Evangelistic Expository Preaching


Much has been written on evangelistic preaching. And much has been written on expositional preaching. Often, though, we tend to think of the two as mutually exclusive, rather than as normally inseparable. We think that the converted need Bible teaching and the unconverted need evangelistic addresses. 

This article intends to question that conclusion. Instead, I want to suggest another way that we should think of our obligations in preaching to both Christians and non-Christians. We will proceed with the conviction that the converted and the unconverted need preaching in which the fullness of God’s Word is exposed and the atoning work of Christ explored. 

That a Christian sermon should both expound God’s Word and declare his good news is not surprising. In fact, just in writing that sentence (without using the normal words expositional and evangelistic) it seems absurd to think otherwise. 

But many do. Perhaps we ourselves sometimes wonder how we can be better expositors, but we never consider our presentation of the gospel in our sermons. Or perhaps we want to be better evangelists, but we cannot see how that has anything to do with our preaching. It is the goal of this article to make plain how those two concerns are vitally connected. 

A Biblical Pattern 

The gospel is the story of the Bible. If we are committed to preaching the Bible, we will find ourselves preaching the gospel. Graeme Goldsworthy puts it forcefully: “All preaching, to be true to the biblical perspective, must in some sense be gospel preaching. . . Expository, biblical preaching is always an exposition of the gospel and its implications.”[1]

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s Word is the fount and the focus of proclamation. In the New Testament, the fulfillment of his promises in Christ is at the center of the teaching. 

The Lord Jesus’s ministry centered on teaching the truth about his own identity and mission. In Mark 2, we see Jesus appropriating scriptural themes from the Old Testament, explaining that their true meaning was found in their pointing to him. So he presents himself as the bridegroom come for his bride, as the Son of Man, as the Lord of the Sabbath. All of these titles were connected closely with God himself in the Old Testament. Now, Jesus announced that they were fulfilled in him. 

Throughout the New Testament, we find a close connection between exposing the meaning of Scripture and pointing to God’s good news in Christ. In Luke 24, the risen Christ does an extraordinary Bible study with two of his disciples. We read in Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” A little later in the same chapter, Christ came to be with “the eleven and those with them” (24:33) and said, 

This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:44–47). 

The evangelistic sermons those disciples preached, recorded in the book of Acts, follow this same pattern—they arise from the text and they point to Christ. So Peter at Pentecost begins by quoting a passage from the prophet Joel and explaining it and current events in its light. Then he presses home the news about Jesus from various psalms. 

Again in Acts 3, when Peter is presented with a crowd aware of a miraculous healing, he turns to the Lord’s prediction through Moses in Deuteronomy 18 about God’s raising up “a prophet like me” and announces that Jesus is that prophet. Peter then begins to make clear what their response to this should be. Throughout the Book of Acts this is the pattern we find: 

As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ, he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women (17:2–4). 

Certainly, not every evangelistic address must be a straightforward exposition of one passage of Scripture. In Acts 17, in Athens, the center of Greek learning, Paul is drawn into a dispute with “a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.” Ten verses (17:22–31) record Paul’s words—none of which cite any Old Testament passages—to the meeting of the Areopagus. 

Today, ministers of the gospel may have similar opportunities in series of evangelistic or apologetic talks outside the regular assembly of a Christian church, for example, on college campuses or in other meetings expressly for this purpose. We can certainly proclaim the gospel of Christ outside our regular expositional ministry. 

Our regular preaching of God’s Word, however, should never fail to point to Christ. Whether we preach from the New Testament or the Old, the apostolic pattern is to declare God’s Word to God’s people, always pointing to the fulfillment of his promises in Christ. 

This pattern is continued in the letters of the New Testament, a treasury of inspired Christian homilies. In his letters to the Galatian Christians and the Christians in Rome, Paul reasoned closely about the gospel from the Old Testament. His text of choice was often Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” From this passage, in Galatians 3 and Romans 4, Paul carefully reasoned and passionately declared the hope that we have in Christ. With believing eyes, the writer to the Hebrews leads us through the Old Testament stories and the practices of the temple. He does this with great care, and all to show us Christ. 

The biblical pattern is for a Christian preacher to proclaim and explain God’s Word to God’s people. And the heart of that Word is always Christ. So today, too, we need preaching that is both expositional and evangelistic. Let’s consider those each briefly in turn. 

The Need for All of God’s Word: Expositional Preaching 

Expositional preaching is all about giving God’s people God’s Word. It is preaching in which the point of the biblical passage is the point of the preacher’s message. This is what it means to preach expositionally—to expose God’s Word. 

Christians are obviously to be fed with God’s Word. As our Lord said to the tempter: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). Even in his answer, Jesus demonstrated his utter dependence upon God’s Word. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, where the Lord, through Moses, instructed his people at the end of their wilderness wanderings that his most important provision for them was not manna, but his Word. 

Non-Christians too, though, need God’s Word. Those who do not yet believe the gospel need to be told of their hopelessness apart from Christ. They need to have God’s Word presented to them; they need God’s Spirit to convict them of their own sin and desperation. Being so liable to God’s judgment, they need to hear of God’s grace. 

All this can happen through expositional preaching. Through such biblically faithful sermons, non-Christians can have Satan’s lies exposed, God’s truth revealed, their own hearts searched, and Christ’s grace magnified to them. 

In our day, we see evangelism as something usually brief and urgent, whereas the edification of believers is to be patiently and carefully done. In truth, real evangelism often needs to be every bit as patiently pursued and every bit as carefully done. It may be that the believers in your church need to be taught the truths in Genesis in order to understand more fully that the one who made them is holy, that this holy God is sovereign, or that they are to respond in repentance and faith to the mercies of God. But surely our non-Christian friends need this no less. 

How often has God used the patient exposition of Genesis 1–3 or Mark’s Gospel or the early chapters of Romans to lead someone to himself? Non-Christians around us have been steeped in sin and Satan’s deception for a lifetime; are we surprised if God normally takes longer than a couple of minutes to undermine Satan’s lies and bring the sinner under conviction as he lays out his creation intent for marriage and sexuality, for work and supreme allegiance to him, for repentance and faith? We have all joined in Adam’s rebellion heartily (not reluctantly) and completely (not partially). We may need to be made thoroughly aware of the responsibilities to our Creator that we have ignored and even denied. 

Through expositional preaching, non-Christians need to be instructed in the truth and taught how God views his world—including them. They need to be challenged to rethink their priorities, their work, their family, and most of all their own lives. They need to be rediagnosed by God’s Word. Both Christians and non-Christians need to hear God’s Word expounded. 

The Need for the Good News: Evangelistic Preaching 

The need for evangelistic preaching is obvious, too. The Apostle Paul’s riveting argument in Romans 10 is founded on the notion that “faith comes from hearing the message” (10:17). Those who have not yet heard the gospel of Jesus Christ need to do so. This is straightforward. There are, however, some important matters to consider about evangelistic preaching that are not so straightforward. 

What Is an Evangelistic Sermon? 

For one thing, some people have a mistaken notion of what constitutes an evangelistic address. Some think that evangelistic sermons must be histrionic. Others assume quite the opposite—that, in fact, your whole goal in commending the gospel to your visitor determines that the evangelistic sermon must be seeker sensitive. Still others think that any good evangelistic message will be packed with the latest apologetic arguments. But evangelistic preaching is not married to any certain style. Others feel that evangelistic sermons must be preached in the setting of a week-long mission, a revival, or a Sunday evening (as the tradition was in many evangelical churches in Britain in the twentieth century). But surely the setting does not determine what is truly an evangelistic sermon. 

