Exploring Hope: Being gospel-centered

If you look at the beliefs section of the church I pastor in Garnet Valley, Hope Presbyterian, you’ll notice that we desire to be “gospel-centered.” Now, if you don’t know what the word gospel means, I encourage you to read the book of Romans in the New Testament and explore this link, which summarizes the gospel in clear language. I would also love to buy you coffee and meet up in a socially distanced way to talk about the gospel. 

Once you know what the gospel is, however, you face another question: What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered? Or to put it another way, how does attaching the adjective “gospel-centered” change a word's meaning? Well, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on what it means for my church—Hope Presbyterian—to be “gospel-centered.”

First, we strive to be gospel-centered in our theology. 

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, the Apostle Paul says that the gospel is about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also says that the gospel is “of first importance.” In other words, not everything in Christian theology is equally important; we need a cone of certainty where we can identify what is most important. And the gospel is most important because, as the Apostle Paul says, it’s the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16-17).

So, when we do theology at Hope Church, our goal is to follow the pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ, who—while walking through the Old Testament with two of his disciples—explained how everything is ultimately about him (Luke 24). And since Jesus himself is the good news of Christianity, we want Jesus at the center of everything we say and do. As the Apostle Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV). 

Second, we strive to be gospel-centered in our evangelism.

This flows out of what I was saying about a gospel-centered theology. If theology is about the good news of Jesus Christ, our call is to proclaim that good news to everyone. Yes, we seek to serve the poor. Yes, we work for justice in the world. But we don’t proclaim a social gospel about ending poverty forever in this life or a moral gospel about becoming the kind of people God will accept into heaven. Instead, we proclaim a gospel about the God who loved us enough to send Jesus Christ into the world to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and rise again from the dead. And anyone who repents of sin and trusts in him alone for salvation can experience forgiveness of sin and life forever with God. 

Third, we strive to be gospel-centered in our discipleship.

Sometimes, people act like the gospel is only something we need at the beginning of our Christian life. One says the sinner’s prayer, walks down an aisle, and is baptized. Then, he or she can move on in the Christian life to bigger and better things. But though the moral law is essential for believers, the gospel is God's power for salvation at the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life. In other words, non-Christians need to hear the gospel, repent, and believe. Likewise, lifelong Christians need to be reminded of the gospel every day so that they can grow in the grace of our Lord. 

Fourth, we strive to be gospel-centered in our preaching. 

After all, if non-Christians need the gospel to become Christians and Christians need the gospel to grow in their walk with the Lord, then we want to make sure that the gospel is clear in every sermon. Instead of focusing merely on politics or morality, we want to make sure that every sermon brings us back to our need for salvation (doctrine of sin) and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (doctrine of salvation). Anything less will leave the people of God empty and hungry on the Lord’s Day.

Fifth, we strive to be gospel-centered in our singing. 

Worship can be one of the most divisive topics in a church. There are so many debates about what songs are best and what should be sung in worship. But at Hope Church, rather than asking whether a song is new or old, we start with this question: “Is it gospel-centered?” Does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shine through? Do we see a clear proclamation of the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone? And as people sing this song throughout their lives, will it shape them to remember the heart of the gospel when they are in the nursing home or at the moment of death?

Finally, we strive to be gospel-centered in all of life. 

This means that we frequently reflect on how much we have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We remember, at the same time, how much God loves us and how Jesus opened a way for us to enter heaven through faith in Jesus (Acts 16:31). And so we stop rooting our own identity in our good works or moral performance. Instead, we joined the apostle Paul in saying: 

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)


About Will Stern

Originally from Colorado, Will Stern is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Garnet Valley. He majored in violin performance for his undergrad and taught violin for a number of years before being called into ministry. He studied theology at Duke University and Westminster Theological Seminary.

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