and faithfulness to become our holy, loving Redeemer
and Restorer. The Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world(1 John 4:14): it is
through his one and only Son that God’s one and only plan of salvation is implemented. So
Peter announced: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven
given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And Christ himself taught: “I am the way,
the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Through the Gospel we learn that we human beings, who were made for fellowship with God,
are by nature—that is, “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22)—dead in sin, unresponsive to and separated
from our Maker. We are constantly twisting his truth, breaking his law, belittling his goals and
standards, and offending his holiness by our unholiness, so that we truly are “without hope and
without God in the world” (Rom. 1:18‐32, 3:9‐20; Eph. 2:1‐3, 12). Yet God in grace took the
initiative to reconcile us to himself through the sinless life and vicarious death of his beloved
Son (Eph. 2:4‐10; Rom. 3:21‐24).
The Father sent the Son to free us from the dominion of sin and Satan, and to make us God’s
children and friends. Jesus paid our penalty in our place on his cross, satisfying the retributive
demands of divine justice by shedding his blood in sacrifice and so making possible justification
for all who trust in him (Rom. 3:25‐26). The Bible describes this mighty substitutionary
transaction as the achieving of ransom, reconciliation, redemption, propitiation, and conquest
of evil powers (Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:18‐21; Rom. 3:23‐25; John 12:31; Col. 2:15). It secures for
us a restored relationship with God that brings pardon and peace, acceptance and access, and
adoption into God’s family (Col. 1:20, 2:13‐14; Rom. 5:1‐2; Gal. 4:4‐7; 1 Pet. 3:18). The faith in
God and in Christ to which the Gospel calls us is a trustful outgoing of our hearts to lay hold of
these promised and proffered benefits.
This Gospel further proclaims the bodily resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus as
evidence of the efficacy of his once‐for‐all sacrifice for us, of the reality of his present personal
ministry to us, and of the certainty of his future return to glorify us (1 Cor. 15; Heb. 1:1‐4, 2:1‐
18, 4:14‐16, 7:1‐10:25). In the life of faith as the Gospel presents it, believers are united with
their risen Lord, communing with him, and looking to him in repentance and hope for
empowering through the Holy Spirit, so that henceforth they may not sin but serve him truly.
God’s justification of those who trust him, according to the Gospel, is a decisive transition, here
and now, from a state of condemnation and wrath because of their sins to one of acceptance
and favor by virtue of Jesus’ flawless obedience culminating in his voluntary sin‐bearing death.
God “justifies the wicked” (ungodly: Rom. 4:5) by imputing (reckoning, crediting, counting,
accounting) righteousness to them and ceasing to count their sins against them (Rom. 4:1‐8).
Sinners receive through faith in Christ alone “the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 1:17, 5:17; Phil.
3:9) and thus be come “the righteousness of God” in him who was “made sin” for them (2 Cor.
As our sins were reckoned to Christ, so Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to us. This is justification by the
imputation of Christ’s righteousness. All we bring to the transaction is our need of it. Our faith in the God who
bestows it, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is itself the fruit of God’s grace. Faith links us savingly to
Jesus, but inasmuch as it involves an acknowledgment that we have no merit of our own, it is confessedly not a
The Gospel assures us that all who have en trusted their lives to Jesus Christ are born‐again children of God
(John 1:12), indwelt, empowered, and assured of their status and hope by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:6, 8:9‐17).
The moment we truly believe in Christ, the Father declares us righteous in him and begins conforming us to his
likeness. Genuine faith acknowledges and depends upon Jesus as Lord and shows itself in growing obedience to
the divine commands, though this contributes nothing to the ground of our justification (James 2:14‐26; Heb.
6:1‐12). By his sanctifying grace, Christ works within us through faith, renewing our fallen nature and leading
us to real maturity, that measure of development which is meant by “the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). The
Gospel calls us to live as obedient servants of Christ and as his emissaries in the world, doing justice, loving
mercy, and helping all in need, thus seeking to bear witness to the kingdom of Christ. At death, Christ takes the
believer to himself (Phil. 1:21) for unimaginable joy in the ceaseless worship of God (Rev. 22:1‐5). Salvation in
its full sense is from the guilt of sin in the past, the power of sin in the present, and the presence of sin in the
future. Thus, while in foretaste believers enjoy salvation now, they still await its fullness (Mark 14:61‐62; Heb.
9:28). Salvation is a Trinitarian reality, initiated by the Father, implemented by the Son, and applied by the Holy
Spirit. It has a global dimension, for God’s plan is to save believers out of every tribe and tongue (Rev. 5:9) to
be his church, a new humanity, the people of God, the body and bride of Christ, and the community of the Holy
Spirit. All the heirs of final salvation are called here and now to serve their Lord and each other in love, to share
in the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings, and to work together to make Christ known to the whole world.
We learn from the Gospel that, as all have sinned, so all who do not receive Christ will be judged according to
their just deserts as measured by God’s holy law, and face eternal retributive punishment.
‐ The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration
1. the teachings of Jesus and the apostles; the Christian revelation.
2. the story of Christ’s life and teachings, esp. as contained in the first four books of the New
Testament, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
3. (usually initial capital letter) any of these four books.
4. something regarded as true and implicitly believed: to take his report for gospel.
5. a doctrine regarded as of prime importance: political gospel.
6. glad tidings, esp. concerning salvation and the kingdom of God as announced to the world by
7. (often initial capital letter) Ecclesiastical. an extract from one of the four Gospels, forming
part of the Eucharistic service in certain churches.
8. gospel music.
9. of, pertaining to, or proclaiming the gospel or its teachings: a gospel preacher.
10. in accordance with the gospel; evangelical.
11. of or pertaining to gospel music: a gospel singer.
The Gospel Coalition
We believe that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ—God’s very wisdom.
Utter folly to the world, even though it is the power of God to those who are being saved, this
good news is christological, centering on the cross and resurrection: the gospel is not
proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed, and the authentic Christ has not been proclaimed if his
death and resurrection are not central (the message is “Christ died for our sins . . . [and] was
This good news is biblical (his death and resurrection are according to the Scriptures),
theological and salvific (Christ died for our sins, to reconcile us to God), historical (if the saving
events did not happen, our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins, and we are to be pitied
more than all others), apostolic (the message was entrusted to and transmitted by the apostles,
who were witnesses of these saving events), and intensely personal (where it is received,
believed, and held firmly, individual persons are saved).
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
“The gospel is the joyous proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on behalf of
man enslaved by sin.”
‐ R.H. Mounce. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.