Still others feel that any sermon that is met with conversions must be an evangelistic sermon. And conversely, they may suggest, any that is not cannot have been truly evangelistic. But surely the results do not adequately evaluate whether we have been faithful. And still others may feel that if they intend a message to be evangelistic, then it must have been so. But, of course, messages are not truly evangelistic merely because the preacher’s motive was that the sermons should be. Our intentions are not always realized in our sermons. 

Whether a sermon is truly evangelistic is determined not by our motives or the results afterward or by the setting or the style, the time or the place. One thing and one thing alone determines whether a sermon can properly be said to be evangelistic, and that is its content. Is the evangel—the good news—present? Even better, is it presented forcefully and with heart to sinners in need? This question of content is above all the question that determines whether a sermon is truly evangelistic. 

Who Needs to Hear Evangelistic Sermons? 

Another matter that confuses us in our evangelistic efforts is that it is not always obvious who the non-Christians are. Sometimes it is not obvious to them. Perhaps one person is fairly moral, even religious. Perhaps they are even a member of the church. The great Puritan preacher William Perkins said that generally churches have “both believers and unbelievers. This is the typical situation in our congregations.”[2] Such unregenerate members may never see themselves as needing to hear the gospel declared and explained, and yet they may exist for years in the soundest of churches unconvicted of their sins and unconverted in their souls. 

This confusion is compounded when even preachers of the Word do not realize the people’s state. While those who are called to preach God’s Word to God’s people should be gifted with above average discernment, no pastor can look into the human heart as the Lord Jesus does. There may be those among the apparently committed in a congregation who are actually self-righteous or, as the Puritans used to name them, “gospel hypocrites.” 

The famous example in Puritan literature was created by John Bunyan in a character called “Mr. Badman.” Bunyan’s fictitious hypocrite lived an apparently virtuous life, knowing some involvement with his church, and he even died with a clear conscience! As Bunyan said at the end of the first part of Pilgrim’s Progress, “I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction!” Preachers need to be confident of this and so realize that the gospel is always in need of being proclaimed. 

Sound evangelistic preaching, however, is also helpful for Christians. Whose heart has yet fully appreciated the goodness of God to us in providing for our salvation in Christ? Who of those hearing the next sermon you preach has fully comprehended God’s love for us in Christ? Whose gratitude is as full as it can be? Whose hope as sharp? Whose faith as strong? All of this can happen by searching presentations of the gospel through preaching that exposes God’s Word. Passages that explore God’s holiness, contemplate his rights, consider our purpose, trace out our sin, meditate on Christ, delineate various aspects of his work, tease out the nature of faith, or expose false repentance—all of these can be the subject of sermons that, by exposing God’s people to God’s Word, not only hold out the gospel to those who never heard it, but build up those who have. 

Expositional preaching should be, by its very nature, evangelistic and edifying. John Piper defines preaching itself simply as “the heralding of the good news by a messenger sent by God.”[3] Good evangelistic preaching should always edify God’s people merely by carefully holding out God’s gospel. 

Such evangelistic preaching is important for Christians to hear because it helps us to better understand the gospel we claim to believe. And along with our head’s understanding, our heart’s appreciation grows and deepens. What believer would not profit from having a clearer grasp of God’s holiness, his coming judgment, human purpose, our sin, Christ’s person and work, or the required response of repentance and faith? 

What results from such a growing gospel understanding among Christians? There are several results, but let me name just three. 

First, a growing gospel understanding among Christians leads us to praise. God desires that we praise him. His Word is full of encouragements for us and even exhortations to us to praise him (Deut. 8:10; Ps. 33; Isa. 12:4; Acts 15:14; Rom. 9:17; 1 Pet. 2:9). Eternity will not be long enough for us to adequately thank God or to explore the fullness of the reasons we should praise him. Proclaiming his gospel displays his character to us at its most gracious and loving point. As Samuel Crossman’s beautiful hymn declares: 

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be. 

Crossman goes on to detail ways in which God loved us, none more poignant than this observation: 

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heaven was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay. 

A growing understanding of our Savior’s love for us causes us to praise God. 

