The Age of False Gospels

Since the beginning of the Christian faith, there have been false teachers preaching false doctrine. Satan has been hard at work spreading heresy among professing Christians, trying to bring down Christianity. These false doctrines have intensified with the rise of technology. As we have become more connected through the various technological advances of recent decades, more people have access to platforms to share their views. This means the number of false teachers, prophets, and apostles has risen exponentially compared to the rest of Christian history.

If you held a heretical view a few hundred years ago, it would have been difficult to share this with a large audience. The best medium to reach people was through written tracts that could be quickly copied on a printing press, but not everyone had access to the required equipment. These days, most people have a mobile phone they can use to share their views with the world. Social media has opened up a new frontier for heresy and false doctrine.

The internet is a breeding ground for heretics. It doesn't take much searching to find a false prophet espousing their views on YouTube. Many people claim to hear directly from God, and they elevate this “new revelation” above the Bible. Consequently, the gospel has been twisted and trodden on by many Christians today. From the prosperity gospel to the works-based righteousness gospel, if you can name it, someone probably teaches it. People are more concerned about money, pleasure, power, and fame than repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

Person using iPad
Photo by NordWood Themes

We are reaching a crisis point with the advent of many false teachers and false gospels. There is only one way to God, through Jesus Christ. If we lose this message, then anything we tell people will be a waste of time. No one and nothing can save someone except for God. The gospel is about Jesus and what he has done to make a way for us to be reconciled with the Father. But people need to hear about sin, law, and judgement before the saving work of Jesus Christ makes any sense.

It saddens me to hear many pastors preach a sermon and then tack the gospel on at the end. But even then it is not always the true gospel. I have heard pastors numerous times call people to give their lives to Jesus without first explaining why they need to do this! Jesus as our saviour makes no sense without first explaining what we need saving from.

Only one way to God

The Bible is clear there is one way to be saved, through Jesus Christ:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5 – 7)

No one can be reconciled to God without going through Jesus Christ. The idea that all roads lead to God is a demonic lie. No false religion like Hinduism or Islam will save a person. Only Jesus Christ can do this. We should be willing to partner with people of other religions in social matters. But when it comes to matters of God and salvation, we need to draw a line and not allow the true gospel to become tainted with false messages from false religions.

Paul lays out how a person is saved in his letter to the Ephesians:

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8 – 10)

Could it be any clearer? Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. Salvation cannot be earned through good works, for no one will ever be righteous enough on their own to be saved. However, good works are the result of salvation. By the indwelling Holy Spirit, Christians can do good works that God has prepared for them. Salvation does not produce material wealth, and God has not foreordained that all Christians be rich. Some Christians do gain a lot of material wealth, but that is not the normative experience for Christians.

Good works and not material gain

Instead of focusing on getting rich, Christians need to focus on doing good works. If some pastors were less concerned with money and more concerned with sanctification, the impact of Christianity on the world would be a lot greater. Paul explains further in Ephesians what these good works are. He exhorts Christians to not lie, become sinfully angry, steal, or gossip about and slander others (Eph. 2:25 – 32). Further, Paul warns Christians to not be sexually immoral, crude jokers with filthy talk, or covetous idolaters (Eph. 5:1 – 5). And finally, Paul encourages husbands to love their wives, wives to submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents, parents to discipline their children with grace, employees to obey and respect their boss, and bosses to respect and look after their employees (Eph. 5:22 – 6:9).

Christians should seek to do good works in every area of our lives. In our marriages, families, workplaces, and churches, Christians should exhibit the fruit of righteous living. Paul doesn't say we are saved to get rich or famous, we are saved to do good works. Every part of our lives should be devoted to God as we seek to do good works every day. This is the result of salvation and what our focus should be on.

False gospels rip apart the beautiful message of salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, and unto good works. Our concern should not be with this passing material world, but with the eternal world to come. The good works we do now and the trials we face in this life are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:16 – 18; 1 Cor. 3:10 – 15). We can't take material wealth with us, but we can take spiritual wealth. Jesus was clear that we should store up treasure in heaven and not treasure on earth (Matt. 6:19 – 21). And further, he says we cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24).

