In Christendom today we hear different Gospels proclaimed. Some say it’s all about what we are doing to help the needy, while others are saying only God can save. One states that salvation takes your whole life while someone else says it’s instantaneous. Clearly, not all can be right since they contradict each other. In this article I wish to show you how you can sum them all up into two; one Gospel is by grace (an unmerited gift from God) and the other ‘gospel’ is by works. One states Jesus does it all while another will say Jesus has done His part now it’s up to us to do our best. A person who does not know how to differentiate will be easily deceived! God does not want us to be deceived from all the false gospels out there. How can we make it simpler to see the difference? This article seeks to do just that.
False gospels are not new
The false ‘gospel’ was around in Paul’s day. He penned these words to some churches in Galatia about 2000 years ago…
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;Galatians 1:6
Paul mentions a ‘different gospel’ and in the next verse he’ll say ‘which is really not another‘ – that is ‘which is not truly good news’.
Notice that the false gospel Paul refers to was not deserting ‘it’ but Him. The true Gospel is not something (a method, or anything we do) but a Person, Jesus Christ.
The false gospels of the world can be summed up in one message, “you must earn it”. The true Gospel is the good news about how Jesus paid in our place.
The one, true Gospel
I am guessing that if you were to go to a typical Sunday School class of kids that have gone to church all their lives and ask them to state what the Gospel is, you may be surprised to find they have as many answers as there were kids. This is problematic.
We are saved by grace
Many passages state that we are saved by grace. Some preach ‘grace’ but biblical grace is not the means God uses to force anyone. God does not use ‘grace’ to irresistibly coerce the ones He predetermined beforehand to save (see more here). Grace just means unmerited, undeserved gift or favour. We are not saved by earning it or doing something to deserve it.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that [salvation] not of yourselves, it [salvation] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9 [brackets mine]
In other words, there is nothing we can do to pay for grace. We can’t become deserving of it and we can’t pay it back. To be saved by grace means that our salvation is by means of unmerited goodness on behalf of God. That is, the gift of salvation was unearned (not by works) undeserved (we could never do anything to merit it). We are saved by a gift through faith (it must be believed).
Justification by Faith
Romans tells us faith (to trust, to believe, to rely on) is placed in direct contrast to working…
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,Romans 4:5
We are justified by faith means God credits our faith in Christ as righteousness. This occurs in a moment of time when we believe the one, true, Gospel which says Jesus paid for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again (1 Cor 15:3-4).
At no point does this mean, ‘repeat after me’, or ‘just believe’ or ‘submit’, ‘turn’, ‘commit’, ‘ask’ or anything we do. Nothing we do can save us. In fact, it is not our faith that justifies but our faith in Him who justifies the ungodly. The object of faith is what saves not faith itself. Faith is not a work. It is completely separate from merit and totally harmonizes with grace…
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,Romans 4:16
The false gospel
So close, yet so far
Don’t be deceived, there are false gospels out there that seem correct.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit [mindset or spirit of thinking], but test the spirits [mindsets or spirit of thinking] to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.1 John 4:1-3 (brackets mine)
There are so many impersonations of the Gospel out there today. They even mention Jesus but deception many times comes sugar coated with a certain amount of truth. All you need to do to have a powerless Gospel is change the Person or work of it.
There can be no middle ground on this. We must be concise. After all we are dealing with eternal life and death. In the Gospel lies the power of God unto salvation for all who believe! (Rom 1:16).
Grace is not of works and works is not of grace! You cannot add a bit of works to grace and it still be considered grace!
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.Romans 11:6
False gospels (religion in general) put the focus on the individual. As a matter of fact, every religion recognizes that mankind has a problem and seeks to resolve it by man’s efforts. Religion is about what the seeker does to find acceptance to his diety or deities. This may mean a series of religious rituals and ceremonies that must be carried out on a regular basis so the good outweighs the bad.
Scripture clearly says that our righteous deeds are filthy rags (Isa 64:6). In fact, we are the problem! How can the problem be part of the solution?
Front-loading works to the Gospel
Some gospel messages straight up require works before you can receive any gift from God. They require you to do something. These can be anything like baptism (ie here), making a decision of commitment (), promising to leave a sinful lifestyle, turning from sin, public confession, raising a hand of confirmation, walking an aisle, signing a card, throwing in a stick into the fire, going to the front, keeping the sacraments and so on.
Back-loading works to the Gospel
Back-loading the Gospel is when it is required that the individual stay straight until the end otherwise they were never really saved in the first place. The added conditions are added afterward in the perseverance of the individual. Since salvation is by ‘grace’ then the person must endure until the end. If they don’t it was not ‘true faith’, ‘saving faith’ or the individual never really made ‘Christ the Lord of his life’. None of which are conditions to receive salvation.