Another result of such gospel-oriented evangelistic preaching in the lives of Christian hearers should be an increasing integration of biblical knowledge with their everyday lives. As the gospel is explored and explained, as implications are drawn out and false conclusions confuted, the gospel becomes more woven into the warp and woof of our lives. It forms the filter through which we understand the world. It acts as a protection from sin and a guide to holiness. 

A healthy appreciation for God’s holiness causes us to grow in our respect for God and in our esteem for his abilities. We may defend the inerrancy of his Word not based upon a high conception of the human authors, but rather based upon a high conception of God and of his ability to create creatures who can understand what he reveals. 

A growing understanding of our having been made in God’s image may help us to understand how good can be produced by non-Christian artists or novelists or business owners or scientists, or how non-Christians can have good marriages and good homes. We are not baffled by that. We understand that we are made in the image of God. 

Increased appreciation for the gospel may result in a deepened grasp of the offensiveness of sin to God and therefore in our living more holy lives. We could proceed through every head of theology as it flows from the gospel and consider how a greater understanding of each one of these causes the gospel to stand in more immediate connection with every thought we have during the day and with every aspect of our lives. 

If this is the case, then a third result of such expositional preaching that faithfully points to the gospel is that our own personal evangelism should become more pervasive and more natural in our lives. If we clearly see the connection between the gospel and the worldview espoused in this movie or that editorial, this decision your child makes or that ethical dilemma your friend at work faces, then the gospel comes much more naturally into our conversations. 

Instead of abruptly changing topics with a non-Christian friend, such equipped Christians can see how the gospel is the topic at the root of the matter being discussed. Certainly one could caricature such readiness with the gospel in conversation, but a congregation wellinstructed in the gospel and its implications in our daily lives should be a congregation that evangelizes much more naturally and therefore regularly. 

For all these reasons, and more, it is both biblically right and practically helpful for pastors regularly to preach expositional sermons evangelistically to their own congregations. Both Christians and non-Christians need to hear the gospel preached. 

How to Preach Expositional Sermons Evangelistically 

The question people may ask is, How can a sermon be both faithfully evangelistic and faithfully expositional? Perhaps the questioner would understand how that can be the case with certain passages as the text, but can every text of Scripture be expounded with the expectation that the gospel will be central to that exposition? It is the conviction of this author that the answer to that question is a definite yes! 

Little has been written on preaching that is both evangelistic and expositional, but surely it is in the nature of good biblical preaching to be both. Expositional preaching can be the best evangelistic preaching. Who can have heard or read the preaching of James Montgomery Boice through the early chapters of Genesis or Romans or of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Ephesians 2 and not agree with that sentiment? 

Though the argument is not made in this article that exposition and evangelism are synonymous—nor even quite inseparable—it should be clear that they are normally deeply related and that great benefit should flow to the hearers when the message has both exposition and the gospel carefully integrated. 

How precisely can we preach such biblical, evangelistic sermons? That is the topic of the remainder of this article. But before we turn to such practical matters that may help us to do this, we must first check our own understanding of what the message of the Bible is. 

As those who handle the Word of God publicly, preachers and teachers must understand that the whole Bible is gospel-shaped. The stories in Genesis and Exodus, the wisdom of the Psalms, the warnings and prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the parables of Jesus, and the letters of Paul—all are gospel-shaped. They contain and convey the great themes of who God is, why he made us, how we failed, what God did in Christ, and the repentance and faith we are now called to in light of all this. In our preaching, we should not merely insert a gospel outline in an otherwise moralistic message from the Old Testament; rather, we need to understand how God’s law drives us to God’s gospel. And we need to do that in the teaching of every passage of Scripture. 

With that understanding of the Bible in place, expositional sermons much more naturally become conduits for the gospel. Making sure we have that understanding is the first practical step we can make to bring our expositions and our evangelism together. 

Assuming this gospel-shaped understanding of the Bible, there are a number of particular ways our own expositional preaching ministry can be more faithfully evangelistic. 


