Why Do We Need Gospel Repetition?
One of the most common objections that those of us who are committed to preaching the gospel of grace week in and week out hear is, “Ok…I get it. Can we move on now? We hear the same thing week after week. Can we hear something different already?” Considering the way our consumeristic culture has conditioned us to always crave “what’s next”, the objection is understandable. Add to that a fundamental misunderstanding inside the church that the gospel is not for Christians but for non-Christians, and you have the perfect recipe for Christian people thinking that it’s “time to move on.”
Over the years I’ve come up with a variety of ways to explain to people that once God saves us he doesn’t then move us beyond the gospel, but rather more deeply into the gospel—that Christian growth is always growth into grace, not beyond it. But just recently I discovered another way to help people understand that we never, ever outgrow our need to hear the gospel.
In Galatians 5:6 Paul makes a stunning statement. He says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” So, the thing that matters most is faith expressing itself through love. And then in Romans 10:17 Paul makes the point that “faith comes through hearing the word about Christ.” Put these two statements together and you have what is, in my opinion, the strongest biblical argument for why we need to hear the gospel of grace week in and week out.
According to Paul, real love is impossible without faith. Faith is vertical (it’s upward)—it’s trusting that everything I need and long for, I already have because of what Jesus has accomplished for me. Love, on the other hand, is horizontal (it’s outward)—because Jesus has done everything for me (faith) I can now do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me (love). You could put it this way: love is faith worked out by us for our neighbor horizontally; faith is love worked into us from God vertically. The implication, of course, is that love is absent to the degree that faith is missing. If I’m not trusting that everything I need in Christ I already possess (lack of faith), then I will be looking to take from you rather than give to you (lack of love). I’ll be concentrating on what I need, not what you need. I’ll be looking out for me, not you.
So if we ever hope to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (which is precisely what God’s law calls for), it will depend on faith. And faith, according to Paul in Romans 10:17, depends on hearing the gospel—over and over and over again. God stokes faith through the preaching of the gospel, and since our faith needs constant stoking, the preaching of the gospel needs to be constant. As long as love is needed (which is always), faith must be fueled. And the only fuel for faith is the gospel. The logical formula, then, goes like this:
No faith = no love
No gospel = no faith
Therefore, no gospel = no love.
The preaching of the gospel alone activates faith, and faith alone activates love.
If the church is ever going to experience the kind of reformation that many of us long for, preachers are going to have to understand that they are not called to say many different things, but rather the same thing over and over in many different ways from every different text.
So preachers, do everything you can to help people understand why they will never outgrow their need to hear the gospel of grace. But don’t ever apologize for the rhythm of redemptive redundancy that should always mark your preaching week after week after week.
William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal.
A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian has authored a number of books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway). He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S., and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program LIBERATE. As a respected pastor, author, and speaker, Tullian is singularly and passionately devoted to seeing people set free by the radical, amazing power of God's grace.
When he is not reading, studying, preaching, or writing, Tullian enjoys being with people and relaxing with his wife, Kim, and their three children—Gabe, Nate, and Genna. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf.