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Scripture and the Church

What Does It Mean to Truly Preach Christ?

Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Today some Evangelical churches preach Christ, but many do not. The Apostle Paul tells us what it means to truly preach Christ in Colossians chapter one.

Part one of a three-part series

Today some Evangelical churches preach Christ, but many do not. The Apostle Paul tells us what it means to truly preach Christ in Colossians chapter one.

In the opening verses of the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul declares the preeminence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel (verses 9-14), in the creation (15-17), in the church (18-23), and in genuine Gospel ministry (24-29). In verse 28 he comes to a climactic statement. "Him we preach," he says, "warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [or complete] in Christ Jesus."

In this verse, Paul tells us what it means to truly preach Christ. There are many churches and many preachers who claim that they preach Christ. Some of them have a right to say that. They are indeed preaching the genuine Christ in the way that Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that Christ must be preached. But there are also many other churches and preachers in our time, many of which bear the label Evangelical, or even Fundamental or Bible-believing, where Christ is not preached according to the prescribed pattern that Paul gives us here. Christ has been replaced by other things.

Conversations, Story-Telling, and Psychology

In many churches a "conversation" has replaced the genuine preaching of Christ. This is a big fad in churches today. At least the man (or increasingly, the woman) up front is honest enough not to pretend to be preaching. But the conversation that has taken the place of preaching is all about what man thinks about spiritual things, not about what God's Word says.

In many other churches, story-telling has replaced the preaching of Christ. The so-called preacher stands up front and spins out some kind of yarn or fable and tries to give some kind of moral application. But there is rarely any mention of the Bible except in passing. Nobody ever tells you what the Bible actually says about the person and work of Jesus. Nobody ever tells you how to be saved. Nobody ever tells you how you are to live, in light of what the Bible actually says about the person and work of Christ.

In still other churches, a psychological presentation has replaced the preaching of Christ. I was talking with a man in the barber shop recently about spiritual things. He goes to an Evangelical church. He said to me, "You know, much of the time when I go to church, I don't feel like I'm in church. I feel like I'm in a rehab meeting. The pastor is telling me how to do three things or ten steps that are supposed to help me deal with my problems. But none of it comes from the Bible. It's just psychology." That is the sad situation in many churches today.

Often these three things are to be found in combination. Many of the leading television preachers of our time are experts at combining a conversation, story-telling, and psychological uplift with the glitz of a TV stage setting, as the ingredients in a shabby replacement for the true preaching of Christ.

Dry Orthodoxy

Still other churches have replaced the genuine preaching of Christ with dry orthodoxy. This often happens because a church places a man-made matrix over Scripture that obscures Christ in preaching. That matrix may be a doctrinal distinctive that, while legitimate in itself, becomes such an all-consuming focus that Christ is diminished and pushed aside. Many vital matters of the faith are rarely if ever addressed. There is no balance in the pulpit.

In other cases the matrix that obscures Christ is an entire system of doctrine that, rather than being derived from Scripture, is artifically imposed upon it. Dispensationalism and the postmodern Biblical Theology movement are two examples of such matrices that can easily obscure the person and work of Christ.

In still other cases, the matrix that obscures Christ takes the form of a confession or creed. If it is a good one, that confession or creed affirms Biblical teaching. In its proper place, as a summary statement of what a church believes, subordinate to Scripture, it can be useful. But dry orthodoxy sets in because that man-made document comes to occupy the central position in the preaching of the church - the position that rightfully belongs to Christ and His Word. Many such churches are proud of their orthodoxy, but have no spiritual power.

To Truly Preach Christ is a Different Matter

The Apostle Paul tells us that the true preaching of Christ is different from all of these things. Colossians 1:28 tells us why and how Christ must be preached. From this verse, in its context, we can draw four propositions:

  1. Christ must be preached, because He is the only hope of sinners. To preach Jesus Christ is to proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ as the Creator of the Universe, the Savior of sinners, and the Lord of the Church.
  2. Christ must be preached, because every Christian needs to be warned.
  3. Christ must be preached, because every Christian needs to be taught.
  4. Christ must be preached, because every Christian needs to become mature in Christ.

Notice once again that Paul says that it is "Him" that we preach. The genuine preaching of Christ preaches a Person. The first focus is on the person of Christ, on who He is. The second focus is on the work of Christ, on what He has done. Christ's person and Christ's work must never be separated in preaching. Here is the reason this must be so: Jesus Christ could not have done what the Bible says He has done, unless He is who the Bible says He is.

This was Paul's consistent approach in his own preaching. We find an example in Acts chapter 17. When Paul came to Thessalonica, "as his custom was," he went in into the Jewish synagogue, "and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ' " (Acts 17:2-3).

And here in Colossians chapter one, Paul has just finished telling the Colossian believers who Jesus is: almighty God in flesh. Only God could create the universe. Only God could sustain the universe at this present moment. Only God could do what was necessary to save sinners. Only God could be the Head of the Church, and bring all of His redeemed people to glory and perfection. No one else could do what Jesus Christ has done because no one else is who Jesus Christ is. Jesus Christ is God Himself.

That is why we preach Him, Paul says. That is why we preach Jesus Christ. He is the One who is the image, the exact representation, of the invisible God. He is the One who existed before anything else existed. He is the One for whom everything was created, and that includes you and me. He is the One who is the Head of the Church. He is the One on whom you must believe in order to be saved, because He is the only One who is qualified to save you.

That is what it means to preach Christ. But Paul tells us more. In verse 28 he answers additional vital questions. What is the method of genuine Christian preaching? What is the goal? As we continue this series, we shall see his divinely inspired answers to those questions.

Next: What is the method of genuine Christian preaching?

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