What is the “Gospel”? Does it matter if we preach the right Gospel? What are the consequences of misunderstanding the Gospel? These are all valid questions and they deserve answers.
In some circles within the Church, it seems that the word “Gospel” is thrown around like a beach ball at a party. It hits one person, then bounces to another, and it is constantly in view. While in other circles of the Church the word is as scarce as rain in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Whether the word “Gospel” is used in every sentence or scarcely at all, one would wonder if the average Christian even knows just what the Gospel is.
A surprising report from Barna indicates that only 17% of professing Christians can identify the great commission, and half of millennial Christians believe that evangelism is flat out wrong. If these numbers reflect any level of accuracy, it would not be surprising then to find out that a great majority of Christians cannot adequately communicate the Gospel. It begs the question: if one cannot communicate the Gospel, then do they know the Gospel? I don’t mean being able to communicate all of the theological intricacies, but simply, “What is the Gospel?” “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (1Cor 5:21). It’s not necessarily that one can quote this or the several other Gospel verses, although it would be a good idea to memorize them, but it’s more that necessary that one can communicate the Gospel to someone who does not know the Gospel.
This is the Gospel, the Good News: that Christ was sent to be the propitiation for our sins that we may be reconciled to God. Praise God! We cannot, however, neglect the rest of the Gospel message, which has unfortunately for some decades now become what we might call easy believe-ism. It sounds something like this: “God loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for you. If you just believe in Him, you will be saved. Jesus will take away your burdens, cares, worries, and you will go to heaven when you die. Jesus will love you and make you feel better than you’ve ever felt before.” I’ve heard this type of thing with all its variations so many times, but is this the Gospel message of the Bible?
It sounds good and many things are true in it, but let’s compare it with the words of Jesus Himself: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26). When we compare the two, there is a vast difference.
One Gospel message communicates that Jesus will essentially give you your best life now, while the other beckons us to repent, believe, and deny ourselves. One message neglects the call to repentance, while the other demands it. You see, it’s true that we can bring our burdens, cares, and worries to Jesus, but does the Bible say that he will remove them, make them easy, or of no consequence? On the contrary, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So the reality is that Jesus promises to give us peace amidst hardships, rather than removing them from us. We are then told in Romans, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in the hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:1-5). Our trials are not taken away at all, but rather they are, in fact, a means by which God sanctifies us and produces hope. When the two examples are compared this other “Gospel” is at odds with Jesus’ very own teachings, and thus, we must conclude that it is another Gospel. The easy believe-ism is nothing more than a worldly “gospel” that caters to the things the flesh wants: ease, comfort, wealth, health, and in other words, your best life now.
It matters that the Gospel we preach is the right Gospel, for if we preach a contrary Gospel, then those who respond will respond to a contrary Christ. Not to mention the fact that the individual preaching this “gospel” would be opposing the sovereign God of the universe. Make no mistake. It is of utter importance. No matter how sincere one believes in the wrong Christ, he cannot be saved. Woe to the one that leads them to a false Christ! There are thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who have come to believe in the Jesus of “easy believe-ism.” This is a Jesus of making your life better now, no repentance needed, no denying yourself, no picking up your cross and following Him, no fruits made evident, but rather, a Christ of convenience, which is no Christ at all.
What I am not saying is that all that respond to such twisted Gospel presentations are necessarily bound for hell. God in His sovereignty, despite misrepresentations, is more than able to bring people to saving faith in His beloved Son, our Lord and true Christ, Jesus. However, all that is presented with these false messages are indeed tempted to hell through another Gospel. Should they remain trusting in a false Christ, hell will indeed be their eternal destiny. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus, as He has revealed Himself in the scriptures, is the only savior.
In some ways, because of the prevalence of easy believe-ism, we must be about re-evangelizing those around us. We should never simply assume that because someone says they are “Christian” that they are in fact following Jesus of the Bible. I’m not saying we should question every professing believer’s salvation either, but simply that we are aware and always ready to share the true Gospel should we realize that the person we are speaking with doesn’t actually know the God of the Bible. Stories are abounding of professing believers whose faith is in another Jesus. Once you get past the name Jesus and begin inquiring about their Jesus, you discover that they might as well call him Bob or Jim or Mack because who they are trusting in has little or no resemblance to the Jesus who is the Son of God, truly man, truly God. Let me give you an example: someone professes they believe in Jesus, yet when asked about this Jesus they believe in he demands no self-denial, requires no affection greater than that of any other person, and excuses sin under the banner of “love” and was not actually truly God. This Jesus has no salvific power at all, for he is not the Christ, but rather a Jesus of their own imagination. Other examples would be those who follow the Catholic faith. They claim to be Christian, but the Catholic church certainly does not preach the same Gospel as the Bible. The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, etc., and if you live in the southeastern part of the US known as the “Bible belt,” everybody is Christian. Until you spend ten minutes talking to them and then you realize they have no clue what it means to be a Christian.
What seems to be a more common issue in our day is someone professing Christ and yet simply knowing almost nothing about Him. This is the person that responded to some altar call, maybe five years ago and since has attended the gathering of the brethren once or twice and hasn’t picked up their Bible once on their own accord, save to find some “promise” verses. One can hardly believe in Jesus, if they know nothing of Him; and yet this person would happily profess, “I am Christian.” The Apostle Paul says, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8).
Getting the Gospel right is imperative whether it’s preaching the Gospel or believing the Gospel. There is only one Gospel that saves. All others lead to destruction. So, to quote Todd Friel, “Until next time, Go and serve your king!”