2 False Gospels Your Church Believes

Few churches today teach the gospel. That statement may ring hollow if you attend a church that teaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, most churches teach that, but that doesn't mean they teach the gospel.

The gospel is more than a thing to know, or intellectual assent as theologians call it. It is a thing to do. While every Christian affirms that the answer to "what must I do to be saved?" is believe in Jesus, they all define what that looks like a little differently. More to the point, they all have different qualifications for salvation.

Make no mistake: there is only one qualification for salvation, only one thing we need to do. And it is evident in all of Scripture--from the law, prophets, and writings to the gospels and epistles.

But there are two, common false gospels peddling a do-nothing spirituality complete with multiple qualifications that vary by denomination, political affiliation, even region. And your church likely believes at least one of them.

The Gospel of Deliverance

Do you want to be saved?

It's kind of a stupid question. Who doesn't? If you were dangling from the edge of a cliff or trapped in a burning car or threatened by a person with a gun, you would want to be saved.

Of course, not everyone recognizes their need for salvation so some Christians make it their job to inform them (we'll get to that false gospel next). But there are enough tortured souls living in some sort of bondage to keep the church doors open.

They're the "seeker-friendly" churches that tend to emphasize human free will (Pentecostals and charismatics, Restoration churches, and some Methodist and Wesleyan churches). God is your cheerleader, the church is your audience, and salvation is your swan song.

Don't underestimate the pageantry of Arminians. The frequent altar calls and miraculous testimonies don't happen by accident. They reinforce a gospel that equates salvation with personal deliverance.

After all, Jesus didn't just die; he healed the blind and the sick. Similar stories abound today of how God intervened in people's everyday lives and rescued them from their various maladies. So they invite people to follow Jesus and experience deliverance while the gospel mutates into a self-serving religion of self-involved people.

But the hard truth is God doesn't deliver everyone. I know people who prayed for deliverance from alcoholism for decades to no avail. Arminians can't accept this. Why would God refuse the prayer of a righteous person? Surely those people must not have enough faith. And that's how deliverance becomes a qualification for salvation.

Like the Jews during Jesus' time, Arminians expect God to bring them victory in their personal lives. And like those who rejected Jesus' plan for salvation, Arminians reject a salvation without an experience of deliverance.

They muster a few case studies from the pews and make impossible promises from the pulpit. If you follow Jesus, he will do _______ for you. Just place your quarter of faith in the offering plate, and vending machine Jesus will give you whatever you ask. If he doesn't, you didn't ask with enough faith so keep trying! The big payout is right around the corner.

When the church acts like a casino and spiritually bankrupts its parishioners, the gospel of deliverance is at work.

The Gospel of Deprecation

Do you want to be good?

Another stupid question. Most everyone does. Very few people in history have genuinely enjoyed being evil. Our selfishness frequently ruins our attempts, but we still try to be good as much as we can.

Prepare to stand corrected. You're not good, and you're not capable of being good. In fact, you're terrible and everyone hates you. Believe it or not, there are enough self-loathing souls to keep even these church doors open (I know because I was one of them).

They're the "gospel-centric" churches that emphasize divine sovereignty in pejorative contrast to the seeker churches (Baptists, Reformed churches, and some Presbyterians and Lutherans). God is your disciplinarian, the church is your accountability group, and salvation is your bitter pill.

Don't underestimate the asceticism of Calvinists. The recommitment messages and sexual immorality lessons all serve to reinforce a gospel that equates salvation with self-deprecation.

After all, Paul, the self-proclaimed worst of sinners, said no one is righteous and no one seeks God. Numerous accounts can be found today of wicked people turning from their wicked ways and living lives of abject shame and remorse. So they invite people to follow Jesus and submit to the deprecation they've earned while the gospel mutates into a self-abasing religion of self-involved people.

But the hard truth is God doesn't punish everyone (at least not in this life). Ecclesiastes mourns how the wicked prosper while the righteous perish. And even though he lost a child for committing murder and adultery, David was not stoned twice over as he should have been. Calvinists can't accept this. How could God refuse to repay people according to their work? Surely they deserve it and must be forced to recognize as much. And that's how deprecation becomes a qualification of salvation.

Like the Judaizers of Paul's time, Calvinists expect God to recompense every action not in line with a strict morality code. And like those who rejected Paul's freedom in salvation, Calvinists reject a salvation not marked by deprecation.

They gather all the Bible verses about sin and judgment and make impossible standards for their congregations. If you follow Jesus, you can't do ______, ______, or ______. Just get rid of all your old friends, habits, haunts--everything about who you used to be, and Jesus will finally accept you. If he doesn't, you're hiding something and need to confess it as soon as you can.

When the church acts like a cult and emotionally abuses its parishioners, the gospel of deprecation is at work.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

The true gospel doesn't ask stupid questions. It's a simple invitation: follow me. Follow Jesus.

But we don't follow Jesus by waiting for his deliverance or deprecation or contriving either of those experiences. We follow Jesus by loving people the way he did. Doing good is the evidence of belief in Jesus, and it is the one and only qualification of salvation. The rest of the world will recognize who we are by our love, not our personal victories or morality.

Some may experience deliverance and some may need to deprecate truly awful habits, but not everyone will. Some of us were never trapped in cycles of addiction or abuse, and some of us never fully indulged our worst desires (likely out of cowardice rather than virtue). Are we any less saved?

The gospel is for everyone. It's for those who need deliverance and deprecation, and it's for those who simply need direction. But the gospel is not as dramatic as the elation of deliverance or the depression of deprecation. Indeed, following Jesus isn't guaranteed to make you feel happy or sad. It will make you confident.

Not enough churches teach the gospel. Far too many have exaggerated the extremes as normative and pacified Christians from doing the very things for which they were created. And anything that keeps people from following Jesus is a false gospel.

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