Elon, North Carolina
We have been doing a study of I Corinthians. It has been over a month since we were in our book study. The last time we were in I Corinthians, we studied chapter 14 what Paul said about speaking in tongues. Today, we begin chapter 15 and will be looking at the subject of the gospel. This was an important topic for the Apostle Paul.
Paul was SET APART to preach the gospel (Romans 1:1). In fact, Galatians 1:15-16 says that he was set apart BEFORE he was even born. What God wants us to do is not decided after we become a Christian. It was also planned before we were born.
Paul was SENT to preach the gospel (1:17; II Timothy 1:10-11). Paul was personally commissioned by the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road. Because he was personally given this mission by Jesus, preaching was not an option for Paul. In fact, Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (9:16)
Paul also SUFFERED for the gospel (Philemon 23). He was beaten, imprisoned and eventually beheaded because of the gospel. He gave up his life for the gospel.
NINE FALSE GOSPELS TODAY
Today, there is some confusion as to what the gospel really is. There was confusion even in the first century. There were some false teachers who preached a different gospel in Paul’s day (II Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 1:5). It is no different in our own day. There are many different gospels that are preached in some churches.
This is no small matter. Paul said, “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!” (Galatians 1:8 NIV) What we want to examine are eight false gospels that have been preached in our own country.
The Merit Gospel
The merit gospel is the gospel of all of the other religions in the world today. It is the gospel of works, which is no gospel at all, if salvation has to be earned. This is the gospel of Buddha (which happens to be the title of a book written in 1894). It is the gospel of Islam. It is the gospel of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is also the gospel of the Roman Catholic Church. They believe in justification by faith plus works.
This gospel teaches that salvation is not received as a gift. It is achieved by human effort. If we could be saved by works or our own human effort, there would have been no need for Jesus to die. His death would have been in vain. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:21 NIV)
The Full Gospel
The Full Gospel is the gospel of Pentecostals. Pentecostals believe that healing is in the gospel. They believe that it is an integral part of the gospel. They believe that it is in the atonement. What is the problem with this view?
When Paul gives a detailed explanation of the gospel, he does not say anything at all about healing. Paul says many times that Jesus died for our sins but never says that Jesus died for our diseases. He says that Jesus became sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21). He does not teach that he became sickness for us.
Paul believed in healing. God does heal people today. He did not stop doing miracles in 70 AD. Healing is one of the spiritual gifts in the NT but it is not part of the gospel. It is NOT a message that you have to believe in order to be saved.
The Prosperity Gospel
This is sometimes called “The Health and Wealth Gospel” or “The Name it and Claim it Gospel.” It is based on many half-truths. God does bless believers and often blesses them financially. It is a biblical teaching. It is all through Scripture. Proverbs 10:22 says “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth.”
The problem takes place when preachers ABUSE this truth and preach the gospel as a means of financial gain (I Timothy 6:5). It becomes a get rich scheme. The gospel is not a message that, if you believe, you will get rich financially. It is a message that, if you believe, you will get saved.
The Self Esteem Gospel
One of the leading proponents of this gospel was Norman Vincent Peale. He was the author of The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), which became one of the bestselling religious books of all time. It is a book that will stroke your ego.
This gospel was more self-centered than God-centered. As John MacArthur put it, “The true gospel is a call to self-denial. It is not a call to self-fulfillment.” The American gospel is self-centered and self-oriented. It is focused on achieving the American Dream. It is the self-help gospel.
The Therapeutic Gospel
This gospel has a feel-good message. It is the feel-good gospel. This gospel wants you to feel good about yourself. It gives people what they want, rather than what they need. It focuses on happiness as the highest goal. It focuses on us. Jesus becomes just a therapist who meets my felt needs. It is man-centered, rather than God-centered. It is very similar to the self-esteem gospel. It is seen by pastors whose sermons are more psychological, than biblical. It is found in churches which focus on self-help and self-improvement, rather than on holiness.
The Politically Correct Gospel
This is the gospel of mainline Christendom. It rejects the exclusivity of Christ. It accepts other religions as saved. It is liberal. It is non-judgmental. It accepts all lifestyles. It is ecumenical. It is is non-offensive. The gospel Paul preached offended people.
Paul spoke of “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11). The PC gospel does not have any bad news in it. Sin is not viewed as man’s greatest problem and there is no Hell for those who reject this gospel. It is the same as universalism. It teaches that everyone will one day be saved.