The main weekly Lord’s Day gathering of a church is primarily for Christians, not non-Christians. Therefore we should deliberately set about to plan the service—including our preaching—with our primary end as the glorification of God through the edification of his church. Certainly evangelism can be a part of that—as I argue above—but it is never the main point. Our expositional sermons are preached to feed the flock entrusted to our care. 

Of course, when you preach well expositionally, you necessarily preach evangelistically. This is why we so often find the ministries of great expositional preachers so blessed evangelistically. God honors the preaching of his Word. We realize that our Sunday morning congregations are not stationary Billy Graham rallies. They are not audiences to be lured and kept, but congregations to be shepherded and fed. And yet, as we preach God’s Word faithfully, hypocrites will find the new birth. And non-Christians will see the change in their family and friends, and they, too, will, by God’s grace, inevitably come. 

Therefore it is appropriate for us to take into account the presence of non-Christians in our services. Our services can be properly sensitive and friendly to non-Christians without calibrating everything to the level of a first-time visitor. When we gather as a church, we gather as a family in need of sustenance. Part of what we do during that time will be quite naturally to pray for and preach to those who are not yet Christians. And in doing that we should use language they can understand. 

We should remind people occasionally why we do what we do in the service. We should preach from a translation that people can understand. We may even explain from time to time what chapter and verse numbers are and other things that those of us who have been Christians for years take for granted. But no believer is ever hurt by having the truth explained to them briefly and simply, even as no unbeliever is hurt by having Scripture preached powerfully on points they do not fully understand. When the church all around is helped, they too will be helped. 


Even sermon titles can be provocative for drawing people to consider their lives and to consider coming to hear the sermon. Coaxing interest need not compromise content. You could entitle a series in Exodus “A New Start.” You could give the following names to a series through 1 John called “Basic Questions”: 

“What Do I Do with Sin?” (1 John 1:1–2:2)
“How Can I Know That I Have Eternal Life?” (1 John 2:3–27)
“What Is True Love?” (1 John 2:28–3:24)
“How Can I Face Judgment?” (1 John 4)
“What Is Faith?” (1 John 5) 

Such titles are both faithful to the content of the texts to be expounded and, at the same time, help to call attention to the relevance of the content for those who are not yet Christians. They should naturally be of interest to non-Christians and Christians alike. Just because your non-Christian friend is not interested in a series of sermons advertised as being “on 1 John” does not mean he or she would not be interested in hearing sermons addressing the matters John addressed in those letters. That is what the titles listed above are intended to do—to expose the content of the text and to suggest something of the way it might intersect with their lives. 

Even the events of our lives conspire to create interest in God’s Word. Titles can reflect such interest. Times of cultural interest in Christianity provided by crises (like the events of September 11, 2001), unusual events (like the new millennium), or regular seasons (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter) can be well used for gospel ends. With a little thought, relevant and even provocative titles can be provided for advertisements. 


Our sermon introductions, too, can evidence the evangelistic intent that we have in expounding God’s Word. We can begin our sermons expectantly, but not wrongly presuming the interest of those gathered. Certainly the faithful members of the congregation should be interested, but they are not always. Some will be distracted, others hardened, others uninformed, and still others weary. All of these will be helped if they are first told why they should listen to the sermon before they are actually made to do it. Reminding ourselves of why and how the doctrinal center of our text is important is a useful exercise in an introduction. 

And if introductions are so useful for our Christian hearers, they are certainly no less so for our non-Christian hearers. Introductions that highlight and seek to demonstrate the relevance, to carefully delineate the difficult points, to admit uncertainties on a popular topic, all serve to encourage hearers to give their careful attention to the sermon. 

