Preaching from the Old Testament (Torah, Prophets and Poetry) is inspired and useful (2 Tim. 3:16), but should be proclaimed in light of the gospel and New Testament revelation. This also holds true for the Gospel’s teaching on righteousness. Even though our Bibles say “New Testament” before the Gospel of Matthew, the New Covenant was not initiated until Christ’s atonement on Calvary.
“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19,20).
For example, preaching that gives the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) apart from the revelation of believers being under grace (Rom. 6:14) and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) gives the impression of works-based sanctification. In this counter-cultural sermon Christ shows that external righteousness is not adequate to earn eternal life. In John 3:1-18 Jesus teaches the Pharisee Nicodemus that a new birth is required. Former Pharisee, Paul, testified of his salvation experience of receiving graciously imputed righteousness (Phil 3:3-10).
In John 6:63; 15:1-8 Christ explains to disciples the source of expressing this righteousness practically….in light of New Covenant revelation: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14).
In other words, sermons on the Old testament and Gospels should include the grace and enablement perspective of the New Testament epistles. Otherwise, listeners will end discovering how “the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56).
Just as a non-evangelical pastor gives the impression that good works can be a means of salvation if he does not communicate the gospel of redemption, even so, an evangelical pastor may give the impression that self-effort can successfully live the Christian life if he does not communicate the Gospel of identification (as in Galatians 2:20).
The gospel of identification is explained in the N. T. epistles such as Romans 5:12-8:39. Apart from teaching grace-by-faith sanctification, biblical preaching (whether O. T. or N. T.) comes across as law and the leads to the frustration of Romans 7:21-25: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
The answer of the concluding phrase is I” thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This answer is explained in iRomans ch. 8, which applies the message of identification with the Lord Jesus as revealed in Romans 5:12-6:23.
Evan Hopkins observed, “How many earnest and religious people belong to ‘the Old Adam Improvement Society.’ It is the recognition of the Christ-life, it is union with the Risen Christ, that men need instead of the culture of the religious self-life.”
May we have the Spirit-filled, grace-oriented N.T. preaching of the apostle Paul, who testified to the church leaders of Ephesus:
“I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. … I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:20,21,27,32).
J. B. W.