Non-Gospels and False Gospels

The Gospel of Jesus Christ – Article Series
1. What is the Gospel?
2. What does the Gospel mean? (Part 1)
3. What does the Gospel mean? (Part 2)
4. How should we respond to the Gospel?
5. Non-Gospels and False Gospels

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I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel —which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! 10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. ~ Galatians 1:6-12

We begin this last post in our series by returning to the same passage we began with. In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul was writing to a church that was under threat of being misled. In addition to faith in Jesus Christ, there were teachers in Galatia instructing people that if they did not perform the works of the law – specifically, circumcision – then they could not be one of the people of God. In other words, the Galatians were hearing teaching that said that they needed to respond to the Gospel with faith and circumcision in order to be saved. Paul writes with strong language against this false teaching and calls it ‘a different gospel’ (Galatians 1:6). Notice the significance of what this illuminates in our study of the Gospel:

  • these false teachers have been teaching a different response to the Gospel message from the one that Paul had taught – faith and circumcision instead of faith without works.
  • Paul equates this with a difference in the Gospel message itself.

What is the connection here? Recall the diagram presented in the first post in this series. What it represents is that a correct understanding of the Gospel message leads us to a correct understanding of the meaning/achievement of that message. And this would lead us to a correct understanding of the right response to the Gospel. So a problem with something on the right is likely to indicate a deficiency with something on the left.

The false teachers in Galatia are teaching an incorrect response to the Gospel, which means that they have an incorrect understanding of the meaning/achievement of the Gospel. Indeed, Paul makes clear that Jesus’ death achieved righteousness for us apart from the law (Galatians 2:21) and redeemed us from the curse of the law to bring us blessings through faith in Him (Galatians 3:10-14). The false teachers are denying these achievements, and so their problem must lie in a misunderstanding in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is how Paul can make a link from a false understanding of the response to the Gospel message itself.

This link isn’t always present. For example, some people believe that the appropriate response to the Gospel is baptism in water by fulling immersing yourself in the water. However, others believe that sprinkling of water is sufficient. These differences in the response to the Gospel are reasoned in different ways, but it is hardly ever due to a difference in the meaning of the Gospel itself. As such, both viewpoints can have unity in the same Gospel message even though they disagree over the method of baptism as a response to the Gospel. We are united with others in the Gospel message.

What are some false Gospels? There are many. Remember that, ultimately, false Gospels differ in what they claim about who Jesus is and what He has done. False Gospels range from those that say that ‘Jesus was just a man who only came to teach us a new way to live’, to those that claim that ‘Jesus died on the cross because He truly became a sinner’. False Gospels include messages of Christianity that claim that ‘Jesus died to give us success in all aspects of life’ to ones that say that ‘Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead’. False Gospels dishonour God, misrepresent Jesus, and keep people from salvation.

However, we also have messages that may be true but are not the Gospel. These non-Gospels can be helpful, but we must be careful to avoid equating them with the message of who Jesus is and what He has done. Some examples of non-Gospels are:

  • Testimonies – personal stories about our life with Jesus and how we may have come to call Him our Lord are fantastic. But they aren’t the Gospel. However, we can use our testimonies as a framing device in order to share the Gospel!
  • Arguments for the existence of God – using logic and reasoning to present rational arguments for God’s existence can be encouraging for Christians and useful in discussions with atheists. But they aren’t the Gospel. No one will be saved by realising that God exists. They need to hear about who Jesus is, what He has done, and then repent and believe in Him.
  • Explaining the benefits of the Gospel – telling someone that God loves them and wants to forgive them, or that God wants to give them a new identity, is to tell them the truth. But these are not the Gospel. These are the achievements of, and implications of believing, the Gospel.

None of the non-Gospels listed above are bad things to speak of. There is a time and place for all these things. For instance, an event specifically structured in order to share the Gospel with others can start by speaking about the benefits of the Gospel before getting to the Gospel itself.

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We complete this article series with a verse that speaks of the wisdom and majesty of God. Praise Him for His glorious grace in giving us His Son Jesus Christ, descended from David, promised in the Scriptures, who fulfilled the law and the prophets with His life, who died for our sins on the Cross, who was raised by the Holy Spirit and declared Lord, and through whom we can receive redemption and adoption through faith. Jesus is Lord of all creation. And He is worthy of all glory.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. ~ Romans 11:33-36

James Chen

James is a Philosophy graduate from the University of Sydney and is currently a teaching and learning manager of a senior high school tutoring centre. James is a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford and loves reading and teaching the Bible.

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