The Free Grace Gospel
It is a gospel common in the American church. The Free Grace Gospel can be accepted without any change in lifestyle. Few churches in America seem to even practice church discipline today. The ones that do are the exception, rather than the rule. This is the hyper-grace gospel.
The Free Grace Gospel is a gospel without repentance. It is the Gospel of Larry Flynt. Flynt was the publisher of Hustler magazine. He made a profession of faith in 1977 and said he as born again but continued to publish his pornographic magazines without apology. This brings us to an important question.
What happens if you claim to believe but make absolutely no change to your sinful lifestyle? What happens to people who continue to live in open sin (openly gay couples or unmarried heterosexuals who are living together) who say that they believe but do not repent or make any change in their life? In fact, these people often try to try to justify their sinful behavior? Are such individuals saved?
Some teachers on the Internet teach that they are. These false teachers say that you can continue to live in that immoral lifestyle and still go to heaven. You can be a rapist and murder and still go to heaven, just as long as you believe in Jesus. This is a false gospel. It is a gospel without repentance.
Paul told Christians not to be deceived. He said that the unrighteous will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9). He taught that people who live this kind of lifestyle have NO INHERITANCE in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Ephesians 5:5).
He said that “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6) and then exhorts Christians not to be partakers with the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:7).
This false gospel is called antinomianism, which is a fancy word for “lawlessness.” It was a heresy in the early church. I have heard pastors actually teach that Christians do not have any commands to follow. It is simply ludicrous. They have not the read the NT.
The Social Gospel
The social gospel is the gospel of Marxism and Black Liberation theology. It is a political gospel for the downtrodden and oppressed members of society. This gospel is political and humanistic. It is economic and social, rather than religious and spiritual.
There are many fallacies of this gospel. The church should make an impact on society but this gospel teaches that the primary mission of the church is to feed the poor and fight for social reform. According to this gospel, man’s greatest need is not sin and the solution to man’s problem is not a Savior.
The Restored Gospel
This is the gospel of the Latter Day Saints. Mormons talk about the restoration of the gospel, although the gospel they end up with is another form of the merit gospel. Mormons believe that that soon after the apostles died, the church became completely apostate.
They believe that the message of the gospel was completely lost and stayed lost for two thousand years until God revealed it again in 1820 to the “prophet” Joseph Smith and the gospel was restored. That was when, according to them, the true church has now been restored to the earth.
Critics might say that what Martin Luther did for Protestants is not different than what Joseph Smith did for Mormons. He rediscovered a gospel that the church had long lost for thousands of years but there is an important difference between the two.
Luther did not get a special revelation, add some books to the bible and change the gospel. He simply preached the gospel in the Bible that was not being preached in the Catholic Church. That is a huge difference. Luther preached what Paul preached, namely justification by faith, not works. Joseph Smith preached a gospel of works. Mormons today teach a salvation by works.
Joseph Smith claimed to restore the true gospel but ended up coming up with a completely different gospel. Paul warned that if anyone changed the gospel (and even if he changed the gospel), he would be cursed. He called a curse down, not just on the message, but on the people who preach the unbiblical message (Galatians 1:6-9).
The Roman Catholic Church put a curse or anathema on anyone who taught salvation is by grace, not works (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 9, 12, 13, 14). Paul put a curse on anyone who preached a gospel of works and not grace.
This message is unalterable. APOSTLES cannot change the message. Even Paul, the greatest of the apostles, could not change the message. He included himself in this curse. ANGELS cannot change the message.
How many false religions have began with a supposed angel from heaven, resulting in a false gospel. Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in 610 AD in the country of Saudi Arabia, leading to a book (Quran) which contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture and teaches a false gospel.
Mormons believe that the angel Maroni appeared to Joseph Smith in the US in 1823, resulting in another book (Book of Mormon) which contradicts Scripture and teaches another false gospel.
Did Muhammad and Joseph Smith have a genuine experience with some type of supernatural being? They may have. That is not the issue. The Apostle Paul made it clear that even angels cannot change the gospel. We are to follow the clear teachings of Scripture, not the teachings in another book by a supposed angel from heaven, which contradicts that book.
What does the Bible say about the gospel? We have been doing an in-depth study of I Corinthians 15. I Corinthians 15 deals with the gospel. I want to look at I Corinthians 15 but I also want to I want to look at what the rest of the Bible says about this topic. What we some characteristics of the original apostolic message?