Arriving at the same conclusion
No matter what gospel of works it will always conclude with the same thing. A person must persevere in the faith otherwise he has lost his salvation or never had it in the first place. This is a gospel dependent on the individual to keep themselves saved not the faithfulness of Christ that is by God’s promise to all who believe (Jn 3:16). Both cannot be true.
If we are saved by something we do, work will be necessary to do in order to be saved either before we receive salvation or after to make sure it was genuine in the first place. The Bible never teaches this. These are man-made conditions. In fact, the Bible teaches against them! Those who go on the basis of works will have to answer to God on the basis of their own works for rejecting the work of Christ on their behalf! Nobody will be justified by the works of the law! (Rom 3:20, Gal 2:16).
To understand the difference between a Gospel of Jesus + works is to deny the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ. In other words, He did not do enough, and we must do something to add to it. This would be like taking the da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and adding a bunch of silly things to make it better! Christ’s redemptive work was perfect and accepted by God in the courts of heaven for all sins for all time! You can’t add or take from that!
Dear Jesus: I want to have a relationship with you. I know I can’t save myself, because I know I’m a sinner. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I believe you died for me, and I receive your free gift of salvation. I surrender my life to you and trust you for forgiveness. Help me follow you all of my life. Thank you, Jesus. Amen. (original here)
The real issue of salvation is not something that needs to be asked for, it’s already been offered. In fact, it’s already been paid in full. Jesus already paid for humankind’s sins. All! The real crux of the matter is, have you personally believed it so that God can credit you the righteousness of Christ? To trust in Christ is not just necessary as seen in this prayer but sufficient. There is a difference. Jesus endured the cross and shame of our sins upon himself. He paid us His love for our sins, grace is not a response to our surrender or lifetime of following Him. This prayer shows a person’s faith is on the necessity of Christ plus added intentions but not on the sufficiency of Christ plus nothing.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished…He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.John 19:28-30 NKJV
Nothing is left to do because it’s already done! Biblical faith is resting in that fact!
I do not mean to say that if someone has prayed this prayer they cannot be saved. I am saying this prayer never saved them and in fact probably set them up for confusion. Notice some keywords that reflect the thinking; I want, I surrender, I will follow all my life. These are not there as a result of a person’s sincerity but purposefully added in because of someone’s bad theology! If we were to ask this same person, why should God let them into heaven, what would their answer be? Because Jesus died for their sins AND rose again? Or because they wanted a relationship and surrendered and promised to follow him? Notice how this person is NOT laying down their hands but rather asking for help to do their best, “I can’t save myself, so I need your help and I can’t follow you so please help me”. Apparently, salvation here is ongoing and based on the person’s good outweighing the bad (with Christ’s help of course). Read this prayer and repeat these keywords and you’ll be saved! Trusting in Jesus may bring you forgiveness if you follow Him all your life. Does this express a correct perspective of a helpless sinner understanding he is deserving of hell and who can do nothing to save himself? Does this clearly reflect trust in Christ who has already done everything in paying for his sins and rising again because he was victorious over their sins?
Please don’t get me wrong here, it’s not my intention to say this person is or is not saved. What I am saying here is whoever is communicating this as a message needs to reassess what The Gospel is. This is a confusing message and syncretistic (a new religious combination of grace + works = ‘real faith’). The Bible never teaches such a thing. The example of James 2 has nothing to do with salvation but justification before men! (see here).
What separates the sinner from a relationship with God? Not his sins for they have been paid for in full (1 Jn 2:2). What then is the real issue? (John 16:8-9) Why do people go to hell? Because they refuse to trust that Christ is enough. They refuse to change their thinking (repent) about what they are trusting in and believe The Gospel. Jesus is not only necessary, He alone is totally sufficient to save!
All the religions of the world can be summed up in two gospel messages. By means of grace or by means of works. It is one or the other. You can’t have a mixture and still have grace. Either Jesus did it all or something still needs to be done and He did not do enough. If we can save ourselves by good works then Christ died needlessly (Gal 2:21).
Like we saw in the example above, a gospel proclamation can even be clear in presenting Christ and His death on the cross but then subtly ruined when it shifts the focus off of Christ onto what the person must do above and beyond simple faith alone in Christ alone. Works to be received (by means of merit) is not faith in Him who justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5). Salvation is either by grace through faith or it’s not of grace at all (Rom 11:6)!
How can something unmerited, a free gift, be compatible with terms like turn from, commit to, bow down, promise, profess, submit, or surrender? What about thank you?
When sharing the gospel clearly we should have two great concerns. First, we should be absolutely clear about the condition of salvation – believe. That belief must be free from any works, commitment, or idea of merit on our part so that grace remains grace. The second concern is that we should be clear about …