HeartCry Missionary Society
The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and the preaching of the Gospel is
the great “means” and “methodology” of missions. The Gospel is, first and foremost, God in
Christ reconciling the world to Himself (II Corinthians 5:19). It answers the eternal question of
how a just God can rightly justify wicked men (Romans 3:26). It points to Christ alone, who bore
the sins of His people upon the cross, was forsaken of God, and crushed under the full force of
His just wrath against sin. The Good News of the Gospel is that through Christ’s death, the
justice of God was satisfied, and salvation was won for a great multitude of people. This is
evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – “He who was delivered over
because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).
IVP Dictionary of the New Testament
GOSPEL (Good News) – See “Kingdom of God”
Daniel G. Reed, The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament, Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 2004. page 457
Sovereign Grace Ministries
“Jesus Christ is the gospel.
“The good news is revealed in his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Christ’s
crucifixion is the heart of the gospel, his resurrection is the power of the gospel, and his
ascension is the glory of the gospel. Christ’s death is a substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice
to God for our sins. It satisfies the demands of God’s holy justice and appeases his holy wrath. It
also demonstrates his mysterious love and reveals his amazing grace.
“Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. There is no other name by which men
must be saved. At the heart of all sound doctrine is the cross of Jesus Christ and the infinite
privilege that redeemed sinners have of glorifying God because of what he has accomplished.
Therefore, we want all that takes place in our hearts, churches, and ministries to proceed from
and be related to the cross.”
‐ Sovereign Grace Ministries
Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia
“The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the
gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a
share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God,
not something that must be earned by penance or by self‐improvement.”
‐ Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia
You are standing on stage before 100,000 people from every nation on earth and asked to share the gospel in
100 words or less. What would you say?
You are standing before a small crowd from your church's neighborhood and asked to share the gospel in 100
words or less. What would you say? [Authors were asked to include a couple of words describing their
neighborhood. We have included these in italics when provided.]
Peter Adams—Melbourne, Australia
Greg Gilbert—Louisville, KY
Liam Goligher—London, England
Michael Horton—Escondido, CA
Michael Nazir-Ali—Rochester, England
Frank Retief—Cape Town, South Africa
"Ed Roberts"—Central Asia
Mack Stiles—Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Adrian Warnock—London, England
(1) God made everything and everyone. He rules the universe, and made us in his image. He made us to know
and serve him, and we will have to account for our lives.
Because we do not know and serve God, God sent his Son the Lord Jesus Christ to show us how to live, teach
us about God, and die in our place, taking on himself the judgment we deserved. He then rose from the dead,
and rules with God. We should turn to trust in God’s Son, join his people, receive his Spirit, and live for his
(2) Same as above.
Peter Adam is the Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne. His next book is entitled, Written for Us:
Receiving God's Words in the Bible, to be published by IVP in
(1) There is only one God, who created the world and everything in it. Though God intended humans to rule the
world under him, each of us has sinned against him, the penalty for which is death and hell. But because he
loves us, God sent his Son Jesus to live a perfect life and die on a cross as a substitute for his people. On the
third day, he rose bodily from the grave and now reigns in heaven, offering forgiveness, righteousness, and
eternal life to all those who repent of their sin and trust solely in him for salvation.
(2) To an audience of mixed races and socioeconomic classes, from college students to professionals to retirees:
Same as above
Greg Gilbert serves as an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is also the director of
theological research for the president at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a writer for Kairos
Journal, an online journal for pastors.
(1) God can often seem absent, distant, or indifferent to us. But suppose he were to visit us, become one of us?
Would we welcome him, or ignore or even murder him as people did Jesus Christ? God would then be justified
in destroying us. The good news is that God the creator loves us his creatures and has come in Jesus to take the
place of guilty people, died to bear their deserved punishment, and rose again; and that by receiving Christ,
people might have a living relationship with God now and enjoy him and all he has made for eternity.
(2) Richmond is an upscale area of London with an upwardly mobile, young professional, socially progressive
demographic: We have been debating "God" recently, but what does God think about us? A look at Jesus (his
life, death, and resurrection) reveals what God looks like with skin on. It immediately confirms that he is
grieved by us. We’re prepared to believe anything rather than the God who is there. We’re even prepared to
murder our Maker. We deserve hell! Yet instead of wiping us out he has taken our humanity, endured our
deserved punishment, and won our freedom. He calls us into a right relationship with himself through trusting
in Christ, so that we might enjoy him forever.
Liam Goligher is the senior pastor of Duke Street Church in Richmond, London, and is the author, most
recently, of The Jesus Gospel.
(1) What is your greatest fear? If I were asking that question in many parts of the world, answers would
probably cluster around basic needs such as running water, food, vaccines, and shelter. For most of us in the
United States, though, our greatest fears are more likely to be things like the fear of loneliness, some
cataclysmic event that throws me off the ladder of upward mobility, divorce, or the inability to find any ultimate
meaning in life. None of these fears is illegitimate, yet none is ultimate. These fears haunt us only because we
have the luxury of having them haunt us. Until we are confronted with the reality of God—in all of his blinding
majesty, weightiness, and frightful claim on our lives—we are overwhelmed by secondary troubles. But when
for some reason there is the slightest glimpse of God in his holiness, we either do our best to domesticate him,
turn him into a pet by suppressing the truth, or run for the hills to escape the confrontation.
God should be your greatest fear. Yet there is no salvation from God's just judgment from anywhere else than
God himself. Only the same God who fills us with fear is able also to give us peace. If we are to escape this
judgment, it will only be the result of the greatness in God's heart and not something in our own. That God has
moved toward us—even lunged toward us—not in judgment, as we should have expected, but in loving
embrace and reconciliation, clothing us in Christ's righteousness so that we can be acceptable in his holy
presence, is the good news that you are called here and now to embrace. Christ lived a perfect life in the place
of sinners, bore their sins on the cross, and was raised again for our justification. This means that "there is
therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Not because of anything that you have done,
experienced, attempted, or decided, but because of what he has accomplished for you, can you be assured of
God's favor. It is good news, not good advice. It is not a call to self-improvement, but to die to self altogether
and be raised a new person, in Christ. It is the free gift of forgiveness of sins, right standing with God, adoption
as his heirs, and liberation from the tyranny of sin. As his ambassador, I am calling you in his name to be
reconciled to God by turning away from all other saviors and lords and embracing Jesus Christ as your
righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Come to him now. His love is greater than your enmity toward him;
his grace is greater than your sin; his peace is greater than your fears.
(2) The same thing.
Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster
Seminary California in Escondido, CA, and is the author of the upcoming, Covenant and Salvation: Union with
Christ, to be published in September 2007 by Westminster John Knox.
(1) In the midst of our darkness and failure, Jesus Christ shines as a bright light, showing us God’s truth and
love. He stands in our place, does what we cannot do together and are unwilling to do personally and so turns
away God’s anger from all our wrong doing and our abuse of others, ourselves, and God’s world. His sacrifice
on the cross is the climax of his mission which is to make us friends again with God. Let us accept for ourselves
what he has done. Let us be friends with God with him and so share the new life which God has given him and
which he shares with us.
(2) Angry and rebellious people killed Jesus but he could not be held by the bonds of death. He came back to
life and met with people personally. These people were changed into a world-changing force. Today also, he
wants to meet with you personally. Open your hearts, minds and homes to him and know the power of the new
life he brings. He will not let you down. Put your trust in him and you will experience the strength and comfort
he brings. Being with him will show you which way to go, what sort of life to lead and how to bring others to
friendship with him.
The Rt. Revd. Dr Michael Nazir-Ali is the Bishop of Rochester, has acted as a consultant to the British prime
minister on Muslim affairs, and is the author of multiple books, including Conviction and Conflict: Islam,
Christianity, and World Order.
(1) God the Creator of the Universe has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world. He died to make the impossible
possible – a doorway back to God for lost people. All people, whether aware of it or not, are alienated from God
and under his judgment. But he has sent a Saviour and King Jesus Christ to offer forgiveness and life to all who
will repent of their unbelief and turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. If you turn to Jesus Christ you will receive
a welcome from the Father himself and you will be made a member of a new family who shares many blessings
here and will participate in the world to come.
(2) Drawing from 31 years experience at St James Church Kenilworth Cape Town, South Africa, which
experienced a massacre by terrorists in 1993: There is a God who rules from a place greater than Johannesburg,
Cape Town, and Durban; who has more knowledge in his tiny finger than all the college-educated in Africa:
who is totally unimpressed with our ideologies, obsessions with racism, group hatreds and constant fighting. He
sweeps up into his love every ethnic and national group, for he created them all, and his plan for the future is
more socially progressive than you could ever imagine. Where is this God, especially in our disease-ridden and
war-plagued continent? He is to be found in Jesus Christ his Son whose great and grand promise is to accept all
who come to him in faith, leaving behind all their sins, failures, and successes. He is the One Saviour who is
above all our beliefs and superstitions and introduces you to none less than the Creator of the Whole Creation,
including Africa with all her troubles. What privilege. What love. And all this through a Cross.
Frank Retief is the presiding bishop of the Church of England in South Africa. He is the author of several
"Ed Roberts" (real name hidden for security purposes)
1) In the name of Jesus Christ, the only living Savior of all peoples, be reconciled to your Creator! Live under
the kind, gracious rule of Jesus Christ. He is the only way to have a right relationship with God, with his world
and with other people. There is only one God. Turning away from him, we deserve his wrath. Humble yourself,
agreeing with God that you have rebelled against him, choosing your own way, believing your own ideas,
rejecting God’s demands. In Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, rebels find forgiveness. So, stop
rebelling. Believe with your heart; confess with your mouth: Jesus Christ is Lord!
2.) For an urban, middle class Asian context, that is "progressively" Islamic, mildly superstitious/animistic,
mostly weekly mosque-attending (males that is, women would not attend), not terribly familiar with Koranic
teaching, contemptuous of America, largely ignorant of but scorning Christianity, and suspicious of outsiders,
especially Christian outsiders: Followers of Jesus believe that: the Lord our God is the one and only Lord God,
that we should love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. Also,
we should love our neighbor as ourselves. And this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent
Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. So, this is eternal life, that we might know the One True God
and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Jesus claims to be the Way, the Truth, the Life. Do you know this Jesus?
Mr. Roberts has planted a church in the U.S. and has been planting churches and doing leadership
development in Central Asia for awhile.
(1) Maybe you don’t know, but there is a heavenly dilemma over you. You are loved as God’s special creation.
But because God is also holy you are cut off from him by your wickedness and under his judgment. The Bible
tells of God’s one solution: Jesus, fully God and fully sinless man, ransomed us to God through his death on the
cross. He paid our sin-debt and rose from the dead as proof that he is the way and the truth. Eliminate the
dilemma! Turn from sin; follow Jesus by putting your complete faith and trust in him.
(2) Allah commands you to read the Injil. But what does it say? It says salvation comes from Allah’s love, not
Allah’s rules! It says the straight path to Allah is faith in the Jesus of the Injil. The Injil gives only one path:
Jesus, fully God – fully man and perfect, ransomed us to God through his death on the cross. He paid our sindebt. He rose from the dead as proof that he is the path to heaven. Does Allah’s strength not protect his word?
The Injil says repent; follow Jesus; put your complete faith and trust in him.
[Editor's note: in further conversation with Mr. Stiles, he said he often will use this story with unbelievers
(which he says is not original to him): Two men went to the mosque to pray. One was a rich man, the other a
poor man. The rich man went through his libations and prayers as he did five times a day. As he was praying, he
began to have a sexual fantasy about the young wife who lived next door to his home. But he finished his
prayers and went home. The poor man stood off at a distance. He came so infrequently to the mosque, that he
couldn't remember the positions for prayer or his libations. But he looked up to heaven, beat his breast, and said,
"Forgive me, O Lord, for I'm a sinner." Who went home justified? Mr Stiles says that every Muslim he has
asked this question has answered "The rich man."]
Mack Stiles is a businessman in Dubai, UAE, and is the author of Speaking of Jesus, 17 Things My Kids
Taught Me About God, and Mack & Leeanne's Guide to Short-Term Missions. His son is a member of Capitol
Hill Baptist Church.
(1) Despite our differences, we are similar in many ways — longing for the elusive peace and happiness found
only in the God who made everything. We are both victims and perpetrators of evil that cannot be justly
overlooked, rebels living as enemies of God. Only one man lived a perfect life — Jesus, who died our death,
suffered our punishment, and was resurrected so that we could be reborn. Please read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21,
especially verse 21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the
righteousness of God."
(2) For a multicultural British audience: In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul warns it is possible to believe in vain. Today
many believe in God but do not belong to him or his church. If it is true that "Christ died for our sins . . . was
buried . . . was raised," we need a radical change of direction in our lives—our own resurrection (Eph. 2:1-9).
