5 Ways to Recognize a False Gospel

Image found at stephenblack.org

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?

14 responses to “5 Ways to Recognize a False Gospel

  1. They have developed and elaborated new and heretofore unheard of or twisted “Christian theology” designed to support a political ideology, a corrupt socioeconomic agenda, or base human selfishness (the philosophy of “me first”).

    1) Jesus was against the minimum wage.

    2) Poor people are all lazy bums. He who does not work should not be allowed to eat.

    3) The least of these have no health insurance? Then let’m all die. Healthcare is a simple commodity like dried pinto beans. Those who can afford it should get it. Those who cannot afford it should not. Then they tell you how much they love Jesus.

    4) Black people are the cursed descendants of Adam’s son Ham (or is it bacon). They are an innately immoral race and cannot be trusted with anything. Just look at their President.

    I know many people who visit here will not agree with me. However, I have carefully watched and studied the so-called Religious Right, the new radical right Republican Party, and the Tea Party (which statistics indicate is mostly made up of people who claim to be Christian). Based on my reading of the Bible, I remain convinced that these organizations and the people who follow them are cleverly deceived tools of Satan—blind guides.

    • You bring up a very good point concerning how many people will warp certain biblical concepts to endorse a worldly way of thinking. Thanks!

  2. You are correct that the Christian Gospel is Jesus/Grace centered; but it includes more than the narrative of the historical Jesus. It also includes the Revelation of the Cosmic Christ that begins in the Pauline book of Colossians and was developed more fully in the post-Apostolic Patristic era.

    Without a belief in the Cosmic Christ Jesus becomes the Savior of the Church, not the world.

    Google *Cosmic Christ* and prepare to rejoice at the Good News diminished or even lost by most Latin/Western Churches during and after the Protestant Reformation.

    The biblical canon closes with the Church just beginning to realize that the Second Coming may not be as immanent as expected and that the Church may receive further Revelation from the Holy Spirit to empower it to witness to the transformative power of Grace in all times and at all places.

    “The sacred history of redemption is still going on. It is now the history of the Church that is the Body of Christ. The Spirit-Comforter is already abiding in the Church. No complete system of Christian faith is yet possible, for the Church is still on her pilgrimage. And the Bible is kept by the Church as a book of history to remind believers of the dynamic nature of the divine revelation, “at sundry times and in divers manners.” ~Georges V. Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View

    Fr. Florovsky on the lost biblical mind:


  3. Hi Carol. I would like to add one other thing, and I think this is important. The 1st century church people thought that they were living in the “end times.” The modern Christian fundamentalist and evangelical churches (circa 1910-2013) push the “end times” notion because they see it as a great evangelical tool. “Christ may come this afternoon—no 30 seconds from now—better walk to the altar—fast.” For these people, 1,000,000 years from now and every passing moment until then will still be the “end times” because of a cynical necessity. Some Christians are so scared of dying that they desperately need the “end times” to be now because they believe they will be allowed to skip the death step that is a normal part of life via an event I have come to call the “rupture.” Finally, even though Jesus warned that engaging in this “end times” prediction nonsense is folly (because not even He knew when it would be), we have people like Hal Lindsey and Tim What’s His Face who have made a cottage industry out of the “end times” and become wealthy doing it. I would like to emphasize the “become wealthy doing it” part.

    Jesus just asked us to be watchful and prepared. I see nothing, not even the advent of Israel in 1949, that suggests to me that our current times are the end times. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to see the modern nation of Israel disappear completely in the next 50 years—meaning what people took as a sign of the end in 1950 will turn out to have just been a temporary historical fluke of geopolitics. You might say, “Well, Dover 1952, then you must think the end times will be 100 or 200 more years?” No, I would not be at all surpised to see it go another 5,000 years; 10,000 years, 100,000 years or whatever.

    I am content to go with the words of Jesus and not get my shorts all in a knot about the subject. I have personal BS opinions about it like everyone else. For example, I think the “end times” will come only sometime after the Universal Church and individual Christians have very nearly disappeared from the Earth. You might say, “You mean the Bible-believing church—the one true church—that is disappearing even now?” No. I mean the Universal Church. I am talking about a time when you can count the last remaining evangelicals, Catholics, Episcopalians, etc. without resorting to high six-digit numbers—and maybe even way less. That time is clearly not now or anytime soon. While some aspects of the Universal Church appear to be in trouble here in the United States and some parts of Europe, the worldwide church is very much alive and expanding throughout the rest of the world.

    Well, what do you mean then? I mean a time and place when a conversation like this will be real:

    Joe: “Where does the Christian community meet in this here town? I’d like to go to church tomorrow.”

    Fred: “You must be a visitor in town—just arrived?”

    Joe: “Yes.”

    Fred: “Well, we had just one person left that called herself a Christian. She was a really nice old lady that died about 43 years ago. Ain’t been no Christians in this town since that time and probably never will be again.”

    • Just to add, not everyone defines “end times” or “last days” in the same manner. A number of Christians believe it’s the period between the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70 A.D.) and Christ’s return. By that definition, these are the last days – have been for a while, may continue for a while. Personally, this is my view. I think it is unlikely that Christ will return 30 seconds or even 30 years from now, but it’s on his agenda!

      • I understand your point on that April. However, in the area of Tennessee where I live. almost everyone I have ever met or known views the “end times” as a matter of a few near-term decades that will begin and end in modern times. Then Jesus will descend with a shout, tuck Rush Limbaugh tightly into his bosom for all humanity to behold, and throw misguided do-gooders like April into the Lake of Fire. Just sayin’. You’d probaby have to live here to fully grasp it. Happy day and many blessings to you.

      • The problem is that there is no space/time continuum in the fullness of Eternity. Scripture speaks of Jesus as the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” How can that be when we know know the approximate historical time and place of Jesus’ life and death?

        Then there is the text that informs us that for God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day.

        I believe Dover is correct. Christ Jesus is the Savior of the world, not just the Church and one of the things that will end at the “end times” will be sectarian religion.

        We are already seeing the beginning of the end of religious sectarianism. Most progressives in the mainline religious are polydox, appreciating the common wisdom, or Perennial Tradition common to all authentic religious Traditions. All Truth is God’s Truth, wherever it is found.

        Every Tradition has some version of the Golden Rule. As far as I know it is a negative version, “Don’t do to others that which you do not wish to have done to you.” Jesus really raised the moral bar when he taught a positive version, “Do unto others that which you wish to be done to you.” The Christian Tradition not only shares with other Traditions a recognition of sins of commission, but also acknowledges the possibility of sins of omission or a failure to love as we ought by withholding necessary resources for a truly human life from others although we have been blessed with an over-abundance of good things.

        “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her.
        It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” –Mother Teresa

  4. April, great blog. Dover, yep, got it. And April, I agree. It’s the already/not yet tension that we have to hold. No rapture/rupture. God will bring the New Jerusalem here when He’s good and ready to do so, and no one will know until He’s saved everyone He’s fully intended to save. I just know I’ll be happy and ready to see him face to face.