All throughout history, Satan has been bending and twisting the true Gospel found in the Holy Word of God just enough to make it false. What comes from this are false, unbiblical systems that are like magnets for lost and empty souls. Some of these false gospels are very, very close to the Truth. They always use the names of God and Jesus and generally will use lots of Bible verses, which are almost always taken out of context.
Historically, the true Church has viewed the Word of God as inerrant and inspired. This has led us to understand the true Gospel by reading and studying the Word of God in its entirety and in context. (If you would like a summary of the Gospel, based on the Bible, you will find it here).
As we learn and grow in our knowledge of scripture, these false gospels become easier to spot. Of course, the really tricky thing is that some people who fall prey to these for a little while are genuine believers who are deceived. So please keep in mind–I am not judging any particular person in this post. I have no idea who is and who is not saved. But if we know someone caught up in one of these false teachings, we may want to give them a loving warning.
And remember–most people who follow one of these systems believe with all of their hearts that they have embraced truth. They are trusting in a source outside of scripture for their beliefs. This is always dangerous. Always. If we don’t have scripture as our rock, then we will have no basis with which to judge a true or false gospel. For how can we tell the false, if we have nothing by which to measure it against? J.C. Ryle puts it this way–
“A man must make the Bible alone his rule. He must receive nothing and believe nothing which is not according to the Word. He must try all religious teaching by one simple test—Does it square with the Bible? What does the Scripture say?”
I whole-heartedly agree with him. With that in mind, let’s look at a few prevalant false gospels–
1. The Prosperity Gospel
This gospel teaches that material blessings (health, wealth, and power) come to those who believe in Jesus. If we do not have these things it is because we do not have enough “faith”. God is presented like a magic genie, whom we need to manipulate in order to get what we want.
But the Bible teaches us that our lives are not filled with material blessings when we come to Christ. Instead, it tells us that we are to not only expect various trials, but we are to rejoice in them. (I Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-3). Our new life in Christ has nothing to do with a perfect life here on earth. While I can certainly understand why this gospel would be appealing (who wouldn’t want the promise of more money, better health, and more power?), it is absolutely false, which I suspect those who follow it must eventually find out.
2. The Social Justice Gospel
God’s kingdom is advanced as we work together to build an equal and just society. The Christian’s main job is to help those in poverty. Social Justice becomes the ultimate priority, taking precedence over the Truth and adherence to God’s Word. The ultimate goal is to bring God’s Kingdom to earth.
But the Bible tells us that the poor will always be with us (Mark 14:7). This shows us that we will never be able to eradicate poverty. This false gospel is a bit tricky, because so much about it is good and unselfish. The problem with this gospel is that it becomes based on our good works and completely minimizes man’s sinfulness and the need for repentance. The other very critical problem of this false gospel is that when meet only the physical and earthly needs of the poverty-stricken, we do nothing to help them for eternity. Thankfully, I know many wonderful people, in this country and on the mission field, who are doing many good things across the world. The difference about these believers is that while they are helping the poor, they are telling them about the new life they can have in Christ. There is a big difference, is there not?
And just a side note: “Social Justice” is a communist term. It is never found anywhere in the Bible.
3. The Unity Gospel
Unity is primary, above all else. It doesn’t matter if we disagree about key issues of the Christian faith, as long as we are unified, all is good. It used to be that this gospel taught that Jesus must be the central figure, but in recent years, efforts have now been made to unite Christianity with other faiths, whether Jesus is part of the religion or not. To not be unified is the greatest sin of all, trumping almost anything else.
But the Bible teaches us that true Christianity will divide. Jesus Himself said this: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division” (Luke 12:51) He also tells us that we should expect to be hated as His followers (John 15:18-20). This means that while there will be unity among God’s people, we will never experience it with the world (nor should we desire to).
4. The “All Ways Lead to Heaven” Gospel
The followers of this gospel believe Jesus is the way for them to get to heaven, but that we need to give people the freedom to believe whatever they want to about how they are going to get to heaven. To believe in absolute truth is the greatest of sins and no one should act like they are the only ones who have the truth. People can decide that for themselves. The Bible is just a book of wisdom, from which they pick and choose the verses best suited to them.
This lack of absolute truth is the main thought of this post-modern society. But in John 14, verse 6, Jesus makes it clear that this is not the case–
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
While it is certainly true that anyone can believe what they want to about God, it will not change the facts. What we believe will be quite irrelevant when the Day of Judgment comes. When we stand before the One, True God someday, it just won’t matter what we believed. Jesus is the only way to heaven. This is what the Bible teaches.
5. The Self-Help, Positive Gospel
Human imperfection keeps us from living a satisfactory and successful life. Christ’s death proves our worth as humans and gives us power to reach our potential. The church helps us find earthly happiness, which is our main goal in life.
But the Bible tells us that none of us are righteous (Romans 3:10) and that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). The cross doesn’t prove our intrinsic worth. The cross reconciles us to God. And our goal should not be earthly happiness, which we saw in the verses from John 15 above. We also read about this in James 1 and I Peter 1. The Christian life is not about our quality of life here on earth. Now, with that said, our quality of life if we choose to submit and obey God is very much improved–but it is in the wonderful riches that cannot be measured–such as love, joy, peace, faith. These are the things that truly matter to a soul saved by God’s marvelous grace.
6. The Mystical Gospel
Salvation comes through an emotional experience with God. The church is there to help me feel close to God by helping me along in my pursuit of mystical union with God and the universe. A person’s faith is based primarily on their experience. These people expect special messages just for them from God.
This has invaded the church so subtly and entirely that I doubt there are many churches that have not been touched by it. Very familiar, famous people are promoting it under the guise of contemplative prayer and other ways. Several best-selling books have sucked a lot of people into this way of thinking. From this has come a system that has minimized the Word of God and magnified subjective experience.
But the Bible tells us–
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:17) Our experiences may or may not be truth. How do we know? We have to always hold the Word of God as our objective truth and should use it to test all of our experiences. And Hosea 4:6 says that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. He doesn’t say that they are destroyed for lack of experience.
Of course, there are more false gospels in the world today. I have just listed a few of the most prevalent. We need to remember that Satan is a master at deception. And we need to remember that he shows himself as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). As Martin Erdmann puts it: “Deception comes in very familiar forms because this is how you will accept it.” This is a very profound truth that we need to always remember as we test any new thought or philosophy that comes our way–no matter how holy or good it sounds.
I believe that biblical illiteracy is the reason so many of these gospels have taken such a strong foothold in the world of Christianity. I will leave you wih this quote by J.C. Ryle about the Holy Scriptures–
Amidst the flood of dangerous reading, I plead for my Master’s book; I call upon you not to forget the book of the soul. Do not let newspapers, novels, and romances be read, while the prophets and Apostles be despised. Do not let the exciting and sensual swallow up your attention, while the edifying and the sanctifying can find no place in your mind.
Study the Bible. Study the Bible. Study the Bible. It is our only hope and solid anchor in this roiling, heaving sea of Post-Modernism.