There is no room for a “close” gospel, and according to Paul in Galatians, any iteration of the gospel that is not pure on both sides is a false gospel. Therefore, those who hold as their hope these nuanced gospels are to be understood as having not been converted as they do not have the truth.
A mission field is a place where the gospel is not preached and should be. The local church of American Christianity is one of the greatest mission fields in the world!
A few weeks ago we considered the biblical overview of The Gospel of Jesus Christ. And we’ve taken a glimpse at the assurance of salvation. Today I want to share what I believe are the consequences of false or ‘works based’ gospels and show that Scripture teaches that they are not really good news, but a prescription for death and false hope. Before I begin I want to answer the critic who says, “Why do we need to even hear about these ‘false’ gospels?” The reason that we need to hear about them is because they are being preached and shared by a majority of Evangelicals in our local community. This so-called gospel is being published on the television, in the newspapers, on the radio, and on the internet at a breathtaking rate and by a great number of people. Scripture teaches ONE gospel, ONE way to salvation, ONE means of Grace, and ONE savior who is Jesus Christ alone. Anything taught contrary to such things, especially when it interferes and invades the church, has to be called out and shown to be in error. So, I make no apology for doing what God has called us to do, and I implore each of you to be prepared to speak the truth in love when an error in doctrine arises in the lives of those around you. It is a gravely wicked thing to allow another human being to live in perpetual unbelief when we have the truth.
What False Gospel Are We Talking About?
While there are many obvious heretical teachings alive and well in our culture, the primary matter at hand is dealing with a weak and cheap grace or a grace plus works. There are people who believe that salvation is faith alone in Christ and then they will add obedience or baptism or church membership etc. to the pile of requirements for justification. And I will warn you, I am going to rant and chase a rabbit or two against the margins of this article.
The False Gospel of Man-Centered Faith can be heard from many Baptist pulpits. Christ is preached as the redeemer and savior, but afterward comes the list of do’s and don’ts. Don’t hear what I am not saying; God will produce good things in our lives, such as our love for each other, our desire to be in the word, our continued putting to death of our flesh, etc. But all of these things are results of God’s work in us and are a reflection of Christ’s righteousness, they are not a means to salvation and they surely do not offer a display of righteousness or guaranteed proof of one being born again. If we are honest, we have to admit that many unbelievers can pull off the same type of lifestyle. They can act the part, speak the part, do the right stuff, and seem like a genuine believer. But each day when they rest in their beds, their confidence in this gospel says, “I know I have eternal life because look at all I am now. I am living a pretty good life… Thanks, Jesus!” This gospel is not one that saves because one’s hope is what he has become, not what Christ has done for His redemption. We could call this a False Gospel of Fruitful Works. It rears its ugly head and causes a man work even harder after “faith” in order to be right with God when Jesus Christ has already done all the work required. Some folks even take great pride in their lifestyle that seems to be less sinful compared to so many others. This gospel of Piety and self-righteousness places them in the company of the Pharisee that Jesus says went home condemned.
A few more false gospels teach that the bible isn’t the rule of faith or the means to salvation in revelation. These people offer a relationship with Jesus Christ outside of Scripture and some of them even consider their own writing to be a new revelation. Others teach that man’s will determines his eternal destiny and that all he has to do is speak into being his salvation request to God and “poof” he’s saved. I call stuff like this having faith in one’s faith. This means that one knows he is right before God because he did the right thing or said the right prayer. Jesus Christ is the ONLY way a man can be righteous before God. Sinners do not make themselves available for purchase, God has bought them with the blood of Christ. This type of so-called gospel puts a greater emphasis on man’s decisions and determination rather than the infallible and effectual work of Jesus Christ the Righteous. The so-called gospel of sloppy grace is where someone claims to be saved by grace alone through faith and even has a right understanding of the gospel per se but they then take the grace of God and consider it a license for living in darkness and rebellion. This makes no sense. That would be like me saying that God has saved me eternally but has done nothing in my life or my heart right now. God gives His people a new heart and He puts His spirit in them. So, His work will produce His fruits: Kindness, gentleness, etc. (Gal 5:22). To say that Grace doesn’t transform a man is to say God is a liar. After all, anyone who claims the name of Jesus but walks in darkness is to be put out of fellowship in a public manner. This includes a false gospel, false testimony, false doctrine and false actions. But, we don’t put hope in the transformation, the transformation is evidence of the claim of faith in Jesus Christ and as we’ve stated above, we hold fast to Jesus, who is our righteousness, not the works. (James 2:15-25)
Saving faith and faith are two different things. Sadly, most people have the latter, just faith in something, but it is displaced. Jesus is the only true object of faith. Do you ‘believe’ on Jesus Christ? Are you believing now?
