In today’s secular culture, people are encouraged to think for themselves, never apologize for anything, and be tolerable of everything. Because of this, believers now more than ever must be diligent to use discernment with what they hear—even from the pulpit. It’s certainly easier, and more culturally acceptable, to accept what is taught rather than question and risk offense.
However, this practice of discernment has been around since the beginning of the church itself. In Acts 17:11-12, Luke writes “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed…”
There are many distortions of the Gospel that are rampant in churches across America today. Without filtering man’s words through the Word of God, we are in imminent danger of believing lies, leading our families astray, and missing the truth of the Gospel.
These five distortions of the Gospel are ones to beware.
1. Financial & Emotional Prosperity
The Prosperity gospel is perhaps the most distorted gospel of them all. This teaches that Christians are guaranteed to be financially blessed. If you aren’t prosperous, then preachers of this gospel explain that you aren’t “praying hard enough” and need to “name it and claim it.” Other says if you contribute to their ministry, God will bless you financially in return. But that’s not always true.
God doesn’t work by our formulas. Matthew 26:11 (ESV) “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” Believing God makes all who love Him wealthy is a lie. Another trend in the church is emotional prosperity. Instead of preaching the Word of God, preachers of this gospel focus more on your victory, your needs, and your issues. There’s no focus or glorification of God in these services, but rather an intense focus on self and self-worship.
2. The “Good Works” Gospel
Another misconception of the Gospel is the Good Works gospel. This false teaching proposes we can earn our way to Heaven or earn earthly blessings by doing good deeds. These are good things to do in general, but not for the motivation of earning salvation or material gain. Many caught in this lie will tirelessly serve even the church in an effort to earn grace, rather than accepting grace as the amazing gift that it is. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) “For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” When we believe that we play a part in our salvation, we remove Jesus from the cross—and that’s not the Gospel at all.
3. The Gospel of Abusing Freedom
Another false gospel is one that abuses freedom in Christ. In this false teaching, Christians are not taught about the wrath of the Lord, but only about His grace. These teachers are essentially giving believers permission to live like the world and carry a “sin license”. But this isn’t grace at all. Romans 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” True followers of Christ and believers of the real Gospel know that God is love, and God is just.
While grace abounds, we are also called to be holy, as Christ is holy. 1 Peter 1:14-16 (ESV) “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Someone who is comfortable living in sin because “God will forgive him later” has good cause to evaluate his salvation, and quickly.
4. The Gospel of Legalism
On the flip side, there is a false gospel of legalism that is the opposite of abusing freedom. This false teaching holds to the lie that to be a Christian, one must attend services regularly, pray a certain number of times daily, never do X, always do X, etc. It is a gospel of rules, rather than a Spirit-filled relationship with the Father.
This teaching puts grace aside, and demands perfection and regimes that are quick to burn a Christian out rather than draw Him closer to the Lord. Colossians 2:8 (ESV) “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spiritsof the world, and not according to Christ.” The danger of falling into legalism is that it ignores the heart of the Christian, and bases spiritual growth on works alone.
5. The “Feel Good” Gospel.
The Feel Good gospel teaches a surface level gospel that is seeker friendly and never dives into the depths of sin, conviction or anything messy about the Christian life. This false teaching naively suggests that sin and hell don’t exist, so there’s no real cause for alarm. This false doctrine might share some elements of the Bible that are easy to swallow, but will never share true exposition.
This watered down gospel is typically used to coax unbelievers into the church, and is maintained to keep them there while doing no favors for their soul. This false gospel avoids the hard truths of the Word on hot button issues like sexuality, sin and politics, seeking instead to keep everyone unoffended—ultimately, to their own detriment.
The real Gospel alone is solid. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
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