“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel …” Galatians 1:3-6
From the time of Paul to our present day, many have spoken of the gospel and the way of Jesus. Some preach truth, but many teach lies, partial truths, and “different gospels” intended to steer the heart in a different direction. The Gospel means good news, but lies about Jesus are not good news. Telling only part of the story and leaving out essential truth to fill in with what false teachers think is an improvement, is not good news. Paul labored to separate truth from falsehood. He trained the elders of the new missionary churches to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing (Jesus, Matthew 7:15, Paul, Acts 20:29) who would intentionally work to come in and destroy the church by false teaching.
How are we to discern truth from error in a world over-filled with well packaged and endless information? Whom do we trust? Can we trust anyone? Can we know truth? Take heart that this is not a new problem or a new question. As Pilate questioned Jesus at His trial, he asked the same question, “What is truth?” Jesus gave Pilate the answer, but he would not accept it, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37-38). The Bible is revelation from God. If you would know the truth, look first to this ancient and divine document. It is the most precious thing you possess. Its words are true, living, active, sharp, will divide truth from error, and will tell you the truth about God, the world, and yourself.
But, briefly, let’s examine some false gospels that we all hear expressed regularly in our daily conversations. First, “All religions are basically the same. There’s a God out there, but you can get to Him pretty much any way you want.” This is like saying all Indian people look the same. Only a person who has never visited India, has no friends of Indian descent, and doesn’t care to even look closely at pictures of Indian people – would ever make such an ignorant statement. Even a cursory examination of the religions of the world reveals irreconcilable differences of worldview. The religions of the world are not the same. They do not have the same understanding of the nature of God or the nature of humanity. They express different moral codes and different understandings of existence after death. Anyone that really cares about their soul will press through this assumption and look more closely. This is a false gospel.
Second, “Jesus is my supreme moral example.” Yes, Jesus is our supreme moral example, but this understanding of Jesus cannot stand alone. People who begin and end with this understanding of Jesus do not accept Jesus as divine and do not see themselves as ruined sinners. They see Jesus like an inspiring figure from a biography. They look to Jesus for direction and inspiration for how they can take hold of their current life and improve it. This is moralism. This is self-improvement, not salvation. This makes the totally incorrect assumption that you have the ability in yourself to live like Jesus. You might pray periodically when you get stuck and ask for some help, but this is not the dependent life of biblical Christianity. This is an assisted life, that still largely succeeds because of your goodness and talent, and you still get most of the glory when you succeed. This is a false gospel.
Third, “I’ll preach the gospel with my good actions, and only use words when necessary.” This common saying confuses general revelation (the general sense from nature, ethics, and ordered beauty that there is a God) and special revelation (clear teaching about who God is and what He has done to accomplish salvation through the cross of Christ). Hear me clearly – general revelation is not sufficient for anyone to come to salvation. You cannot walk in the mountains and come to an understanding of substitutionary atonement. You cannot hold a baby and finally have a clear grasp of Justification by faith alone. These things must be taught. Those who bring clear teaching of the divinity and salvation of Jesus Christ, bring good news. Those who call for repentance from sin and belief in Jesus as Savior, proclaim a true gospel. Those who just live a moral life and leave people with the impression that salvation comes through being more moral like you, preach a false gospel of moralism.
Fourth, “I had an amazing spiritual experience that brought me close to God.” This one needs a little more explaining but is of vital importance in our entertainment, ultra-experience saturated modern world. People have emotional experiences every day and for many different reasons. All these emotional experiences are not from God. The most important thing that God desires from us is our heartfelt worship motivated by love and joy. Authentic gospel is always a very emotional and passionate experience, but Bible truth must precede authentic experience. Our worship must be according to truth and full of the Holy Spirit. If the ground of a religious experience is not biblical, then it is not of God. We can have very powerful emotional experiences that are of this world and lead to death. They are experiences void of the Holy Spirit, and instead of satisfying, they leave us seeking an ever more radical experience to outdo the last one. We must measure our experiences by truth, not truth by experience. Otherwise, it is a false gospel.
“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:9
Jesus, give us ears to hear and believe Your word,