Paul writes, “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” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the power of God that leads to salvation for those who believe. Therefore those who have been called to proclaim the gospel have the mandate to deliver that which leads to salvation for their hearers (Romans 10:13-14). But what is salvation and how do people attain it? Does it follow a specific prayer? Is it a process? While answering those questions below, I’m going to address another: how important is the doctrine of salvation for our preaching?
The doctrine of salvation has played a huge role in shaping the content of my preaching.
The doctrine of salvation has played a huge role in shaping the content of my preaching. Studying it opened my eyes to both the importance and necessary focus of our preaching. I better understood Paul’s words, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Preaching is indispensable within a robust understanding of doctrine of salvation. For preaching is the vehicle through which many attain God’s salvation. On the other hand, preaching without a well-rounded, biblically informed view of salvation will always fall short. So in this article I consider how a theologically rich understanding of salvation shapes faithful preaching.
The Doctrine of Salvation
Using Romans 5, we might define salvation as: “God’s gracious act of saving sinful men from his wrath by reconciling them with himself through the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.” As Paul writes in that chapter, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6, 8-10).” In salvation, God graciously acts to rescue sinful people from his wrath (see Ephesians 2:1-10).
Salvation both precedes and extends far beyond the short span of a human life.
Importantly, salvation isn’t a once-off event. It both precedes and extends far beyond the short span of a human life. Salvation begins with God’s eternal decrees. And it ends with his people’s eternal glorification (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:5-14). True, conversion is a crucial part of the larger salvation process (Romans 10:9-10). But it is also clear that it is those who endure to the end (Colossians 1:21-23), and are sanctified (Hebrews 12:14), who will be glorified. Furthermore, the end goal and purpose of salvation is God’s glory (Ephesians 1:5-6; Revelation 7:9-10). Remarkably, our preaching owns an integral role within this process.
Paul on the Purpose(s) of Preaching
Consider Romans again. Paul was writing “to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). He states his hope to encourage them and be encouraged by them (Romans 1:11-12). Yet what does he desire to do there? How will he encourage them? In part, by preaching the gospel, because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:15-16). The gospel isn’t merely for making converts. It’s for encouraging Christians. The gospel is for those following Christ, to encourage them in their faith.
The gospel is for those following Christ, to encourage them in their faith.
Paul further clarifies this in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, where we see the impact the doctrine of salvation had on his ministry and preaching. He calls salvation God’s work of reconciliation through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18). Thus he saw his ministry as one of reconciliation. God graciously acts in Christ, establishing peace between himself and sinners. Paul’s ministry took a similar shape. He saw himself as not only an ambassador of Christ but a minister of reconciliation. Thus he could write to believers, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). This reveals the necessity of continued gospel proclamation. Likewise, a more fully orbed doctrine of salvation must shape our preaching.
The State of Preaching in Africa
Preaching pervades Africa. Unfortunately much of it doesn’t reflect Paul’s conviction above. In many pulpits, salvation has expanded to include economic empowerment, self-realisation, and health. We no longer preach the gospel of reconciliation. Instead the message of health and wealth prevails. I’m not saying God doesn’t care about those things: health, economics, social ills, empowerment, and poverty. I’m saying this: focusing on them reveals what we understand about salvation.
Paul longed to preach the gospel in Rome because of his convictions about salvation. Similarly, the focus of our preaching and evangelism reveals what we think salvation is about. It shows what we believe people need to be saved from. When we make salvation about health and wealth, the sick and the poor are left with question marks over their salvation.
The focus of our preaching and evangelism reveals what we think salvation is about.
I used to preach that Christians aren’t supposed to suffer. I exhorted the people before me to claim their victories in the Spirit, declaring success over their lives. But the sermon that still haunts me, was the time I preached an entire sermon about the Holy Spirit’s leading, without opening the Bible. That sermon had nothing to do with sanctification or regeneration (topics we’ll be covering in this series). It was all about feeling the Holy Spirit. It was only later, when I studied the doctrine of salvation, that God brought clarity to my understanding around salvation. This in turn corrected much of my preaching.
Sound Doctrine Matters for Preaching
Therefore, in the forthcoming series of articles, we’ll be reflecting on some aspects of salvation and their relevance for preaching. My prayer is that God will use these articles to stir a newfound desire across Africa for the gospel; to proclaim Christ and him crucified; and to preach biblical salvation, for the sake of the people that God has placed before us.