Believing in God isn’t enough — Satan does. How tragic if Jesus sent you away forever saying, "I never knew
you!" (Matthew 7:23) I urge you—have faith in Jesus, entrust yourself to him completely and make him your
Lord. (Romans 10:9)
For one passage, where would you turn?
If you had the opportunity to open up one simple Bible passage, and briefly explain to someone what it
meant to be a Christian, where would you turn?
Tony Payne asserts that he would turn to 1 Thess1:8-10:
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God
has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind
of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to
wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
And with all the boldness, fluency and clarity that I wish I had in real life but only ever have in scenarios, I
would read the passage with my new friend, and then say something like this:
"This part of the Bible is a letter written by one of the early Christian teachers (named Paul) to some people
who had become Christians after he had shared the Christian message with them. And as he writes to them, he
reminds them exactly what they did to become Christians. So it gives us a very neat summary of what the Bible
says it means to become a Christian.
"It basically meant doing three things.
"The first thing that these people did was to turn away from their religion and culture. They used to worship
idols — fake gods. But then they turned their backs on all this. Becoming a Christian requires you to turn away
from your old life, from all the things that are not really god that you used to worship and live for.
"The second thing follows on from the first. They stopped serving and living for false gods, and started serving
the true and living God—the one, real and true God, who made everything and who is in charge of everything.
To become a Christian is to put yourself at God’s service; to acknowledge that he is the one and only God, and
that you are one of his servants.
"But there’s a third aspect. Even if they turned back to God to serve him, why would he accept them? After all,
they’d been worshipping the opposition, ignoring him, sinning against him. He would have every right to be
angry with them. So why should he accept them back? Because of what it says there in verse 10: God’s Son
Jesus died to deliver them from the anger that was to come (that’s what ‘wrath’ means).
"That’s what it means when Christians talk about Jesus ‘dying for our sins’. It means that when we stand before
God at the end, and give account for our lives, we don’t have to fear God’s anger or judgement, because Jesus
died to deliver us from that. So these guys were waiting confidently for the end, for when Jesus would return,
knowing that he would rescue them and save them when they stood before God.
"So there you go—a quick summary of what the Bible says it means to be a Christian: turn your back on the
false gods you used to worship, start serving the true and living God instead, and put your trust in Jesus who
will rescue us from God’s anger." "Now when you said to me before that you were a Christian, is that what you
The Ultimate Aim of All Christian Preaching
John Piper offers ten theses to explain how all preaching should be gospel preaching, proclaiming Christ
Whatever lasting good God ever does or ever did or ever will do for any individual person, he does and
did and will do because of his free, utterly undeserved grace.
This free grace, that gives every lasting good to people, can benefit us justly only because of Jesus’
wrath-absorbing, righteousness-providing, sin-atoning, guilt-removing, substitutionary death for us.
Without this kind of atoning death of Christ, God’s grace would not save us, but only increase our
condemnation because of the hardness of our hearts.
But by the blood of Christ, God really purchased us for himself and secured not only every lasting good
that we receive, but also the gift of repentance and faith through which we receive everything else.
Therefore every sermon that holds out any lasting good to any person (as every Christian sermon must)
should be based on, and interwoven with, the gospel of the living Christ’s substitutionary death.
This gospel basis and gospel interweaving of our sermons should be clear enough so that gospel-deniers
(like Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, legalists, libertines, etc) will not approve of our sermons.
There should be enough of Christ and of his cross that those who deny the gospel don’t approve the
This gospel basis and gospel interweaving of our sermons should be clear enough so that the living Jesus
will be honored as the ground and goal of the message because of his grace-securing sacrifice for us.
This gospel basis and gospel interweaving of our sermons should be clear enough so that the imperative
that flows from the message is, first and foremost, faith in the blood-bought reality that God is 100% for
us in Christ (that is, faith in the justifying work of Christ), and then, secondly, the obedience that comes
from this faith (that is, the fruit of the sanctifying work of the Spirit).
In this sense then every sermon proclaims Christ. His atoning work is the ground of all it offers. His
glory is the ultimate goal of all it aims to achieve. And the written revelation of Christ’s unfolding ways in
history (that is, Scripture) is the only authoritative source from which we bring this work and ground and
this glory to light (expository exultation).
10. Thus with Christ-crucified as the ground and goal and matter of every sermon (and all of life) the
ultimate aim of God in creation is advanced: the praise of the glory of God’s grace, through the joy of his
people in him.
My Biggest Regret
By Chuck Collins
I marvel when someone says, “I have no regrets.” That’s not me; I have plenty. Perhaps my biggest regret,
outside of not spending more time with my kids when they were growing up and not discovering Irish whiskey
sooner, is that for much of my 30 years of ordained ministry I have not preached “the gospel.” By-and-large I
have been a nice man standing in front of nice people, telling them that God calls them to be nicer (S. Brown).
And just about none of it was life-changing.
I have come to see that there are really just two ways to preach: one is the gospel, the other is get-better
messages. The first is based on God’s goodness; the second on self-improvement. Gospel preaching
presupposes that, even though we deserve punishment for our sins, Jesus Christ suffered the punishment in our
place on the cross. Get-better sermons, on the other hand, is moralistic advice in which a preacher mounts a
pulpit to scold the people for not doing more or getting better (F Allison).
For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I
regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try
harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole
Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by selfhelp” (M Horton). Those who came were vaguely entertained, I think, because I am a fairly entertaining
personality (so they tell me on their way out of church), but they left mostly feeling beat up and like they don’t
measure up. Instead of relieving guilt, get-better sermons reinforced guilt and our inadequacies. They didn’t
touch people where they need most. “Whenever you feel comforted or elated or absolved as ‘fresh as a foal in
new mowed hay,’ then you know you are hearing the gospel” (P Zahl).
My conversion to gospel preaching was gradual. I don’t remember what the initial catalyst was, except that
people weren’t getting better with sermons on discipline and how to improve your marriage. Those moralistic
sermons doled out plenty of advice about what to do, but it totally missed what God has done for us in his Son.
Christ came, not to help religious people get better, but to help sinners realize that forgiveness and salvation is
outside themselves: in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul, in Romans, explains the gospel as God’s power and God’s righteousness (1:16, 17). This is exactly
opposite of repairing your nature by a determined will. It is what God has done for us when we couldn’t do it
ourselves. He fulfilled the law. He took upon himself our sins. He burst the bonds of death to give us new life.
When this message of one-way love – God’s love without strings attached – love when we are not lovely –
reaches our hearts, it causes our spirits to come alive to God and it fills us with meaning and purpose. The
gospel speaks to our heart’s deepest need.
