In order for effective and responsible evangelism to take place, we need to have a rock-solid understanding of the evangel (the gospel). Evangelism is not truly evangelism if it is not heralding the biblical gospel. The true gospel is the “power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16). Such cannot be said of impotent knock-off gospels. Just because someone says they are committed to “preach the gospel” does not mean they are allies in the church’s mission. We must ask, “Which gospel are they preaching?” There were gospel chalatans in the Galatian region and churches that Paul warned of in the opening verses of his letter to them.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12)
Several observations can be made about “different gospels” from these verses. First, they are distortions of the true gospel of Christ (v. 7). Looking at them is like seeing a reflection in a fun-house mirror. You see a version of reality, but it is greatly altered. False gospels contain “elements” of truth (similar terminology, ideas, etc.), but they are filled with half-truths and deception. Second, false gospels are objectively wrong (v. 8). It does not matter “who” preaches them, whether they be a superstar preacher or even an angel from heaven. It doesn’t matter how sincere they are or how persuaive they are or how “successful” they are. The objective content of the “gospel” is to be scrutinized in order to discern its validity.
Third, false gospels are man-pleasing (v. 10). They attract quite a following. Their preachers are crowd-pleasers. This stands in contrast to the typical response to the biblical gospel–perceived as a stumbling block and foolishness by the masses (1 Corinthians 1:18). Fourth, they are man-centered (v. 11). They are “according to man” or to the standards of men. They reflect their human authorship. They do not pulsate with Christ, God, or heaven. They are earthy and ordinary. Finally, false gospels are man-made (v. 12). They are “received from man” and “taught” by men. God’s fingerprints are not on their message. They ooze of human origin.
There is no limit to the false gospels that have been and will be produced. False “gospel factories” are busier than ever. Production is up because demand is great. Regrettably, they find that the easiest and most rapid forms of distribution are through supposed “Christian” outlets (t.v., radio, bookstores, web). But standing in contrast to this plethora of faddish false gospels is the one, true, enduring message of Jesus Christ. It is authored by God and not a product of men that can be tampered with. It is not a gumby gospel that can be made to look like whatever we want it to. It may be believed and proclaimed or it may be rejected and persecuted. But it does not change because God does not change. We respond to it; it does not react or adjust to us.
I attribute the underwhelming zeal for proclaiming the gospel that exists in the church today in large part to a gross negligence in understanding the biblical good news of Jesus Christ. This is why J.I. Packer has rightly said, “One of the most urgent tasks facing evangelical Christendom today is the recovery of the gospel.” Why is this so important? In my next post I will provide an extended quotation from Packer that shows the ramifications of gospel-abandonment. Then I will give a modern example that will offer proof of this unfortunate trend. So stay tuned and check back soon . . .