The Moneylender and his Wife
The Moneylender and his Wife (Quentin Matsys, 1514)

Money and good works can become idols that people worship. When our focus is on earning our salvation, we become obsessed with doing good. This creates fear that if we ever sin it might be the end of us. This is not the message of God's grace we see presented in the Bible. While Christians should sin less as they mature in Jesus Christ, if we do sin it is not the end. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).

And if our focus is on this temporal world, the love of money can ensnare us (1 Tim. 6:9 – 10). Paul makes a great point that “we have brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim. 6:7). If we “have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). What an amazing way to live! Can we say we are content with just food and clothing? Is our desire for material gain greater than our desire to serve and worship God?

Cursed are the preachers of false gospels

Those who preach a false gospel and never repent will not get away with their sin. Paul is explicitly clear that those who preach a false gospel are cursed:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6 – 9)

False gospels are not true gospels, but they must be taken seriously. We aren't talking about minor theological differences, we are talking about the core of the Christian faith. If a person believes a false gospel, they will not be saved and will remain under God's wrath. But they will have false confidence thinking they are saved.

When someone preaches a false gospel, they are deceiving others and leading them straight to hell. Does God really want you to be rich with material wealth? Does he really want you to try to earn your salvation? These things, among others, are damning heresies that manipulate people and lead them to false salvation.

The people who teach such doctrine are cursed because they are interfering with God's work of salvation. God wants to be reconciled with sinners, and anyone who gets in the way of this is in a dangerous position. The Lord doesn't take false gospels lightly, and will severely punish those who preach such things and never repent (2 Pet. 2:1 - 3).

Discernment is our greatest tool

To defend ourselves against false teachers and false gospels, we need to practice discernment. Sadly, many people in churches are there to hear an uplifting message that never confronts them about their sin:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3 – 4)

If there was ever a time when this was true, it would be the time we live in. Many pastors and preachers are giving people what they want. Superficial, watered-down, sugar-coated, cotton-candy sermons have become the norm for Christianity. When the gospel is presented, these high profile preachers barely mention sin or repentance and get straight to how great your life with Jesus will be. They make our comfort and dreams the focus of their false gospel.

The gospel will offend sinners. This is because it forces them to face the reality of their sin. Only by recognising that you are sinful, fallen, and wicked will a person ever be saved. You cannot understand your need for salvation until you have first understood your sinful condition.

False teachers would disappear if all Christians properly exercised discernment and tested everything they heard against the Bible (Acts 17:10 - 12). But sadly, biblical literacy has decreased to the point where many people who claim to be Christians discard the Bible altogether. Satan doesn't care if someone calls themselves a Christian. He just cares whether they find true salvation or not. Many people sitting in churches today are not truly saved. They have bought into false gospels that do nothing to change their sinful condition and eternal destination.

We need Christians who will echo the cry of Paul where he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). Jesus clearly commanded his disciples (and by extension, us) to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18 – 20). And how do you make someone a disciple? By first preaching the gospel to them (Rom. 10:14 - 17)! The proclamation of the gospel is not optional for a Christian. We must evangelise the world and give sinners an opportunity to respond to the gospel.

And the gospel we preach must be as defined by the Bible. There needs to be the bad news before the good news. We begin with helping people understand the reality of sin and judgement. Then, we bring in the grace of God and the need for repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Telling people they need a relationship with Jesus without telling them about their sin will not result in true salvation. Instead, we end up with large numbers of false Christians or even outright atheists and agnostics filling up churches. If the message makes me feel good, why wouldn't I go?

Person holding open bible in city
Photo by Aaron Burden

Our hearts should be burdened for the lost souls in this world. If we truly care about the salvation of sinners, we will be faithful to the true gospel as revealed in the Bible. We need to put away selfish desires for money, power, and fame. It's not about us, and it's not about making people feel good. Paul expressed his heart for the lost Jews when he said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom. 9:3). He was willing to lose his salvation (if that were possible) to see his Jewish brethren saved.

What are we willing to sacrifice to see the lost saved? Maybe this means we need to start preaching sermons that convict people and don't just make them feel good. People will leave churches when a pastor starts preaching the true gospel. But this is a good outcome! The people who remain will be the true Christians and those seeking true salvation in Jesus Christ. It's better to have a church of 100 truly saved people than a church of 10,000 pagans.

The gospel is precious and people's souls are on the line. Now is not the time to care about our popularity. Now is the age of false gospels. And now, more than ever, we need to preach the true gospel to this dying world.