When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure
depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you. It’s self-help, not the
gospel. Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the
sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons.
The Sufficiency of the Gospel
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is
this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and
millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.
Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself
in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of
the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to
gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ
crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this
morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years?
I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of
ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men
first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!
In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached
will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to
mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel
still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split
a rock in halves.
How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see the scabbard of artistic
work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets
to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that
glorious two-handed sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes.
There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we
shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563
Jesus Christ, the Conquering King
by Sinclair B. Ferguson & Alistair Begg
This is chapter 4 of the book Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying,
‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark
1:14–15). The ministry of Jesus began with this announcement.
Jesus often spoke about the kingdom of God—it is a central theme in his message. He both preached
and demonstrated that the kingdom of God had broken into the world in his coming. In his preaching
he taught his disciples how to enter the kingdom and the kind of lifestyle to which this would lead.
Through his miracles he gave visual, physical demonstration of the restoring and transforming power
of the kingdom.
A week or so prior to his crucifixion he did something that made it clear that he himself was the king
in the kingdom of God. Here is John’s description of the event:
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So
they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who
comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on
it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they
remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that
had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to
bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.
So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone
These melodic lines in the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus—the seed of the woman, the prophet, and the
priest—not only run all the way from Genesis through Revelation, but they also, in a sense, intersect
with one another.
You might think of these various themes in terms of a Venn diagram, those interlocking circles we
learned about in math in high school. The point at which they all meet with one another centers on
the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and on his work of salvation and restoration.
As boys in Sunday school, our teachers constantly reminded us that the Bible is a book all
In the Old Testament Jesus is predicted.
In the Gospels Jesus is revealed.
In the Acts of the Apostles Jesus is preached.
In the Letters Jesus is explained.
In the book of Revelation Jesus is expected.
Actually that’s quite a useful little summary for grown-ups as well as youngsters! It may not be
exhaustive or sophisticated, but it certainly helps us as we move around the Bible. For the truth is that
the Bible will be an impenetrable mystery at every point where we take our eyes away from Christ. We
will lose our way around the Bible when we fail to look to Jesus.
The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday is a case in point. What is
happening in this familiar passage?
Sometimes the most familiar verses can be the occasion for our most superficial reading. This
particular passage is routinely read on Palm Sunday. But despite our familiarity with the Triumphal
Entry scene, we may not have grasped its significance.
So—what is the message? What does it mean? Why does it matter?
If we are honest about our uncertainty, we should not be unduly disheartened. We are in good
company—with Jesus’ own disciples. John says: “His disciples did not understand these things at
first.”2 Hardly complimentary to them, is it?
Incidentally, one of the marks of the authenticity of the Gospels is, surely, the number of times the
authors tell us what the disciples didn’t know! They were not written to commend to the church the
natural gifts of the apostles!
It is helpful—and can be wonderfully encouraging—to notice these little details. They remind us that
we are on a pilgrimage, and we have not yet arrived at our destination. Jesus is transforming us, but
our lives are still under construction. We too have much to learn. That simply underscores what a
privilege it is to be able to possess Scripture and to live under its tutelage.
The disciples just weren’t getting it, were they? Nor was this the only time John recorded their lack of
Later, in the upper room, Jesus told them, “I am going to prepare a place for you, I will come back and
I will take you to be where I am,” and he added: “and you know the way to where I am going.” Then
Thomas said, “But we don’t! We don’t understand you, Jesus. We don’t know where you’re going, so
how can we know the way?” Jesus replies, “Well, you know, I am the way, and if you really knew me
you’d know the Father.” And then dear Philip says, “Well, Jesus, why don’t you just show us the
Father, and that will be enough for us.” He still did not understand that the Father was revealing
himself in Jesus! “Have I been with you so long,” replied the Lord, “and you still do not know me,
Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”3
Jesus tells them that they should be encouraged by the fact that when the Spirit of truth comes, he will
guide them into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will
tell you what is yet to come. In “a little while . . . you will see me no longer; and again a little while,
and you will see me.”4 That’s not particularly difficult, is it? “I’m going to be going away, and you
won’t see me. And then I’ll be coming back, and you will see me.” But some of his disciples said to one
another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little
while, and you will see me?’ ”5
Of course it seems perfectly plain to us, because we have been able to read the end of the story. We
have the New Testament Letters to explain it all to us. But as you listen to the disciples, it isn’t a
surprise to discover that later Jesus is calling out, in prayer, “Father! Father!”—as if he is saying:
“Look at these characters you have given me. I’ve had them in Sunday school for three years, and
they’re still absolutely hopeless! One after another they keep asking me these simple and basic
questions. O, Father, I have kept them. Will you please keep them?”6
All of this underlines for us that when we read the Scriptures we need to guard ourselves from
thinking, “Oh, I know a lot about this; I know all about the meaning of this passage. It’s the Palm
Sunday passage. I know that one. Yes, we’ve done that one already. I’ve been at any number of Palm
Sunday services. There can’t be anything for me to learn now. Now, Jesus, he’s a king, isn’t he?”
No! Our starting place should be, “Lord, you know, I really don’t know much about this.” Then we’re
more likely to think: “I wonder, what is exciting and dramatic and interesting here, and what I can
discover that’s fresh this morning out of this passage?”
Use Your Imagination
If it were possible for us to go back in time and observe a family preparing for the Passover, we might
overhear a conversation between a boy and his father:
“Dad, I can’t wait for tomorrow. I’ve already got my palm branches, Dad. I’m all ready. I don’t know if
I’m going to be able to sleep tonight, Dad. Because tomorrow . . . it’s that wonderful time, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, son. It is,” the father replies.
“Father, sing me a song before I go to sleep. Can we sing together that one I like?”
“Which one do you mean?”
“Well, isn’t it one of those Psalms of Ascent? 7 The one that begins, ‘I rejoiced with those who said to
me . . . ’ That one about how our feet are standing inside Jerusalem! Can we sing that one?”
You may know this psalm in Isaac Watts’s version:
How pleased and blest was I
To hear the people cry,
“Come, let us seek our God today!”
Yes, with a cheerful zeal
We haste to Zion’s hill,
And there our vows and honors pay.8
It is important for us to keep in mind that the material in the Gospels is set within the warp and woof
of ordinary life. Granted, we see this little boy only in our imaginations; but many excited little boys
just like him were there with their families on Palm Sunday—like children lining the streets for a
presidential inauguration or a British coronation. The Jerusalem crowds, however, gathered to
celebrate God’s saving interventions in their nation’s past. They had also learned from the Old
Testament of a new age, a new day that would dawn, when all that had been lost and forfeited would
be restored and when all that they longed to see would be revealed. In the crowd of bystanders and
palm branch wavers, there would be multiple layers of anticipation built into the expectation and
enjoyment of that day.