Characteristics of the Gospel
1. It is a DIVINE Message.
This message came from God. The gospel was not Paul’s idea. He did not come up with (Galatians 1:11-12). No human ever came up with the gospel. In fact, not only was it was God’s idea from the start but it goes completely against human ways of thinking.
Man did not come up with this message and never would have come up with this message because it completely goes against human ways of thinking. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). The message of the cross is foolish to the world (1:18; 2:14). It is completely ridiculous to the unbeliever.
2. It is an UNCHANGEABLE message.
This message can not be changed. It was unalterable. There are no modern revisions to it. Apostles cannot change it. Angels cannot change it. Church leaders cannot change it. Denominations cannot change it. Preachers cannot change it. Biblical scholars from Oxford and Cambridge cannot change it. It does not need to be revised or updated for the modern era. It is just as valid today as it was then.
3. It is a UNIVERSAL message.
It is universal. It is God’s message to every country, culture and people. The rest of the world may think that this is America’s religion. The gospel is not a message just for America or just for the Western World. It actually began in the Far East.
Christianity is an Asian religion. Israel is part of the continent of Asia. The promise of eternal life is for EVERYONE who believes (John 3:16). God does not want ANYONE to perish (II Peter 3:9). He wants ALL people to be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4).
4. It is a UNIQUE message.
There is only ONE true gospel. Many preach a different gospel but there is only one gospel. The Judaizers preached another gospel which Paul said “is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:7). The idea that man could be saved by grace and not works is unique. All the religions of the world preach some form of works salvation.
5. It is a POWERFUL message.
Paul said that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone (not just to some people) who believes (Romans 1:16; I Corinthians 1:18). Every preacher likes to point out that the Greek word for “power” is the word δυναμις from which we get the word “dynamite”.
The only problem is that dynamite is destructive. It blows things up. The gospel has the power to save, not destroy. It has the power to save the worst sinner from the wrath of God (I Timothy 1:13-16; I Corinthians 15:9-10).
6. It is a POSITIVE message.
It is a message of good news, not bad news. Some bad news is contained in the message (people are sinners, God judges sin, Hell is real and people must repent), the gospel message is positive. It is not a message of works. It is a message of grace to sinners. It is not a message of hopelessness but of hope. it is a message of grace and mercy.
Sinners can be delivered from Hell through this life changing message. That is what makes it good news. It is called “the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
7. It is a CHRISTOCRENTRIC message.
The message is about Jesus. It is based on two historical events about Jesus – his death and resurrection (2:1-2; 15:1-8). Paul uses four verbs to describe the facts of the gospel (died, buried, raised, and appeared).
Jesus died and the proof that he died is that he was buried. Jesus rose from the dead and the proof that he rose was the appearances. Paul doesn’t appeal to circumstantial evidence (empty tomb). He limits the evidence to the appearances. Let’s briefly look at these two points.
First, Jesus died. What makes the death of Jesus good news? Normally someone’s death is bad news. This is not just the death of any man but the God-Man, the Messiah (the “Christ”) and it is the death “for our sins.”
Second, Jesus rose from the dead. Paul gives six groups of witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus – Cephas (15:5), The Twelve without Judas and Thomas (15:5) , Five hundred (15:6), James (15:7), The Apostles (15:7) and the Apostle Paul (15:8). It is one thing to have two or three witnesses to a murder. It is another thing if five hundred people who saw it take place. How many events in ancient history do we have that five hundred people could verify? Not many.
8. It is a BIBLICAL message.
It did not start in the NT. The gospel is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
9. It is an IMPORTANT message.
The gospel is an essential doctrine. Paul said that it was a matter “of first importance” (15:3). There are essential doctrines and non-essential doctrines. This is an essential doctrine. There are many doctrines that are minor and you can be off on and still go to heaven.
A person can be wrong on speaking in tongues and still be a Christian. A person can be wrong on how to baptize people and still be a Christian. A person can be wrong on when the rapture takes place and still be a Christian. If you are wrong on the gospel, you can’t go to heaven. You need this message to be saved.
The gospel has to be obeyed (II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17). Paul said, “By this gospel you are saved, IF you hold firmly to the word I preached to you” (15:2). What does that mean?
Salvation is CONDITIONAL. If you not believe, you can’t be saved. If you do not continue to believe, you will not be saved. Paul says, “Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” That is the definition of apostasy. People believe for a while and then fall away (cf. Colossians 1:23).
 John MacArthur, Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003). p. 2.