Doctrinal Exposition 

Good evangelistic expositions should clearly explain the gospel itself to people. While the whole Bible—and every text in it—is gospel-shaped, it is still useful to have some time in a sermon where the good news itself is clearly and simply stated. Paul did this at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15. We, too, can follow this practice. Consider having some simple explanation, like this one: 

This holy Creator made us for himself. We have sinned and separated ourselves from him. But we will give an account to him. We may ignore him for a time; we will never avoid him forever. At that accounting, he will rightly judge us for our sins. His mercy that we’ve enjoyed to that time will end; his justice will begin. Our only hope is in what he has done in Christ. God became a man, lived a perfect life, and took on himself all the sins of all those who would ever turn from their sins and trust in him. In his death on the cross he bore the sins of all his people. Christ the plaintiff became the punished for us, the guilty people. He became our substitute. And he calls us now to recognize in his resurrection God’s acceptance of this sacrifice, that his justice toward those in Christ is exhausted, and to repent of our sins and trust in Christ and so find forgiveness and new life. 

Evangelistic expository sermons should include some simple statement like this, perhaps explaining one or more of these ideas at length, depending on the topic of the text being expounded. A clear summary can add luster to all the other aspects of the gospel brought out in the text. Like the rays of a beautiful sunset, they can go back over the territory covered in the sermon, causing us to review it all in the fresh, warm brilliance of God’s self-giving and saving love for us in Christ. When we do this, we hold forth the good news. 

When we hold forth the good news in our preaching, we should particularly beware of presenting this gospel as an option to be exercised for the betterment of sinners’ lives. After all, what would a carnal person consider better? Leading questions like “Are you scared of death?” or “Do you want happiness?” or “Would you like to know the meaning of your life?” are all well intentioned, and any of them may be used by God’s Spirit to convict someone and to lead to their conversion. But such questions may also be answered by a simple no. To use such questions as if they are the starting point for those considering the gospel is to make it sound all too optional. 

To speak personally for a moment, when I am in a situation in which I am called upon to preach, as Baxter said, “as a dying man to dying men,” I do not care if my hearers are scared of death, wanting happiness, or searching for meaning in life; I know that they will die and stand before God to give an account of their lives. Furthermore, I know that they will fail in their attempt to justify themselves, and I know that God will therefore rightly condemn them to an eternal hell. 

As one who shares their common weakness and depravity, my sympathy with them compels me to tell them the truth, and that is not dependent upon their passing interest or my ability to find the right marketing introduction to snag them. They are in fact accountable to God. He is their Creator, and he will just as certainly be their judge. 

So I find verses like Mark 8:38 useful, where Jesus taught, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Or Paul’s statement in Acts 17:31: God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Or again, Romans 3:19–20: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Or Hebrews 9:27: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” 

These verses underscore the inevitability of God’s judging us, regardless of our interest in God at any given point in our lives. This demand—rather than a marketer’s appeal—is to be the basis of the evangelistic call in our sermons. Our gospel sermons are not to sound like the solicitations of a sales representative, but the summons of a judge. 


Good evangelistic illustrations can fall short of containing the whole gospel in them. Existentialist literature well captures some of the emptiness and pointlessness of life without God. Popular novels, films, editorials, and political situations can expose hypocrisy, greed, shattered illusions, responsibility, and so many other themes nearly related to the gospel. Use of such material can help our non-Christian listener to consider what we are saying, just as the Greeks listened to Paul in Acts 17 as he quoted their own inscriptions and poets. We all tend to listen better to someone when we think they understand where we are coming from. Our non-Christian friends are no different in this. 

One particularly appropriate kind of illustration of biblical truth is the personal testimony. Certainly a testimony of “what Jesus has done for me” may not include a clear presentation of the gospel; but just as certainly it may, and it will if we have that in view. Include in your sermons examples of gospel truths being brought home in people’s lives—whether at conversion or some later point. The vividness of such illustration can help a salient point to live on in someone’s mind. It can explain things by analogy in ways that no amount of close reasoning will do. God is glorified by testimonies of his grace. Illustrate it in your preaching. 


