Thanks, dear readers, for bearing with me through some heavy posts. It’s so good to get back to some practical teaching! I really think this kind of teaching is needed today. Jesus said that in the last days, many false prophets and teachers would appear. According to the Internet, just about every person who has written a Christian book in the past 15 years has been labeled a false prophet at some point: everyone from Joyce Meyer to John Hagee. The label is losing its power. So how can the average believer discern the true gospel from a false one? Here’s a handy guide.
1. The person and work of Christ is diminished or excluded.
There is no gospel without Christ. Period. That’s what the gospel is all about! So if you hear someone presenting a “gospel” that includes little or no mention of Jesus, or tries to minimize his divinity or redemptive work on the cross, it’s bogus! Run away!
Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
2. You need more than faith in Jesus and confession to be saved.
This is a classic false gospel indicator right here. The scripture is clear: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). It doesn’t get simpler than that. However, some ministers have tried to add to the salvation requirements, claiming that people must also do things like avoid tattoos or believe in a pre-tribulation rapture or vote Republican to inherit eternal life. (I wish I were joking!) This is how you get seemingly intelligent ministers sitting around discussing whether they think different denominations of Christians will go to heaven. If they believe in Jesus for salvation (with a pure heart) and they’ve confessed their sins (with pure intentions), the answer is yes. Every time.
Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:18-19)
3. Someone or something tries to usurp Christ’s rightful position as your mediator with God.
The Bible says,
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
But false teachers love to put themselves on the throne, requiring their followers to come to them or another ‘prophet’ for all spiritual direction. Some set up hierarchical systems, where wives can only hear from God through their husbands, and children only through their teachers and parents. Neither of these are biblical models. While a prophet or fellow Christian can certainly speak a word of direction and truth to another believer, that is no substitute for hearing the voice of God for oneself. How else could one operate in the gifts of the Spirit?
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
4. The “gospel” in question would rather establish its legitimacy through a sign or a feeling than through an honest scriptural evaluation.
False gospel teachers will happily produce signs or testimonies to demonstrate how their teachings are benefiting others. But offer to subject their doctrine to a solid theological critique, and the conversation will turn ugly, fast. False doctrines can’t stand up to the real thing, and their prophets know this. That’s why said prophets get belligerent when people start poking around in “unauthorized scriptures,” comparing texts and asking uncomfortable questions. When the Apostle Paul warned Timothy and others to beware false teachers, he urged them to examine their teachings in light of scripture. Even though signs and wonders accompany the spread of the true gospel, signs by themselves are not definitive proof of God’s blessing. The doctrine itself must first fit within the tenor of the scriptures to be considered legitimate. The real gospel does this, standing on thousands of years of theology and prophecy. Additionally, Jesus himself said that the signs performed by false prophets would lead believers astray (Matthew 24:24).
A minister of the real gospel will never view an examination of his or her theology as a threat. In fact, he or she will welcome it. Signs and wonders are nice, but a true prophet seeks validation from the scriptures.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
5. The “gospel” operates through fear and condemnation, rather than love and healing.
When Jesus came to earth, he described his ministry as such:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
That ought to set everyone dancing! Yet many Christians act as if their Savior is standing over them with a billy club, just waiting for them to screw up. That’s because many false teachers favor a controlling, guilt-inducing works-based salvation doctrine. This is the same kind of doctrine that uses fear and shame-based tactics to win converts. People who have fallen prey to this kind of false gospel often feel insecure in their salvation, struggle to experience fullness of joy in Christ, constantly worry about (or feel like they are) being judged, never feel fully forgiven, and view tough times in their lives as punishment for past sins. They also can’t receive from God because they think they haven’t done enough to clean themselves up first.
Jesus never intended his followers to live like this. If the gospel could be summed up in one word, it would be freedom! Freedom from guilt, condemnation and judgment. If someone is trying to trap you in a joyless faith experience, it’s bogus! Run away!
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
Is there anything else that indicates a false gospel for you?