Question: What did Paul mean when he warned about ‘a different gospel’ being taught? Is something not quite right in churches today?
You’re obviously referring to Galatians where Paul used the term ‘a different gospel.’ He was referring to a Jewish version of Christianity that taught that, in addition to the need of placing one’s faith in Christ to be saved, it was also necessary to follow Jewish rules and regulations.
Actually, Paul was so incensed by this distortion that he wrote, ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!’ (Gal 1:6-8).
An ‘easy’ gospel to accept
One could, I suppose, argue that those early Jewish ‘Christians’ in Galatia were acting from the best of motives. Conceivably they could have maintained that, although they believed that Jesus was the Messiah who had died for them, by including Jewish practices to the gospel message they were making it easier for their Jewish friends to make the transition into Christianity.
However by changing the gospel that Paul had preached to them, they were significantly altering the fundamental message of the gospel.
‘A different gospel’ (which Paul described as ‘no gospel at all’) is one that has been modified in a way that deviates from the one preached by Jesus and his apostles.
Sadly, changing the essential message of the gospel is rampant today particularly in today’s Evangelical/Pentecostal preaching. That may appear to be a very strong statement, but let me explain.
First of all we must ask, ‘What was the gospel – or ‘good news’ – that Jesus preached?’
- The first message Jesus preached was this, ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15).
- When he first sent out the twelve disciples, we read, ‘They went out and preached that people should repent’ (Mark 6:12).
- On the day of Pentecost, when the first Christian sermon was preached, Peter declared, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38).
- And Paul, presenting his defence before King Agrippa, stated, ‘First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’ (Acts 26:20).
The late G Campbell Morgan has written, ‘… the almost monotonous burden of the divine call is, “Repent, repent.”’
But what does the word ‘repent’ mean?
It does not mean to make an emotional response charged with remorse or sorrow, although both may be involved in responding to the gospel. However the Greek word metanoia which has been translated into English as ‘repentance’ literally means ‘a change of mind.’
So repentance is a deliberate and mindful decision to turn away from our sin, to accept Jesus as our Saviour and to change the direction of our lives. It is a radically life-changing decision. This is the inherent challenge of the gospel.
A rarely heard message today
Despite the fact that the need to repent in order to be saved is a key element of the gospel message, it is rarely heard in much of the so-called ‘gospel preaching’ today.
In its place people are invited to ‘Invite Jesus into your hearts,’ or ‘Give your lives to Jesus,’ or ‘Just say this little prayer after me.’
As a consequence of the presentation of this ‘different gospel’ that omits the need of repentance, there are those who consider themselves to be Christians but who are unsaved and not disciples in the New Testament sense of the word. They want to be Christians without the cost of surrender and commitment. Such as some people I know of … church-attending Hindus who have ‘given their lives to Jesus’ but who have not given up their Hinduism!
A consequence of declaring a modified version of the gospel is not conversion but confusion! Indeed this ‘different gospel’ can desensitise ‘unregenerated Christians’ (not that there can be such a thing!) to the true message of the gospel.
A watered down gospel
Recently I came across the following comment by Dr David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Alabama, who has expressed similar concerns.
He has written, ‘I believe that multitudes of people … identify themselves as Christians who biblically are not followers of Christ. Amidst varying cultural tides and popular church trends, we in the church have subtly minimised the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We’ve taken challenging words from Christ and turned them into trite phrases in the church. In the process, we’ve drained the lifeblood out of Christianity and replaced it with a watered-down version of the gospel that is so palatable it’s not even real anymore.’
The Christian life does not begin by putting on a new life but by putting off the old life! And the putting off of the old life begins when we come to Jesus Christ in repentance. The gospel is not that we can be better, richer, grander, greater, healthier, happier or nicer.
The good news is that even though we do not deserve it, Jesus died for us and that when we come to him in repentance and faith; he forgives us completely, brings us into his kingdom, makes us members of his family and saves us for eternity.
The late ‘prince of preachers’, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, has written, ‘John Bunyan tells us in his book Grace Abounding that he endured an agony of repentance for eighteen months. There does not seem to be much room for that today. Repentance means that you realise that you are a guilty, vile sinner in the presence of God, that you deserve the wrath and punishment of God, that you are hell-bound.
‘It means that you begin to realise that this thing called sin is in you, that you long to get rid of it, and that you turn your back on it in every shape and form. You renounce the world whatever the cost, the world in its mind and outlook as well as its practice, and you deny yourself, and take up the cross and go after Christ.’
This is the gospel that still needs to be preached today!
And we do not need to modify it or be ashamed of it. Paul declared, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16).
All ‘different gospels’, however attractive they may be, are damp squibs that fail to deliver.
By withholding the aspect of repentance from the gospel message it is relatively easy to persuade (deceive?) people to make a ‘decision for Jesus.’ But the gospel that Jesus and his apostles preached was not based on ‘making decisions’ but on ‘making disciples’ (Matthew 28:19).
The apostle Paul was fairly scathing in what he wrote about those who proclaim a ‘different gospel.’ Today’s preachers urgently need to take his challenge seriously!
Dr Jim McClure is the author of Grace Revisited, Overview of the Old and New Testaments and the Understanding… series, Orders and enquiries: jbmcclure AT gmail.com
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