V. Behind the Scenes
In John’s record of the Triumphal Entry, however, the immediate context for what happens on Palm
Sunday is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had come to the village of Bethany a few days
after Lazarus had died. He had gone to his tomb—probably a cave—and had told some men to roll the
stone away, and had called, “Lazarus, come forth!” His dead friend had come walking out of the grave.
More likely he “tottered out”—he was still bound in his grave clothes.
When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Jesus gave a command that his grave clothes should be removed.
Then we are told that many of the Jews who were there to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did,
put their faith in him. That is followed by the frustration of the religious leaders, which leads to the
hatching of a plot to kill Jesus.9 Can you imagine the “buzz” there was in this community?
They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, What do
you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?10 But a few verses later on, when Jesus had
returned to Bethany, we are told that by the time the large crowd of Jews found out that he
was there,they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the
dead.11 But this was not all that was happening. Because of this the chief priests made plans to put
Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing
in Jesus.12What a remarkable statement! Small wonder that Jesus had looked over Jerusalem
Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are
hidden from your eyes.13
Think of it. All of these people, with their deeply religious background, with their amazing heritage,
with their knowledge of the Scriptures—but as they tried to weave together the strands of their
messianic expectation, they got it all dreadfully wrong. Here, in the most unexpected way, is the
answer to all their expectations; but they could not recognize him. Truly “he came to his own, and his
own people did not receive him.”14
It would take us on too long a journey to show how they misread hint after hint, prophecy after
prophecy, as the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. But it is worth pausing to set out some pointers.
The Big Picture
One of the disadvantages about digital—in distinction from Polaroid—cameras is that we do not get
any pictures in our hands. Not actual pictures. But one of the advantages is in being able to
immediately create a collage and to see how the individual moments are all part of an extended
narrative leading up to the final frame. We can look back on a complete vacation or the growth of a
child from kindergarten to high school. The same is true of video. We can zip through all kinds of
scenes that help to explain how we reached the final scene.
In the same way, as we scroll through the Scriptures we discover the layers that precede the moment
in time when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem as king.
For example, we could scroll back to Luke 1:26–38 and the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary.
Remember how she was troubled at the greeting, and the angel said, “You shouldn’t really be
You have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you
shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord
God [notice that!] will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of
Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”15
This is one of those little snapshots. Here we have the announcement of a future birth. But there is so
much more—including the nature and identity of the child who is going to be born. He will be given
the throne of his father David. He is a king, and he will have a kingdom!
Mary was an ordinary young woman, probably a teenager. Small wonder that she pondered these
things!16 She must have mulled them over many a day. Think of Mary watching her Jesus grow,
seeing him coming back into the house after being outside, and asking him, “What have you been up
to today, Jesus?” Think of her watching him in his little triumphs when he had copied the work of
Joseph and so on. And always at the back of her mind the echo of the angelic announcement, “And he
will reign on the throne of his father David.”
Phillips Brooks captures something of that in his Christmas carol:
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.17
Here it is! All the hopes and fears, all the anticipations, all the dreams, all the Old Testament promises
of the one who would come and embody the great prophetic announcements about the Messiah—they
are now all somehow coming to fulfillment there in Bethlehem.
And then—fast-forward thirty years—to find the same thing in this triumphant scene on the road up
to Jerusalem. The King is coming!
Here is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! . . . Your
king is coming to you.”18 And of Isaiah 32: “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness.”19 And of
2 Samuel 7 and the promise that God gave to David that an eternal and universal king would come
from his line.20
All of these we discover by scrolling through the biblical record. Further back to Genesis 49 we read
the prophetic words of Jacob as he blesses his sons:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute
comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.21
Now, imagine an Old Testament believer reading these—and many more—passages. They would
naturally ask, “How will this be? Who can this be?”22 As we move forward through the Bible, we find
the people longing for a king, hoping that this will be the answer to all their dilemmas. But none of the
kings fulfills their expectations; none of them is able to bring real salvation. And so the Old Testament
people were left at the end of it all looking for the “Someone” who would be the great king. The
prophetic ministry of the entire Old Testament ends with silence—several hundred years of silence—
waiting for this unknown Someone who would come to be the embodiment of the prophetic word.
All this and more is on the hard drive of God’s unfolding revelation, and then we come to the picture
to which all the others have been pointing.
What Kind of King?
Jesus mounts a donkey and rides into Jerusalem surrounded by this huge, noisy crowd. We do not
have any other record of Jesus riding anywhere, do we? This is the only place it happens.
It isn’t because Jesus is tired that he is riding on the donkey. He had deliberately sent his disciples
into the city to get it on this particular day.23 He wanted to make a point.
But what point?
Jesus is here confronting the community by his actions. He is deliberately entering the jurisdictions of
Annas and Caiphas the Jewish high priests, and of the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin), and of
Pontius Pilate the governor who represented all the might of the Roman Empire. Later, Pilate will ask
him, “Who in the world are you?” At one point he will ask directly, “Are you then the King of the
Jews? Let’s just get this sorted out, Jesus. Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus replies, “You have
But what kind of king is he? What kind of king rides on a donkey? What kind of king wears a crown
that is woven with thorns? What kind of king is dressed up in someone else’s robe and made to look
foolish and a figure of fun and is cruelly mocked by his ill-disciplined military custodians?25 Here we
see the great paradox that confronts any intelligent reader of the Bible.
It is also the paradox that threw off many of the people who were looking for the coming one. They
cried, “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!” 26 But then they witnessed a
whole series of scenes in which Jesus was “despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows . . . acquainted
with grief.”27 What possibility was there that he could bring salvation, safety, and success when he
could not apparently secure his own safety? His ministry had led him to such an ignominious end.
VIII. How Does Jesus Reign?
The Shorter Catechism is famous because of its opening question: “What is the chief end of man?”
(Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”)28 But later in its exposition of
the gospel it asks another important question, this time about Jesus:
How doth Christ execute the office [ministry] of a king? That is precisely the question these scenes
force us to ask. Here is the Catechism’s answer:
In subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and
We have considered how Christ came as a prophet to oust our ignorance and as a priest to deal with
our alienation and to lead us into God’s presence. Now we see him as a king who subdues all the
tyrannical forces that are arraigned against us, and, yes, those that fight within us too.