What about this Trauma?
The trauma comes when the object of hope is non-existent, or worse, existent but ineffectual. What happens when a believer sins? Does he run to the altar of repentance, work a few days in a row without sin and then feel OK with God again? What happens when the sin is not of the action or the affections of the flesh? What happens when a believer gets depressed? For years I clawed at the walls of my emotional depravity while I was being told that I just had to shake it off and enjoy life and ministry. I remember people giving me counsel that if I was neither happy nor having fun, then maybe I wasn’t called to ministry and should quit. If my hope were in my faithfulness to the Lord or the success of ministry or my joy, then I would have died or quit Christ many years ago. Sometimes our lives are joyless and even then we can have joy that cannot be expressed. (1 Peter 1) When someone is given an ineffectual object of faith, they will never live up the standard of that object. They will never be good enough or holy enough to feel adequate. And if they do, then they have bought into the false gospel of self-righteousness like we’ve mentioned above. If we gauge our salvation on the measure of our joy and our joy is not to be found, then what? Where is the anchor that holds the man to Christ? What anchors the faith of the believer to the Savior? Is it sinlessness? Is it sacrifice? Is it church work? Is it repentance? Is it preaching? Is it prayer? NO! It is only Christ. Christ keeps His people tethered to Him. There is no escape from His grasp. He is faithful, even when we are faithless. Praise the Lord Jesus!
When someone comes to believe in these false gospels they never have any true means of forgiveness. They never feel as if their salvation is effectual. They never experience the bold truths of Scripture that they are secure in God through Christ and that nothing can snatch them out of His hand. In turn, they hold to the work of their mind, their heart, and their hands while “saying” that Christ is their savior. They are sometimes cavalier and sometimes too broken and scared to know what to do. Christ alone has provided forgiveness through His blood, there is no other work that can be prepared. There is no other sacrifice for sin. Some may suggest, “what does it hurt to go the extra mile?” Well, beloved, the extra mile is a sentence of death. It is unbelief. It is taking a walk for the sake of salvation and righteousness that God does not prescribe. Paul said to the Galatians that they would forever be cut off from Christ if they began to adopt other means of grace. Grasping at these false hopes belittles the grace of Jesus Christ and produces a continual guilt or an opposing pride in the heart. These give birth to either a perpetual worthlessness, a fake righteousness, or a prideful arrogance that all end in the same place: spiritual death.
The false gospel of man keeps many from knowing and holding fast to the enormous truth of God’s everlasting love for us. I remember a time when I felt far removed from God because of my self-evaluation only to be driven to depression, hopelessness, and despair with nothing to do but throw myself at the mercy of God who lifts helpless sinners to glory. Where are you today? What has your faith? Is it you? Is it your church? Is it your religion? Is it your works? Is it your faith? OR is it the grand good news of Jesus Christ who took ALL OF YOUR SIN on Himself and was judged in your place? Trust in this Jesus. The God of the bible who loves you and gave Himself for you. Otherwise, you rest in vain.
Something to think about,
Never has there been a short supply of error regarding the understanding and teaching of Holy Writ, but error in ignorance and the guile of wolves are distinct. False preachers, pastors, teachers or whatever they may be named, are seemingly more populous as they are popular. Sadly, many people have been snared by the force of such enemies of the cross, while they sit as prisoners of lies rather than victorious saints of Christ through His true word.
So, what makes a false teacher? How can one identify a false teacher and what should one do if they recognize a false teacher? Some clear indicators can set the truth sayers from the truth slayers.
- False teachers have a low view of Scripture. Those who never expose the text of the Bible, never appeal to its argument, never hold a continued filter through it are most certainly going to fall into wild and wicked error. Scripture must be settled as the highest authority over the church and must be the final court on all matters doctrinal. False teachers play the game of pleading to logic and appealing to social norms rather than to the actual written words of God. Any person who claims to teach truth but rarely contextually reveals an argument of scripture should be warned, then avoided. These liars are also very politically minded and find solid time for naturalistic and humanistic sermons while overlooking the entire counsel of the word.
