Monday, February 6, 2012

What defines a false gospel?

Galatians 1:6-7 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

What is "gospel"?
When we speak of the word "gospel", we are referring to a message that tells us goodnews.  In the world of ancient warfare, whenever a messenger would run into a city from a battlefield, the citizens would be eager to hear whether or not he had any "gospel" or "goodnews" to tell.  If the King or army of the city had won the war, that meant no more fear or oppression from the enemy, and that the "boys" so to speak were coming home.

It is from this setting that the Bible came to use the term Gospel to describe God's act of winning the war of salvation at the cross through Jesus Christ.  The first four books of the New Testament are called "Gospels" because of their aim to "convince us" that the person and work of Jesus Christ is indeed goodnews to all who are called by grace to believe on Him.  Key passages such as John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and Ephesians 2:8-9 define the event, the experience and the effects of the Gospel.

Is there only "one Gospel"?
When The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul speaks of a "different" gospel in Galatians 1:6, He is using a particular word for "different" from the original language.  In the Greek language there were two primary words that could be translated "different".  One of those words meant "difference in regards to degree", like if I were to compare two "different" cups of coffee that were made at "different" times, one being hot and the other being cool.  The other word for "different" has to do with "difference in regards to kind", as in if I were to compare a cup of coffee to a cup of orange juice. 

It is this second word that is used by Paul, namely a message that is unlike the True Gospel, "a difference of kind".  It is not that the differences are surface level, or even of secondary nature.  To say a "different gospel" means that what is being passed off as "The Gospel" is in reality no gospel at all.  Stated another way, there is and can be only "one gospel" without peer nor equal.

What constitutes a "different gospel" or "false gospel" depends on what you add and subtract
In Galatians 1:6-12 and 3:1-4 we are given three standards to use in judging whether or not a message is "The True Gospel" or "a false gospel":

1. Is the Bible added to or subtracted   Galatians 1:6-12
Paul writes in Galatians 1:11-12 "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."  What is the source of God's revelation in Jesus Christ?  Jesus Himself states in Luke 24:44 that it was the scriptures, the Bible.  Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:115 that it is "the scriptures that makes one wise unto salvation." The Bible alone is the source and sufficient standard from whence the gospel comes.  Sometimes certains groups will add "other books" or "traditions" as being on equal par with the Bible.  At other times certain groups may only use "select portions" of the Bible while excluding the whole.  When this occurs, know that you are hearing a "false gospel".

2. Is Christ added to or subtracted     Galatians 3:1-4
We read in Galatians 3:1 "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?"  Unfortunately, not every book or every movement that names "Jesus Christ" is necessarilty preaching the True Gospel.  It is good to ask sometimes: "which Jesus are you talking about"?  There is a particular Jesus to which Paul is pointing to: The Jesus of the Bible.  The Jesus of the Bible is described as being fully God and in co-union with the Father and Holy Spirit. He having existed from all eternity came to earth in the virgin-birth and took upon Himself full humanity.  On the cross he died in His humanity while in His Deity the eternal price of salvation was paid to the Father.  In His resurrection His humanity was resurrected as He in His Deity proved who He said He was.  He is coming back visibly as the King of Kings who is still man and will always be Fully Divine.   If the Jesus you hear is less or different from this biblical description, you are hearing a false gospel.

3. Justification by Faith Alone is added to or subtracted Galatians 3:1-4
We read in Galatians 3:2 "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?"  How is it that you are made right with God?  In the past several blogs we have explored in detail the important truth of justification by faith alone.  The Bible teaches that I am made right with God by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  To say that faith is necessary but not sufficient to receive God's free gift is to preach a false gospel.  When I begin to add other rituals or human cooperation to the Gospel, I have entered into the realm of preaching a "false gospel". 

Likewise if I subtract faith from the Gospel message altogether, and just say that everyone is automatically saved or somehow made right with God outside of the hearing of the Gospel, I end up preaching a different gospel.  Therefore how one handles the Bible, Jesus Christ and Justification by Faith Alone will measure whether or not the true Gospel is being both believed and proclaimed.

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