When our primary motivation for preaching Christ becomes something other than His glory we get ourselves into many troubles. There are many secondary desires for preaching Christ that are right and good, but when elevated to the place of primary they become deadly. A prime example of this is "winning souls". If our prime motivation is to see people saved, then typically whatever we do to achieve this goal is justifiable. "If it reaches one soul then it was worth it". Therefore, we are taught to waver on unbiblical practices simply because it "won a soul".
Imagine this situation. A large group of teenagers are drawn to an event by motorcycles, appealing music, drama, food, and other teenagers. After a couple hours of cool motorcycle tricks and funny drama we hear a brief sermon. It does have a few Bible verses and a young man tells of how Jesus has changed his life. We are not told much about God. We are told even less about sin. We are certainly not told of what God requires of us. The "gospel" presentation is watered down at best. Then an invitation is given. Scores of students "come forward" to accept Jesus. They are prayed for and then they meet with counselors for about 15 minutes. During this time the counselors try to discern whether or not they are sincere in their "decision". They get some information, call them saved (so long as they are sincere and can repeat a prayer and nod their head at the right time, of course), and then send them back to their home church to get baptized.
Whether you believe that using motorcycles, drama, etc. in church is biblical or not is actually not the greater issue I am concerned with. I fall on the regulative principle "side" and figure that such "evangelistic tools" should not be used in our churches. The regulative principle is not the foundational issue. The foundational issue I am concerned with is the mindset that drives this type of event. Why is the gospel so "watered-down"? Certainly, it is so that lost people can understand it. The central reason for preaching Christ is, in this case, so that souls might be won. Therefore, we can water down the gospel in the hopes that it will be more appealing and win more souls for Jesus. Also, we have to have a way to keep track of these "decisions". Sometimes an altar call is enough; but, sometimes we are so successful that we have to get cards so that we can see "how many people made decisions". My main concern is that the gospel is neutered. My secondary concern is that people go home confused and often with a false sense of security.
This is a somewhat extreme example. Now imagine this situation. You are attending a conference on missions/evangelism. You hear some very startling statistics. You learn that every 1.7 seconds someone dies and goes to hell. (Which by the way is probably a fairly accurate statistic; and this should cause us concern). You also hear about our lack of evangelism. You think back upon your year and realize that you have not shared Christ with nearly as many people as you could have. You are plagued with guilt (and perhaps you should be). Then the speaker tells you a touching story of someone that he did not share Jesus with and blames himself for that person being in hell. You are urged to think of all your family members and friends that will be in hell within 100 years if you do not share the gospel with them. You go home; you are now depressed but have motivation to share the gospel with people. As you wake up the next morning it is still sticking with you, but you still struggle with fear--and now more guilt. Then the next day you are a little more numb. You continue down this cycle until next years evangelism conference and then you are reminded of your failure and vow to do better this time around. You wake up again to failure.
Now imagine this scene. You catch a vision of the majesty and holiness of God. You begin to realize that God is passionate about His glory. You begin to understand that God wants to spread His glory to the nations. Furthermore, you find that God is glorified whether souls are saved or not. Certainly we want to see souls saved; yet we are able to trust in the Lord's goodness and know that the preaching of His Word is a means to spread His glory to the nations. This causes you to realize that every time you share the gospel it is a "success". Your standard is no longer "how many decisions" but is instead "was God glorified". You still are convicted at times when you do not share the gospel. This time, however, it is different. You are not stricken with guilt because you sent somebody to hell. This time you feel a deep sense of conviction because you have valued man's opinion over the glory of God.
Do you see how this serves as a filter? The first scenario would never happen because you would be more concerned about faithfully proclaiming the gospel than about "winning souls". The second scenario would also be done away with. We can still share the statistics. We can still point out our failures to evangelism. But this time instead of being driven to an "I've got to do better" mentality we will be driven to the Cross. We will plead with God to show us more of His glory. We will repent of not treasuring Him over the fear of man. We will rest on His mercy to stir up in our hearts a proper motivation for evangelism. We will cry out for more compassion. We will plead with Him to stir in our hearts in such a way that we treasure His glory more than anything else.
I am not alone in my convictions either. Martin Lloyd-Jones found the same thing was true. As Lloyd-Jones began studying Scripture, and the sermons of many men that had been used by God in mighty ways, he found 5 things in common in each of their gospel presentations:
- The supreme object of the work of evangelism is to glorify God, not to save souls
- The only power that can do this work is the Holy Spirit, not our own strength
- The one and only medium through which the Spirit works is the Scriptures; therefore, we “reason out of the Scriptures” like Paul did
- These preceding principles give us the true motivation for evangelism-a zeal for God and a love for others
- There is a constant danger of heresy through a false zeal and employment of unscriptural methods
The reason that we must preach Christ alone is because that is how He is to be glorified. We do not display Jesus as a sufficient treasure when we preach Christ plus something else. If Jesus needs motorcycles to be attractive then He must not be that precious of a treasure. The way we preach Christ displays how much we value Him as a sufficient treasure! There is a great snippet from a Spurgeon sermon at Pulpit magazine's blog today that fits well here; The Importance of Preaching Christ. Spurgeon's central thesis is this: "You [as preachers] have nothing else to employ as the means of good, except the salvation of Jesus, and there is nothing else worth telling."
Therefore, I encourage you to preach Christ. Do it boldly. And do it without ribbons and without bows. And when you are preaching Christ do not do it with the ulterior motive of "winning souls". God will do that work. You preach Christ and Christ alone for His glory alone! Remember the greatest Christmas present came without gift wrapping!