- False teachers ignore conversations related to their views of scripture. For believers and lovers of Christ, the bible and its conversation are continued joy. Those who lack the desire to invest in a continued learning and dialog over biblical things are not only void of the Spirit, but also typically those who do not feel they are accountable to discuss such things with “lower level” individuals such as a mealy congregant.
- False teachers are quick to jump on the slam wagon without argument. This means that those who continually fail to be faithful to the truth of scripture are more often able to deflect the spotlight by creating a strawman out of those who would oppose them. It is very common for a false teacher to even pray or publicly curse others who would oppose them which is a clear and certain reality they are not in Christ.
- False teachers are lovers of pride and people pleasers. They will say anything to make a friend and they will turn any truth to door to get the right response and affection from someone. They preach for power and profit, even if both of these are ego-driven, they gloriously feed the false teacher who is always on the prowl for the next magnificent compliment. They are often quick to narrate their own lives and compose the grandeur of their ministry before men who applaud them and stroke their fur for attention.
- False teachers pick their own sermon topics. What is meant by this is that they choose what is low, easy, usable, and self-serving as preaching instruments rather than to secure the glorious doctrines found in the text of Scripture. Avoiding difficult doctrines and ignoring the depths of God’s grace is their practice. They refuse to preach what is good for they desire the praise of men and the mathematics of personal growth over the grand reality that Christ will grow His church in-depth and desire.
- False teachers speak from their minds, hearts, wisdom and visions. Prophets are those who speak the words of Christ eternally secured by the written Word. Those who preach what they know and have been told are the devil’s bawds providing demonic insight in order to twist the lives of men around their power while claiming it as God’s. These demonic practices are born of the serpent who questioned and revised the tongue of God to fit his passions. Such practices are never done in ignorance but always by the power of the dark one, the enemy, the devil who has devoured the souls of such men that they would purvey the woes of judgment disguised as light.
- False teachers prey on poverty and pain. These courtesans of death promise a better living and a faithful treasure on Earth while the Apostles and the Christ heralded a death sentence for those who are found in Christ as they will be hated by the world. Many would offer the justice of reciprocation and devour impoverished people who plant seeds of faith while eating the shells of the false teacher’s glory. These teachings undermine the satisfaction of the Cross and make manure of the good news of Jesus as a living hope by causing delight in covetousness rather than Christ. Those who are ill and poor are the faithless they say, while they feed on their positions by demanding a proof of faith in monetary offerings. There shall be an eternal weight of damnation on those who teach such things and the crushing of their skulls forever under the winepress of the fury of the judgment of God by the feet of Jesus.
- False teachers make much of the ability, will, freedom and honor of men and preach a man-centered gospel which is NO GOSPEL. While sometimes there are well-meaning people who have been taught wrong in practice, the devil has his shepherds and they know his anti-gospel. With golden tongue they spew falsehood like morays slither in the deep teaching people that their works, their efforts, their faithfulness and even their tithes would bring them to security. Easily they forget the transcription of Jesus Christ who said it was the broken and powerless publican who was justified, not the Pharisee. This false gospel is easily adopted and agreed upon because it affords the flesh a sense of completeness that stays the conscience from digging and dreading the possibility of guilt. The true Gospel of Jesus is a hope-filled promise while this man-centered trash is nothing more than a fake ticket to a false ball that leads to death.
Many more attributes and realities could be said of the false teacher. What say yee? See the depth of their deceit? See the continual replication of the deadness of man’s soul who hangs on every word? Is your pastor a false teacher? Well, are YOU a false listener? What do you do? Try it out and see, note the patterns and sit down to bring to light what is bad so that Christ would be glorified. If it wins him over, then praise the Lord together. If not, then run for your lives.
Also though let each of us ask ourselves? Are we proclaimers of truth or error? Do we recapitulate the traditions of men through false teachers while saying it is good? May the Lord keep us all in check by His word and through His Spirit lest we also find ourselves apostate. Trust in Jesus Christ Alone brethren, He is our guide, our God, our hope, our life, our truth, our peace and all that is in us that is Good!
