The Powerful, Spiritual, and Confident Preaching of the Gospel

Dr. Brian Allison

Have you ever heard preaching that lifts up your soul and transports it into the very presence of God? I remember a few messages which have been spiritually overwhelming and captivating. I was overcome with a sense of the glory and wonder of God. Listening to God-inspired, Christ-exalting preaching can be the most exhilarating experience this side of glory. Preaching the Gospel should be an extraordinary event. True preaching is a heavenly transaction. We read in 1 Thessalonian 1:5, "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake."

The theme of this verse is simply the nature of true Gospel preaching. In a very real sense, this verse speaks to all Christians, not just pastors, for we are all called to preach the Gospel. We could also say that the theme of this verse is the nature of true Gospel witnessing. When you rub shoulders with that unbelieving colleague or that unbelieving neighbour, that is an opportunity for preaching or witnessing the Gospel. Notice that the emphasis in this text is on the presentation of the Gospel, rather than on the reception of it; though, of course, the manner of reception is an indicator and measure of the fact and quality of the presentation. In this verse, we are given the threefold aspects of the presentation of the Gospel. The apostle declares that the Gospel came, first, as a powerful Gospel; second, as a spiritual Gospel; and third, as a confident Gospel. The Gospel saves; and it saves because of these characteristics.

The preaching of the Gospel is a divine event

The preaching of the Gospel consists of more than the mere conveyance of words – "Our gospel did not come in word only." Preaching the Word involves more than mere oratory or rhetoric; more than clever or eloquent speech. There are many who wax very eloquently as they expound on various topics of interest or concern. There are others who have strong philosophical minds, and are able to masterfully articulate the intricacies and complexities of different Biblical concepts. But you can come away from hearing such people being impressed with the person, but not changed by the message.

The true communication of the message of the Gospel is more than a human activity; it is a divine one. It is a supernatural event; and so, we may talk of the 'mystery' of preaching or witnessing. In other words, Biblical preaching is not only human speaking, but it is also divine speaking. In preaching, God makes Himself known in a very real way. This fact is captured in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25, "If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues [a foreign language], and ungifted men [those not evidencing the extraordinary spiritual gifts] or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad [that you are crazy, out of your minds]? But if all prophesy [or preach], and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all [especially by those who are preaching], he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." That is the mystery and the glory of preaching – God is pleased to speak and make Himself known in, and through, human speaking. I remember sitting in a chapel service at a seminary, listening to a pastor preach for about 25 minutes. When he finished and stepped down from the pulpit, there was an unusual silence in that room. No one stirred, no one moved. Everyone who sat in that chapel apparently had been confronted with God. Have you ever had an experience like that?

Many today see formal preaching as somewhat passé. There are many who believe that we ought to have new creative forms of worship, that we need to be contemporary in our presentation of the Gospel. We live in the age of T.V., spectacular special effects, high-power entertainment. People have become conditioned to think in images and impressions. And we are implicitly expected to incorporate such a philosophy and methodology into our worship services, if we are to keep the people interested, and encourage them to come out to the services. Many contend that people do not want to listen to formal preaching any more. Apparently, preaching has become irrelevant and archaic. Even pastors have lost confidence in preaching. As John Stott has correctly observed, "The contemporary loss of confidence in the gospel is the most basic of all hindrances to preaching...Some [pastors] frankly confess that they see their function as sharing their doubts with their congregation...The whole Church seems to be caught in a crisis of identity, in which it is unsure of itself and confused about its message and mission" (Between Two Worlds, pp. 83-85).

Various activities are being substituted for preaching. There is an emphasis on drama and the arts now. Church services are now geared to please and entertain the contemporary person. Yet, as the Scriptures teach, "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). Is drama or the arts bad? No, there is a place for such expressions; but we must maintain the primacy of preaching. What is your view of preaching? Do you think it is outdated? Do you think it has become obsolete? It is God-inspired preaching that saves, not the human-inspired arts.