And, of course, our applications can be evangelistic in a number of ways. Even the very implications we draw out from the text can help to expose the shallow righteousness of this world and of human-made religious solutions. Expositions that expose the insufficiency of answers apart from Christ can be as useful in setting forth the gospel as a doctor’s diagnosis can for compelling someone to take a prescribed medicine. As they say, “a good diagnosis is half the cure.” 

Christian preachers should be especially careful to speak the truth about sin. Our sermons are never to be negotiated finally by what we think our hearers can emotionally bear, let alone by what we think non-Christian hearers in our community would agree with. The goal of our sermons is not to enhance our hearer’s self-esteem, but to see them inherit eternal salvation. Lovingly exposing sin is a necessary part of our call to truth telling. Such exposing will often be initially unpopular. A sinner in the flesh will never agree that he or she should be convicted until the Holy Spirit does his convincing and convicting work. 

We should proclaim the truth about human sin, with the humility that is appropriate when one sinner speaks to others about such matters. We should proclaim the truth about human sin as surely as we hope our own doctors tell us the truth about our own health, particularly when the news is bad and most particularly when it is dire. As the ancient Greek proverb put it, the opposite of a friend is not an enemy, it is a flatterer. When we flatter our hearers we help no one, least of all those who most need it. 

Exploring the truth about sin, tracing its ways in our hearts, and exposing the truth about God’s verdict on it and its ruinous end is one of the most important functions Christian preaching has. We must commit ourselves to faithfully expounding the Word, especially in those places where it would correct or convict us. When we go wrong is when we most need to be put right. Politeness is a poor substitute for honesty. If that is true in passing human relationships, how much truer is it in our eternal relationship with God? 

Furthermore, something in even the most depraved human heart witnesses to the truth of God’s revelation of our sins. God’s image in us, our conscience, cries out in every heart, even if its cry is often muted or inconsistent. We must go into our pulpits not trying to win our non-Christian friends’ approval but their souls. God’s Spirit will use the faithful proclamation of the truth to do that. 

One method that I find helpful in preparing to apply Scriptures both carefully and evangelistically is to make a grid, with rows going across for each point of the sermon and with columns going down. The columns help me to consider, in turn, what is unique in salvation history in this text, what the application of the text is to the non-Christian and for our public lives in society, how it is fulfilled in Christ, what the application is to the individual Christian and for us as a local church. 

While there is rarely time to work out all these applications for each point in any one sermon, the exercise of carefully considering implications and applications across the board like this has the effect of helping me to hear the Scripture as a non-Christian friend might hear it and so to pray about which parts to lean on and to press home in the sermon. It is always good before preaching to review the sermon notes prayerfully in order to consider where the gospel points of human need and divine provision might best be pressed home. 

Yet in evangelistic expositional preaching, the gospel should be presented not merely by means of some slender connection I happen to notice (e.g., an imagined connection between the scarlet cord in Josh. 2 and 6 and the color of Christ’s blood) but by the structure of the story itself (e.g., Rahab believes the truth of God’s Word told to her by the spies and so effectively repents and believes and is thus incorporated savingly into the people of God). 

In this way, the non-Christian is helped to see the unified testimony of God’s Word and saving actions across the centuries, all pointing to the non-Christian’s need and to God’s provision in Christ. The thoroughness of pressing home a passage, along with its implications for several different areas of life, exposes the shallowness of life without Christ and the richness of the life that God calls us to. We must apply the text evangelistically. 


No exposition of God’s Word should ever be given without an invitation to respond. More than an invitation, really a demand should come in the sermon that all those listening submit themselves to God, confess their sins and his lordship, repent from their sins, and trust in Christ for salvation. 

In this age, words from our holy Creator to sinful creatures like us must always include the imperatives repent and believe. How else can we faithfully represent any portion of Scripture if we do not reflect the saving purposes of God? 

Part of our inviting people to respond can be an offer to speak with them after the service at some designated place or time. It could be encouraging them to speak to those around them or to some Christian friends. We can offer them literature or a series of Bible studies. 