Some thoughts to ponder,
The title may be a little confusing, but one can clearly see the trend in the last one hundred years as countless numbers of individuals have come to faith in something other than Christ and called themselves Christian. James Adams presents some points on this matter in practice, theory and theology and remarks that many people are indeed being led astray by such things. A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon on the idolatry of “salvation experiences” and I would implore all to consider the gospel and the implications of the gospel by such practices. The following is the complete article by James Adams on the matter posted from here.
Throughout my short life I have always had idols in my heart. They are everywhere, and just when I think they’re licked, poof, another one pops out of my heart. At times I wonder if I am just a joke when it comes to my profession of believing in Christ, being I am such a continual idol factory. The question of the security of my salvation is always on the forefront of my mind and recently has been a topic of heated debate amongst my peers and colleagues. Throughout the last few years, (two years in VA and now almost a year in California) the Lord has given me the gift of a deep depression and the greater gift of His mercy through it, so that now I can rest in the assurance of Christ more and more each passing moment. Before that I realized that, my hope was in a forever tug-of-war with my mind and what I knew as truth. Let me explain.
Early in my life I felt the call of God’s good news and have loved Him for as long as I can remember. During my adolescent years I remember harboring great fear because there was very seldom an hour that went by that I didn’t find some sin in me. At 9 years of age, this seemed out of the norm, but for me, it was a daily struggle. Each evening I labored in prayer, asking God to secure me in Heaven through Jesus Christ alone and each morning I awoke with a sense of mercy and hope that would last me a very short time. After many months of this internal debate, I realized that my hope was in Christ, not in my ability, not in my holiness, not in my sinlessness and could not be found in “me” at all! That same week I was confronted with my continued struggle by a family member who assured me that “all I needed to do” was “receive Jesus”. This language was different from what I had read in scripture, but in over an hour, I was led to believe that my salvation could be secured if I just “prayed” the right prayer. While it was the same prayer I prayed every day, that the Lord would save me, seal me and keep me through eternity in Jesus Christ and His work, this small and maligned meeting would steer my “hope” into idolatry quickly.
For many days I didn’t doubt. I found my life centered on Christ and my joy was full; that is until temptation tapped my shoulder at school. Temptation for me came in the form of anger, pride, self-glory and a very high view of myself, especially when bullied or confronted with what I referred to as “stupid” investments. Then the doubt and “joyless” mindset began to creep back in. But this time I had an anchor! I prayed for salvation, I prayed the prayer, I said the magic words and ALL IS WELL! My salvation experience had become my newest idol.
For nearly 15 years this was my motion. I would put my FAITH in my FAITH! I found I had a love affair with my salvation experience (as it was called) and not my savior! This was a devastating curse in my life that caused great pain and strife, because while I had hope in my actions, they didn’t produce any power of confidence (with faith) in my eternal life. So even when seeking counsel I was reminded that I had “done what was required to be saved” and I should be “at rest” while the Lord was working on me.
There are 400 pages of personal journals and stories that center on this very thing, but I will say to you this: Having faith in your faith; faith in the fruit of your faith, or faith in anything but Jesus Christ is no faith at all and worse, it is a condemning faith that is misplaced and non-effectual. Beloved, turn from the self-reliance, the cultural questions and the blatant disregard for the truth of scripture. Run to Christ Jesus alone for salvation, rest in His work, His righteousness, His Good news, His love, His mercy, His grace! Believe on Christ and not the ways of the world. Stop measuring your assurance on the “day” of your believing, but on the faithfulness of the one in whom we have life! Regard your abilities as nothing and realize that all good that is done is done because God has worked in you. No man will stand justified before God because of His works; but all who are justified before God are so because of the works of Jesus Christ – nothing else saves.
My heart has been troubled for many seasons, and while I am still working through a lot of this, even my own darkness, I know that my hope and light comes only through Jesus Christ, not my work, but His. The GOSPEL is for us, it is only for those who believe… while it brings dead men to life and unbelievers to faith, it is for us first to salvation, then to daily hope and power! Preach the gospel to yourself when you doubt. Preach the gospel to your heart when you sin. Preach the gospel to your mind when you grow weary. Preach the gospel to your household, your neighbor, your enemy! Proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ completed the work of redemption once for all! Stop slaving away at a false hope, the bad news stays bad when we do!
With all the foolishness and all the affection of Christ!