The preaching of the Gospel is a powerful event

The Gospel should be preached in a certain way. As our text states, preaching should first be "in power," as opposed to preaching in a weak, ineffective, and unmoving way. True Gospel preaching or witnessing should make an impact; one should be challenged. By truth coming to the heart, one is confronted with the living God. There is the realization that one is dealing with more than a mere man or woman who is saying 'nice things'. Such preaching does not 'tickle the ears', but rather demands a response because it addresses the heart, as well as the head. In Acts 6:8-10 we have part of the account of Stephen – "And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cicilia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen [who was full of grace and power]. And yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking." This is an example of what it means to preach 'in power'. When you preach in power the mind is sharp, the thoughts are clear, the arguments are cogent, the words are precise; and the result is that the hearer's heart is confronted, captivated, and challenged. Recently, I attended a seminary graduation service. The speaker preached in power, and he neither yelled nor screamed (you do not have to yell and scream in order to speak in power, though we would not discredit nor criticize those who are loud and demonstrable). I sat somewhat amazed as the words rolled off his lips and flowed out of his heart. The message was unified, organized, cogent, and convincing.

Powerful preaching or witnessing, of course, requires the enablement of the Spirit. It is the Spirit Who is the source of this kind of preaching. The Spirit must give clarity of mind and direction of heart. When we preach, we are wholly dependent upon the Spirit's operation in our minds to give us focus, understanding, and depth; to help us discern what is transpiring in the lives of the hearers, as well as what is transpiring in one's own heart. Because we are wholly dependent upon the Spirit for power, we need to pray much. Recall the language in Acts 1:8; Jesus says, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." Now, Jesus was speaking directly to His disciples, but that promise, in a practical sense, is for us too. These early disciples received power to preach or witness. Thus, we read, "And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). God forbid that we should witness to His name, that we should dare open our mouths to preach the Gospel, without His power. The words will come from a hard heart, and will fall on deaf ears. We desperately need the enablement of the Spirit in order to preach effectively, which naturally leads to the second characteristic of the true preaching of the Gospel.

The preaching of the Gospel is a spiritual event

Our preaching should be Spirit-driven and Spirit-controlled – "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." As mentioned, there is a close and necessary connection between power and the Holy Spirit. We read, for instance, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit...For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed. In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Rm. 15:13,18f.). The display of power requires the presence of the Spirit. He bestirs the preacher's or witness' heart. He guides the mind. He brings things to remembrance. He fills with passion and energy. Further, the Spirit also works in the hearts of the hearers so that they will be attentive, so that they will understand. He must give the ability to receive light, to receive insight, to be moved with joy, to exclaim, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord! What a God; what a Gospel!" It is the Spirit Who does all this, and much more, and usually we are unaware of how the Spirit actually works in the preacher or witness, and in the hearer.

So, biblical preaching is spiritual preaching; the Spirit must be present and active in power. 1 Corinthians 2:4f. reads, "And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." I have often said to our worship team that it is amazing how things come together for a service. As I sit in my study preparing the message, I do not know what songs the worship team is preparing, but repeatedly there is a wonderful coordination and harmonization – the theme of the message corresponds to the theme of the chosen songs. This is the work of the Spirit.

Recently, James [an pastoral intern] was preaching in our evening service. Prior to his rising to preach, I gave a pastoral prayer. In my heart, I prayed, "Lord, send James light, and when you send him the light, give him the grace to follow the light;" but I did not verbalize it while I audibly prayed. I thought that such a request would affect him. Interestingly, while he was preaching, he made the point that sometimes it is good that we do not know some things before hand, because it might negatively affect us. After that service, I was talking to him, and he said, "While I was preaching new thoughts came to me – thoughts which I had not considered in my preparation." My heart leaped for joy. The Spirit had put a thought in my heart to pray because He was preparing to work in accordance with, and in response to, that prayer.

No one can manufacture spiritual preaching or witnessing. I have heard different evangelists say, "If I wanted to, I could produce an emotional response and get people to come to the front of the church at the invitation call." But no one can manufacture heart change. The Spirit must do that; and when the Spirit is present, you will know it. And you will have no need for anyone to tell you.

