This past weekend, when thousands gathered in Atlanta to celebrate the Super Bowl, a handful of evangelists gathered to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was not able to attend, but I have had the privilege of preaching with some of these men on other occasions. These men went forth into the streets to “preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). They find a suitable location to speak to passersby and then begin sharing the message of Jesus Christ.
About 150 years ago, Charles Spurgeon said the following about open-air preaching:
No sort of defense is needed for preaching out of doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting house.
Unfortunately, many today do not agree. They think going out into the streets and preaching the truth about sin and judgment and the only way of forgiveness in Christ will “turn people off.” This mentality is not limited to preaching that occurs outside of the church, however: many do not want to hear about sin, guilt, or God’s wrath within the church’s walls. It is unfortunate that preaching has so degenerated that the faithful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be found in only a handful of churches. The pews of many churches are filled with people listening to the ear-tickling utterances of a preacher who will never preach on sin and thus never offend.
Many preachers have become what J.C. Ryle warned about:
They cease to disregard the opinion of man: they imbibe a morbid fear of “extreme views,” and are filled with a cautious dread of giving offence. And at last the man who at one time seemed likely to be a real successor of the apostles and a good soldier of Christ, settles down on his lees as a clerical gardener, farmer, or diner-out, by whom nobody is offended and nobody is saved.
“By whom nobody is offended and nobody is saved.” What a dreadful epitaph this will be on many a modern-day preacher’s tombstone! Those who cease to preach God’s Law and man’s rebellion against it have ceased to preach Christ.
Why is this? Because the message of Christ crucified is a message that humbles man and leaves him utterly helpless before a holy God. The message of Christ is the message of a Savior who will “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). It is not the message of how good people can go to heaven; it is the message of how “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The Bible teaches us that all are guilty―all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
When someone truly understands his sin against his Creator, he acknowledge his guilt. The Bible is full of the following type of language:
“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3)
“God, You know my foolishness, and my guilty acts are not hidden from You.” (Psalm 69:5, HCSB)
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
Those who truly see Christ as Savior, see themselves as sinners. They identify themselves as the wretch that has been saved by amazing grace.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be preached without preaching about sin and guilt. The Apostle Peter ended his Pentecost sermon with the charge to “repent” of sin (Acts 2:38). The Apostle Paul summarized his message as “repentance toward God and…faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). The first step in repenting from sin is acknowledging sin. Before a man will come to Christ, he must see himself as a guilty sinner, in need of a mighty Savior.
The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are “words and names” which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner. (J.C. Ryle)
Due to poor theology, however, many people think that by preaching the truth about sin and urging people to trust in Christ alone for forgiveness, we are trying to make people “feel” guilty. However, we do not preach the Gospel to make people feel guilty. We preach the Gospel because people are guilty. They are guilty and they need a Savior. But we do not preach as those who have no guilt ourselves. For we know that we stand daily in need of God’s grace (1 Timothy 1:15b, 1 John 1-8-9). Rather, we preach Christ to our fellow sinners, as beggars telling fellow beggars where to find bread.
If you doubt the severity of mankind’s guilt, consider what it took to clear sinners of their guilt: the death of Christ. As Ryle so poignantly put it: “Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction.”