Preaching the Gospel to Yourself
by Joe Thorn
There is great security in the salvation of the Lord. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and His decision stands. The Holy Spirit has caused us to be born again, and there is no means by which we can destroy the life He has given us. Every believer has been crucified with Christ, and nowhere in Scripture do we see a way we can be uncrucified. Everyone who has believed in Jesus Christ is justified, and no work of man or Satan can overturn the verdict of God. Jesus exercises sovereign care over all His people. Those in His hands cannot be taken from Him. Yet, despite the security of our salvation and standing before God through Jesus Christ, we can still find our way into trouble when we wander away from the hope of the gospel.
And wander we do. While wandering can come in the form of giving in to immorality, it more often masquerades as a kind of Christianity. For many, the Christian life is driven by doctrinal precision. We may rightly value our confessional heritage and see the importance of robust theology, but this can itself become the goal for which we strive while missing the connection of all theology to the gospel. Knowledge often “puffs up” and the resulting pride leads us into confessional confidence over gospel confidence. Some Christians base their spiritual life on emotions—the deep stirrings of the heart that are often connected with the profound truths of God. But while the truths of God never change, our experience of them does. And when the feelings are not there, our faith ends up in crisis. In finding confidence in our emotions, we wander from what should be our only hope in life and in death. Many of us lose sight of the gospel as we focus on our own works and how well we are doing spiritually. By measuring ourselves against self-imposed standards, we believe ourselves to be strong or weak, but in each case the fix is found in doing our best, rather than the work of Christ.
Fundamentally, the gospel is forgotten when it no longer functions as our ongoing hope and confidence before God, or when it becomes unessential for the practical, daily living of the Christian life. The gospel we often forget must be reclaimed and retained for the safety of our souls, and this is done through preaching the gospel to ourselves.
Preaching the gospel to ourselves is calling ourselves to return to Jesus for forgiveness, cleansing, empowerment, and purpose. It is answering doubts and fears with the promises of God. Do my sins condemn me? Jesus has covered them all in His blood. Do my works fall short? Jesus’ righteousness is counted as mine. Are the world, the devil, and my own flesh conspiring against me? Not even a hair can fall from my head apart from the will of my Father in heaven, and He has promised to care for me and keep me forever. Can I really deny myself, carry my cross, and follow Jesus? Yes, for God is at work in me, willing and working in me for His own pleasure. This is what it looks like to preach to ourselves.
This private and personal preaching can only happen when the Word of God is known and believed; when God’s law reveals our sin and helplessness, and His grace covers that sin and overcomes our weaknesses. Preaching the gospel to ourselves is not simply the act of studying the Bible (though we can preach to ourselves in that act), but it is actively calling ourselves to believe the promises of God in Jesus His Son.
We preach to ourselves through the disciplines of prayer and meditation on Scripture. In praying, we look to God to graciously meet our needs, and in the act itself we exercise faith. In his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thomas Manton said, “Prayer … is a preaching to ourselves in God’s hearing. We speak to God to warm ourselves, not for his information, but for our edification.” The gospel promises in God’s Word guide us in prayer, leading us to the safety of Jesus’ service and sacrifice. By meditation, we call to mind the gospel; by prayer, we claim the gospel as our great hope.
Most of us need to rediscover the gospel. And such a recovery is needed daily because our need is ever present and our hearts are prone to wander. But gospel recovery only happens when we feel the weight of our sins, the weakness of our flesh, and the frailty of our faith. This means that only those who know themselves to be unworthy sinners and God’s Word to be true will find the gospel to be not only good news, but good news for their own souls.