The preaching of the Gospel is a confident event

The third characteristic of true Gospel preaching or witnessing is "full conviction." The original Greek may be rendered: "in much full assurance." He or she who truly preaches or witnesses does so with deep assurance; and there are a number of reasons why this is so. First, deep assurance results when one realizes that he or she is dealing with the truth. The Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are dealing with the unassailable Word of God; and thus there will be no place for fear. Second, deep assurance results when one realizes that God will accomplish His purposes. He is sovereign. We never know what God will do in people's hearts, but we do know that He will do what He has ordained; and that is our confidence. Third, deep assurance results when one realizes that God, Who has called one to preach, equips one to preach.

The apostle Paul himself preached with full conviction. He states, "For 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" (Rm. 1:16). Many Christians tend to be ashamed of the Gospel. Were you ashamed of the Gospel this past week when you had the opportunity to witness? Were you embarrassed to speak to a family member, a neighbour, or a fellow-employee? There is a tendency to be ashamed of the Gospel for at least two basic reasons: 1) the negative reaction or opposition that you may experience; 2) the poor results that you may experience. Recall the language in 2 Timothy 1:8, as Paul endeavoured to minister to Timothy who apparently was overcome with fear. Paul reminded Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but rather of power, love, and a sound mind. He further exhorted, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God." My friend, are you ashamed of the Gospel?

You can only preach with full assurance if, first, you have really experienced the truth of that which you are preaching. To experience the truth results in transformation. Second, you can only preach with full assurance if the Spirit is actually present and active because it is the Spirit Who gives power. If the Spirit is not present, then you will be confused, you will fear, you will stumble. I went to an ordination service awhile ago; and as the candidate was presenting his statement (which, in effect, was witnessing the Gospel), he fainted midway through. He was overcome with anxiety and fear. When the Spirit is not present, you will fear people; you will be anxious about the situation; and thus you will be ensnared. Ephesians 6:19f. reads, "And pray on my behalf [even the great apostle Paul solicited prayer], that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." 'Boldness' is just another way of talking about 'full conviction'. Accordingly, to preach with such boldness or deep assurance demands that we pray. Acts 4:31 reads, "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness."

The preaching of the Gospel requires holiness

Having given the three characteristics of true preaching or witnessing, the apostle Paul states what may appear to be initially somewhat puzzling, but there is a vital connection. He states, "Just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." Do you see the point? It was clear that Paul and his companions had been called and used by God to preach, not simply because of how they preached, but because of how they lived. The proper context for powerful, spiritual, confident preaching is a holy and blameless life; not a perfect life. It is such a life that provides the impetus and fuel for effective preaching. Credibility and authenticity are not determined as much by one's skill in preaching as by the quality of life of the one preaching. We must self-consciously live what we preach. We must not be guilty of hypocrisy.

It is your lifestyle that confirms the Gospel message. It is your conduct and behaviour which adorn and enhance the Gospel presentation; and thus makes it effectual. How is your life? The Thessalonian believers could apparently bear witness to the commendable lifestyle of Paul and his companions. These believers could not point the finger in blame. And Paul and his companions lived in such a commendable way "for [their] sake." We are to live holy and godly lives with a view toward the good and benefit of our hearers; so that when we preach, they will not be confronted with a contradiction or disparity between our message and our manner. You do not deserve a hearing for your preaching if you are not living what you are preaching. How is your life? 2 Corinthians 4:1f. reads, "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." We further read in 2 Corinthians 6:3f., "Giving no cause for offence in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God." Preachers and witnesses are to live their lives, not only in the presence of God, but before the consciences of people. Would the consciences of people condemn you because of your lifestyle? Is your life holy and blameless, as God gives you grace? There is nothing more glorious, more fulfilling, more satisfying than to preach the Gospel, to set forth the truth of God; and thereby, by His grace, to bring God into the lives of people. I trust that is your desire, as well as your hope and joy. What an awesome privilege to bring God to the hearts and lives of people!