Preaching the Gospel to Yourself

Doubtless, this idea seems strange to many Christians today, yet it is the rage in some circles. Such ideas as going deeper into the Gospel and that the Gospel is the means of sanctification, all bundled up together with a half dozen other such statements can be found—not in some backward-thinking, offbeat fundamentalist weirdo church—but in the preaching and writings of a number of big guns as well!

It seems as if one writer is attempting to outdo the next in getting in his licks on the subject, even though it is a denial of the Reformation doctrines of Justification by grace through faith and sanctification by the work of the Spirit in obedient cooperation of the believer with him in accordance to the commands of the Word of God.  Philippians 2:13 (God gives “both the desire and the ability to do those things that please Him”) seems to have disappeared from their Bibles. Instead of a cooperative work brought about and sustained by the Spirit, it is an act where one immerses himself into the Gospel. When asked about the matter of biblical obedience, we are told such things as “Oh,  it’s hard work getting into the Gospel more deeply.” Such “hard work” replaces biblical obedience to Scriptural commands.

There is a kind of Monkish mysticism in this idea. Think of all that Jesus did for you on the cross—over and over (“Preach the Gospel to yourself every day”)– and somehow or other you will be sanctified thereby. Sanctification no longer is a matter of becoming more and more like Christ by putting off sinful ways and replacing them with biblical ones. Though most mysticism is difficult to articulate, it seems that what is being said is that Gospel immersion automatically makes you a better Christian without learning and doing what God commands by His Spirit’s wisdom and power. No wonder members of formerly doctrinally sound congregations are becoming confused! Such efforts to get one’s self more into the Gospel every day, when it doesn’t work, and when it becomes impossible to articulate, can do nothing but discourage believers who want to become more like Christ. The sad part is that it is these sincere people, who know no better, who get caught up  in the movement, only to be disappointed again and again—blaming themselves when it turns out that their lives don’t improve as was promised.

3 thoughts on “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself

  1. Mike, when pressed, the proponents of this type of thinking might not endorse it, but they imply it all the time. Here is an example from the twitter feed of Ray Ortlund:

    “Sanctification is the art of getting used to unconditional justification.”

    or from the “Whitehorse Inn” podcast:

    “Every time we desire more practical (i.e. topical) preaching from the pulpit, we are essentially asking for more LAW…tell me what to do, rather than what has been done – GOSPEL!”

    To neglect anything of the Gospel is to damage it. Belief, repentance, obedience.

  2. Jay, I have at least twelve of your books on my shelf that I have read and highlighted and there is little in those books that I would disagree with. So it is surprising that I find myself on the other side of the fence with you on this particular article, but I do.

    It is my estimation that you have created a dichotomy that does not exist. In the books and articles that I have read by those encouraging believers to “preach the gospel to themselves”, I have not seen a call to ponder the gospel to the exclusion of obedience to the word, serving others, or seeking to be more holy. Actually they speak just the opposite – all of those things naturally flow out the the truth of the gospel and find their motivation in the gospel. The more I am keenly aware of man’s lost condition by pondering daily the gospel ,the more I will be aware of my need to evangelize. The more I am aware that the power of sin has been broken and what an offense my sin is to God by pondering the gospel, the more I desire to fight for purity and holiness.

    I would understand your position if they communicated that pondering on the gospel and being happy about what God has done for me is the end all in faith, but I have not seen that side communicated when they encourage believers to “preach the gospel.”

    Jay, thank you for all you have done in training others to walk in obedience to God’s word.


  3. Thanks Jay.
    It is good to see somebody else noticing this pattern. I recently heard a well-known bible teacher state that the reason Christians are struggling with leaving their sinful habits behind is because we are not preaching enough on the atonement and justification. What happened to preaching on the necessity/obligation of sanctification!? It seems the problem lies in the fact that too many see such sanctification as exclusively the work of the Spirit and only as the result of a person’s continued trust in the work of Christ. The days of “cutting off hand and gouging out eye” seem far in the past. May God bring a revival in this area without losing sight of Christ’s work which makes it all possible.