It is best to avoid any kind of invitation that would lead them to think that in responding to our invitation they have responded savingly to Christ. The confusion and carnality that reigns in so many evangelical churches today shows the disaster that such well-intentioned mistakes work in people’s lives. 

Nevertheless, with cautions duly noted, we must call people earnestly and urgently to respond to the gospel. To do anything less is to default on the very call that God has given his ministers to proclaim his Word. 

Here it must be said that if we do not in our normal, everyday lives have a heart for the lost, there is little chance that our sermons will burn with the evangelistic passion that so becomes the gospel. We must be impassioned by the gospel that has called us and that we are now called to proclaim. 


These then are some of the elements that will help us to preach our expositional sermons with evangelism in view. 

We should understand the gospel-centeredness of the whole Bible. We should take account of the presence of non-Christians—known or unknown to us—among us. We can announce that we will preach on topics that might interest them (even when the sermons themselves are straightforward expositions of Hebrews or Malachi). We can introduce the sermons themselves in ways that help to show the relevance of the Scriptures to common concerns. We can clearly state the gospel, illustrate it movingly and personally, pray to apply it searchingly, and clearly and earnestly call for a response. 

In all of these ways our expositional sermons can hold forth the gospel. 

One reason I can be so confident of the power of evangelistic expositional sermons is a series of messages I heard one summer when I was in college. I was at the camp of a college fellowship, and James Montgomery Boice preached expositionally through the first few chapters of Genesis and then through the first few chapters of Romans. The messages were some of the most powerful expositions I had yet heard. The Word was unfolded, and the very clarity of its presentation made the already-glorious truths more glorious still. The darkness of our sins and the depth of God’s mercy had never been more obvious to me. 

At the same time, these messages were some of the clearest explanations of the gospel I had ever been given. The cross of Christ and the necessity of repentance and faith could not have been clearer. There, in the middle of those thick Bible expositions were some of the most powerful evangelistic sermons that my Southern Baptist, revival-going ears had ever heard. God’s grace was clearly magnificent. The intervening decades have not dimmed my memory of the happy marriage of evangelism and exposition in those sermons. 

And, in God’s good providence, I have many other times been blessed by hearing sermons that are both evangelistic and expositional. I would like to think that with his help that is how I, too, have preached. And, if you are still reading this article, my guess is that you, too, may have done the same. If we do not preach as well as the giants, we can at least preach the same message and to the same end—that God may be glorified in the salvation of sinners and in the edifying of his church. 

If you are a preacher that still has questions about this, the next time you try to preach evangelistically without preaching expositionally, consider how your message might be strengthened, your points illustrated, your passions stoked, your framework deepened by preaching to the same group from one passage of Scripture. Would a particular text be useful for your hearers to try to come to grips with, to understand, and to remember? Would such expositional preaching be an enhancement of your evangelism? 

And even more, the next time you preach expositionally, consider what it might be like to do it without preaching evangelistically. Can you really explore the themes of the law in the Old Testament without going to the gospel? Can you understand David’s delight in God and his Word apart from Christ? Can you present Isaiah’s hope or Ezekiel’s vision without an understanding of what God would do in Christ? Can you expound the teaching of Jesus or the letters of John without clearly talking of God’s holiness, our sin, Christ’s sacrifice, and our needed response of repentance and faith? 

Often, to evangelize well will entail carefully expounding God’s Word. Carefully expounding God’s Word will always entail evangelizing. Neither can be neglected; both must be done in our preaching if we are to preach God’s Word to God’s people.[4] 

* * * * *

Editor’s note: This article was originally published as a chapter in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, republished with permission from P&R Publishing. 

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 95–96. 

[2] William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying (1606; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 62. 

[3] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 27. 

[4] While one could point to many books on preaching, let me suggest three: Edmund P. Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961; repr. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 1979); Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); and John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990). 

Mark Dever

​Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., and the President of 9Marks.

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