But how does King Jesus do this? Here we must limit our discussion to three dimensions and consider
each of them in summary form. First, how he is king in relation to our salvation, then in relation to
the cosmos, and finally in relation to the future.
How does Jesus exercise his reign for our salvation? We will need to consider this further when we
think about him as the Son of Man. But for the moment we need to understand that the cross is the
crisis point of his reign. There he accomplished everything necessary to deal with our sin:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive
together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood
against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and
authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.30
Earlier in his ministry the apostle Paul explained to the Galatians that this—death on a cross—meant
that Jesus had borne the curse that we deserve for our sin.31
More than this, Jesus has done everything necessary to deliver us from the power of death.
The tyranny of sin and guilt is made visible in our death. God had said to Adam and Eve, “In the day
that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.”32 That is now our
inherited condition. Our death is the corrosive, degenerative impact of sin and judgment. The
weakness, frailty, disintegration, and loss involved in death are the final evidences in this world that
we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
But, in addition, listen to what the author of Hebrews has to say:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things,
that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver
all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.33
So Jesus has done everything that we needed to be saved from sin. He has done everything we needed
in order for us to be saved from thejudgment of death. And he has done everything necessary to set us
free from the bondage of the Devil. In a word, he has done everything we need done for us but could
never do for ourselves.
The evidence for his victory is, of course, the resurrection. It is like a loud “amen” being pronounced
on his work by his Father.
Jesus was raised physically from the dead as a sign that his sacrifice for sin had been accepted. It was
as if the Judge were saying, “You have paid the penalty the law demanded; you are now free to go!”
Clearly it was also the sign that he had broken the power of death, because it was not possible for him
to be held in its grip.34
Having crushed the power of Satan, Jesus then spent a period of forty days meeting with his disciples.
What a seminar on biblical teaching and resurrection life that must have been! Imagine being taught
about new life, resurrection life, by the one who had said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever
believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. Whoever, and everyone who lives and believes in me
shall never die.”35
But how is it that Jesus’ resurrection leads to the resurrection of those who believe in him? How can it
be—as Scripture makes clear—that because Jesus rose from the grave, it is an ontological
impossibility for believers not to be raised?
Here is the biblical logic:
We are “in Christ.”
We are therefore united to him.
We can never be separated from Christ.
Christ has been raised from the dead.
Therefore, because we are in him we have been raised and we will be raised!36
This is why his resurrection is described as the “firstfruits”—it is the pledge and assurance of a final
So, Jesus reigns as king in our salvation.
X. The Cosmos
Scripture teaches us to think of the kingly reign of Christ in cosmic terms. Here a key text is
Colossians 1:15–17: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all
things were created, in heaven and on earth.”
Just think about this in relation to the average class in anthropology at almost any secular university.
Or think about our young students who are reading history, or those who are studying medicine and
will become physicians. Does it make any difference there to be a Christian? Does it affect their view
Does it? If Paul’s words mean anything, it certainly does:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or
dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before
all things, and in him all things hold together.38
There is, then, this great cosmic dimension to the kingship of Jesus. He is the source, the sustainer,
and the goal of all created reality. “The universe was made by Him, is providentially sustained by Him
and is utterly dependent on Him.”39
As Christians we must learn to think properly, biblically. Then we may watch CNN or BBC News, or
read the New York Times, or make our way through the Wall Street Journal without joining the ranks
of the gloomy or singing in the choir of the fearful. To be in Christ is mind stretching and life
transforming. It is a mind-altering experience to bow before the authority of what is said concerning
this cosmic Christ, who reigns over all. It changes our perspective on everything.
We were not stellar students in the physics class in high school. Our report cards at the end of the year
contained such statements as: “He has decided that physics is not for him—and he is very firm in this
decision.” But although we are in dangerous territory when it comes to science, we are able to look up
at the night sky, and see the stars and planets, and stare in wonder at the Milky Way.
If the Milky Way contains, as astronomers now tell us, three hundred to four hundred billion stars,
and if it is only one galaxy among possibly hundreds of billions of galaxies—then we little people are
in need of Colossians 1:16–17 just to be able to get to bed at night and to wake up in the morning and
feel we have any security at all in the universe.
We are helped by reading the prophet Isaiah’s great words:
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name.40
And by this reminder from the prologue to the Gospel of John:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.41
In a cosmos of otherwise impenetrable mystery, we are greatly helped by knowing that Jesus is king in
In addition to seeing Christ’s kingship salvifically and cosmically, we also need to think of it in
Go back to the earlier illustration of the Venn diagram with its circles. We now begin to see how the
various biblical descriptions of the Lord Jesus intersect with each another. The same Bible themes
and passages keep recurring.
So in 1 Corinthians 15, we discover that there is an order to resurrection. First, Christ the first fruits,
then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and
every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last
enemy to be destroyed is death.42
See then this magnificent tapestry into which images of Christ as the ascended king are woven. Truly,
“the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now.”43
The “spillage” from his ascension is seen in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that he indwells the
people of God. Jesus ascended in order to ask his Father to keep his promise to send the Spirit to his
people so that they might experience every spiritual blessing.44 When he, the Holy Spirit, comes, he
makes much of the Word of God in our lives and points us constantly to the Son of God.45 All this
comprises the glorious benefits of Christ’s triumph and kingship.
This—with all of these elements included—ought to be central in our thinking as Christians. Indeed
this future dimension should control our perspective on everything, and certainly the way in which we
view the world.
But how should the Christian view the world?
The Christian views the world in terms of “the good, the bad, and the new, and the perfect.” Yes—the
new and the perfect!
When God created the cosmos he made everything in it. And he made everything good. Then came the
fall of man, and everything went bad. But in the Lord Jesus Christ it is made new. Indeed, says Paul,
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”46 More literally what he says is, “If any in Christ—new
creation.” In Christ’s resurrection there took place a renewal process that will eventually involve the
whole cosmos. “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption.”47
We live in anticipation of the day the new creation will be realized in all its perfection. Then those who
are underneath Christ’s footstool will at last fall down, along with many more, and acknowledge that
he is king.48
So we may learn to begin the day affirming that “Christ is King. Jesus is Lord!” It is important to
develop the practice of affirming central gospel truths as we waken to the new day, saying to
ourselves, “The Lord God omnipotent reigns. This is the twenty-fifth of January (or whatever); today
the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Yes, I saw the New York Times before I went to sleep last night. I
have it on my iTouch. I did look at the BBC report before I went to bed last night. I saw all about Gaza.
