Do pastors need to preach the gospel to Christians? We all believe you must preach Christ’s work to unbelievers, but should you also preach it to born-again believers?
In his book Christ Alone, Rod Rosenbladt argues pastors must evangelize everyone:
Most evangelicals have no category for preaching Christ to a congregation of believers; their only category for preaching the Gospel is the evangelization of pagans. But important as the latter is, the former is no less important” (Rosenbladt, Christ Alone, p. 48).
Why is it important? Because believers are quick to forget what Christ has done for them—for you.
As you sin—and we all do—it can seem like those sins are larger than the cross and wider than God’s grace, leading to doubts about your salvation. Along those lines, Rosenbladt suggests that many Christians can have thoughts such as these:
Think of the inner soliloquy many Christians experience week by week. “There may have been grace for me when, as a sinner, I was initially converted. But now, having been given the Spirit of God, I fear that things have gotten worse in me rather than better. I have horribly abused all of God’s good gifts to me. I was so optimistic in the beginning, when the pastor told me that Christ outside of me, dying for me, freely saved me by his death, and that the Holy Spirit now dwelling within me would aid me in following Christ. I looked forward to it so much. But it has all gone badly…I have used grace and Christ’s shed blood as an excuse for doing things I probably wouldn’t even have done as a pagan. I have rededicated myself to Christ more times than I can count. But it seems to stay the same, or even get worse, no matter what I do…” (pp. 49-50).
And that can then lead to doubts about your salvation.
Although we typically blame the Puritans for this kind of introspective reasoning, Rosenbladt points the finger at Wesleyan revivalism:
One of the effects of Wesleyan revivalism in this country has been the common conviction that genuine conversion always shows itself in measurable moral progress (and correlatively, the lack of such progress is evidence that no true regeneration has taken place). So the still-sinning believer is led to believe that he is not now a believer at all. Luther recognized the deadliness of this sort of theology. He knew that any counsel that turns us back into ourselves for assurance is no assurance at all (p. 50).
If you believe in the “good news” of your own moral progress, prepare to be disappointed and anxious! Indeed, that is “another gospel”:
So the pastor’s calling is to present Christ alone against the false counsel of a man’s inner intuition and the false counsel of revivalism that he has taken as true (p. 51).
We live in a culture that emphasizes inwardness at the expense of objective facts. For example, the current debates over “What is a woman?” is symptomatic of the triumph of the subjective over the objective. But the struggle between the two has been occurring in religious circles for centuries. Given that people can succumb to the temptation of focusing on inwardness, pastors need to preach the objectivity of the cross:
That which saves us is not Christ’s work within us. What saves us is Christ’s objective dying, his objective blood shed on an objective cross. This sounds so simple, but it is the battle between the true Gospel (which is totally objective) and a false gospel of inwardness. When our introspections result in despair (and well they might, because we continue to sin), Christ’s objective and sufficient work must be re-presented to us by our pastors (p. 52).
What is the basis for your salvation? Not anything that has happened within you, but what Christ did in history, outside of you. Your inward feelings may be true, or they may be false. But what Christ did on the cross is true irrespective of how you feel about it. And that is good news we all need to hear.