I saw all about Zimbabwe. I saw so much to disturb and distress. But Christ reigns from the beginning
of the day to its end—every single day of my life.”
This is why we love to sing at the end of the day: The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.49
What an amazing picture that is! Here are God’s people throughout the world. And as those in one
time zone are going to sleep, those in another time zone are waking. And as they do, they are saying,
“The Lord God omnipotent reigns. Here I am in North Korea. I can hardly function in many areas of
my life, but Jesus Christ is King. Here I am in Kuala Lumpur. Here I am in the heartlands of India.
Here I am.” And so God’s people rise at every hour of the day to praise him in every time zone in the
world. Why? Because he reigns.
And then comes the final, triumphant stanza:
So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
That’s it! Earth’s proud empires will all pass away. But the kingdom of Jesus Christ will continue,
grow, triumph—and last forever.
Now, as we begin to grasp all this, we see that the kingship of Jesus changes the way in which we view
the world. And the kingship of Jesus will then control how we live in that world.
We must not affirm that “Jesus Christ is King” or trot out phrases like “Jesus Christ is Lord” as if
these are merely expressions of personal devotion. That would show that we had failed to understand
their real meaning. When Paul wrote of the day when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should
bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,”50 he was not describing the devotion of
the worshiper but the identity of the one who is worshiped. He is proclaiming the divine identity of
Jesus. Jesus is Lord. This isn’t a statement about my attitude to Jesus; it is a statement about who
Jesus is. He is Lord. Kurios is the Greek word he uses. In the Greek version of the Old Testament
current in Paul’s world, that was the standard way of translating the great covenant name for God,
And since Jesus is Lord and God, King and Savior, this impacts all of life.
For example, I have no right to develop convictions or practice a lifestyle contrary to my King’s word.
That is why I cannot, for example, invent new views of marriage, or reengineer human sexuality,
because I bow beneath the rule of the King.
I cannot rewrite the New Testament documents. I dare not play fast and loose with the historical
narrative in Genesis 1–11. Why? Because Jesus is King, and this is the King’s Word. Nor do I have the
right to behave in any way I please. My behavior must be marked by obedience to my King.
The reign of Jesus will also influence my business practices. It will affect the way in which I go to work
tomorrow morning. It affects my relationship as a child with my parents, or as a parent with my
children, or as a husband with my wife, and so on.
In addition, I have no right to think that I can be disenfranchised or disengaged from the people of
God, because my Lord and King is also the head of the body, the church. It is in company with others
who have been brought under his lordship that I both benefit and make a contribution.
Not only do we obey his commands, but we also enjoy his company. He is a King who has made
himself accessible and who is wonderfully approachable.
We have no right of immediate access to the British monarch in Buckingham Palace in London. But
we do have immediate access to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Moreover, he is not only our King
—he is our Savior. And he is not only our Savior; he is our friend! It’s true: “There’s not a friend like
the lowly Jesus. No, not one!”51 So we can come to him with all our fears, with all our failures, with all
our stresses, with all our disappointments, with all our losses, and with all the needs of our loved ones
and say, “Jesus, you’re the King over all of this. There’s so much that we can’t handle. There are so
many aspects of this that are overwhelming us. But we come before you now.” And then we can rise to
our feet and go out into the day—and into all of our days—to declare these great and amazing truths.
Back again to Sunday school in Scotland! Our teachers used to teach us some of the most amazing
songs. They are etched into our memories—and some of them really were marvelous. Here is one that
drives home the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, practical difference it makes to know that Jesus is King. In its
child-friendly, child-attractive fun way (and surely children had fun with Jesus?), it underscores the
power of the gospel. It says: “Come on now, you don’t have to be bedeviled and overwhelmed by all of
these things that are coming at you.” Here are the words:
Come leave your house on Grumble Street
And move to Sunshine Square.
For that’s the place where Jesus lives,
And you’ll be happy there!
Well, you say, “That isn’t exactly a brilliant lyric. What were they doing teaching mischievous little
boys that kind of poetry?”
Yes, but we got the message of these choruses. It wasn’t necessary to master a systematic theology
textbook to see the point: “Come on now; we say that Jesus Christ is King. Why then are our faces
sad? Jesus Christ is King. Where then is our hope? Jesus Christ is King and Lord; where is our
enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus? We do need to leave our house in Grumble Street and move to
Sunshine Square. That’s the place where Jesus is. We’ll be happy there.”
And then as we grew up we learned the great “grown-up” words of Isaac Watts, in his wonderful
paraphrase of Psalm 72: “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.” It has a special association for us
because of the story of Eric Liddell.
In 1925 Eric Liddell was leaving Scotland to go to China as a missionary teacher. He was both a
Scottish Rugby internationalist and an Olympic gold medalist in the 1924 Olympics in Paris
(memorialized in the movie Chariots of Fire).
When Eric Liddell boarded his train in Waverley Station, Edinburgh, on the first leg of his journey to
China, a vast crowd had gathered to bid him farewell. He was the great sports superstar of his day.
Family and friends intermingled with folks just off the street. Liddell lowered the window of his
compartment, put his head out of the window, and shouted, “Christ for the world, for the world needs
Christ!” And then he led this massive throng in singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er
Here is the vision of Christ’s reign that the people of God have shared since time immemorial:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.
Blessings abound where’er He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.
Where He displays His healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more:
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!
That was the 1920s in Edinburgh.52
It is now a century later.
Jesus Christ was King then.
Jesus Christ is still King now.
Cheer up, you saints of God.
This is chapter 4 of the book Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson
1 John 12:12–19.
2 John 12:16.
3 See John 14:1–11.
4 John 16:16.
5 John 16:17.
6 See John 17:11–15.
7 Psalms 120–134 seem to belong together as a kind of songbook for pilgrims at the Jerusalem
8 Isaac Watts’s “How Pleased and Blest Was I” is a paraphrase of Psalm 122.
9 See John 11:44–45, 48, 53.
10 John 11:56.
11 John 12:9.
12 John 12:10–11.
13 Luke 19:42.
14 John 1:11.
15 Luke 1:30–33.
16 Luke 2:19.
17 The opening verse of Phillips Brooks’s hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” 1867.
18 Zech. 9:9.
19 Isa. 32:1.
20 2 Sam. 7:12–16; cf. Ps. 72:1–19.
21 Gen. 49:10.
22 See 1 Pet. 1:10–12.
23 Matt. 21:1–11.
24 Matt. 27:11.
25 John 19:1–3.
26 Ps. 118:25.
27 Isa. 53:3.
28 Published in 1648 by the Westminster Assembly