false teaching

Last week’s article, Anchored in the Word, emphasized our need to be dependent upon the Bible for our spiritual life.

This week’s article is going to build from that previous post. Not only do we need to be anchored in God’s Word, but we need to be anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it might have made more sense to emphasize our dependence upon the gospel prior to our dependence on God’s Word. However, it is through God’s Word that we become acquainted with the gospel.

The Apostle Peter wrote:

Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:23-25 (Emphasis mine)

In the first chapter of his letter, Peter grounds Christian conduct on the salvation of the believer. Paul does something similar in his letters. Doctrine (who we are in Christ based on Scripture) grounds Christian conduct (what we do in Christ commanded by Scripture). In other words, it is from the Scriptures that we learn the gospel and our need for Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation. For the earliest Christians, the gospel repeated the basic story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ passion and resurrection have always been the central focus of the Christian gospel.

The gospel intertwines with our lives as we reflect on the reason for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This good news of salvation flows out of the truths of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. God is supremely holy and demands absolute righteousness (the reason for the OT Law). But mankind has not been able to keep God’s standard of holiness. From our first parents in the garden until now, we are all sinful (Romans 3:23).

That God’s demand is holiness and we are sinful is not good news. Rightfully, God judges sinners, and if God gave us justice, we would be eternally punished for our sinfulness (Romans 6:23).

This is where the good news of the gospel comes in. Jesus came to take our place. The story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the story of the God/Man (Jesus Christ) who met God’s standards and became the Substitute for mankind who did not meet God’s standards.

The good news, the gospel, is that through Christ we might be justified (that is made right with God, Romans 3:24-26), made new (2 Corinthians 5:17), made alive (Ephesians 2:1-10), and experience the fullness of God’s life for us (John 10:10).

  • To experience this gospel, we must admit that we don’t deserve it or earn it. Rather, we receive it by faith (Romans 10:9-10).
  • To experience this gospel, we must admit that we are spiritually broken and impoverished. Rather, we receive it through grace (Matthew 5:3).
  • To experience this gospel, we must recognize that it is both our entry point into relationship with God and the means of spiritual growth in our relationship with God (Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 1).

The reason we must be anchored in this gospel is because Satan, our enemy, has developed many false gospels that distract and distort from the true gospel. These false gospels deceive many into believing they have the real thing. These false gospels damage the spiritual lives of many believers. These false gospels bind many to untruths that hinder their spiritual development.

False gospels:

  • Legalism. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were legalistic. In legalism, one’s standing with God is based on behavior rather than the gospel of grace. Some, who claim to be Christians, believe their salvation is dependent on their works. And some Christians receive salvation by grace, but then proceed to depend on their deeds as a means for God’s approval. In short, legalism rests on our ability to fulfill the law. Legalism is not good news, because we can never be righteous enough.
  • Antinomianism. This word means anti-law and is the extreme opposite of legalism. If legalism says that our spiritual lives depend on obedience to the law, antinomianism says that how we behave has no bearing on our spiritual lives. Paul decried this false teaching in Romans 6:1-2. Antinomianism misses the point of the law altogether. God’s laws reflect the holiness of his character. As believers, we are to obey God, but not as a means to God’s approval. Rather, we are to obey God out of the approval we have from God through Jesus Christ. Antinomianism is not good news because it rejects the basis for the gospel–God’s holy demands.
  • Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that enough faith, prayers, and generosity to the right ministries will result in health, wealth, and status. Prosperity teachers emphasize the experiences of here and now as opposed to God’s eternal plans for glorification and reward. This false teaching is unfortunately spreading very rapidly in our world. The prosperity gospel is not good news because it treats God more like a genie in a bottle than the Sovereign and Holy God that he is. It also puts much more emphasis on our response than God’s character and actions.
  • Liberalism. In theological liberalism, the primary emphasis for Christians is on love and justice in the world. The social gospel and social justice are common phrases in this false gospel. Liberalism emphasizes behavior (love and justice) far more than belief because it oftentimes rejects the supernaturalism found in the biblical worldview. I want to be careful here. Christians are to show love and pursue justice. But these are not the means of the gospel. Rather, these are the characteristics of Christians living out of the gospel. Liberalism is not good news because it does not recognize the depth of human sin nor the supernatural means of God’s redemptive work.
  • Moral Therapeutic Deism. This false gospel is a fancy way of articulating much of Western Christianity’s emphasis on doing good and treating biblical characters as mere moral models. God’s primary responsibility here is to encourage Christians to be good in behavior. Moral therapeutic deism is not good news because it diminishes God’s nature and minimizes Christian experience to being “good people.” This false gospel is seductive because many Christians fall into it unknowingly when they emphasize moral behavior over the good news of the gospel.

The root of these false gospels is pride and self. The root of the true gospel is Christ and what he brings to us.

We need to be anchored in the gospel because the gospel makes much of God. The glory of the good news for us is that the only part we truly play is that we come to God as sinners. God gets the glory for our salvation. We get the privileges of forgiveness and walking with God.

We must think on these things. In his helpful book Your Mind Matters, John Stott encourages us to think on the gospel regularly.

We are to consider not only what we should be but what by God’s grace we already are. We are constantly to recall what God has done for us and say to ourselves: “God has united me with Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus obliterated my old life and given me an entirely new life in Christ. He has adopted me into his family and made me his child. He has put his Holy Spirit within me and so made my body his temple. He has also made me his heir and promised me an eternal destiny with him in heaven. This is what he has done for me and in me. This is what I am in Christ.”

John Stott, Your Mind Matters, 59.

Reread that quote. If you need to, keep reading it. It will do you good to reflect on who God is and what he has done in the gospel to bring you to himself.

Take a moment (or more than a moment) and praise God for the good news. Being anchored in the gospel requires that we think on these things often, praise God for these things regularly, preach the good news to ourselves consistently, and seek to obey God on the basis that he has made us his children.

Photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash

Jeremiah was a voice for repentance and judgment 2500 years ago in Jerusalem. But Jeremiah was not a singular voice. Jerusalem was filled with a cacophony of voices. False prophets proclaimed over and over again that Judah would avoid judgment. They proclaimed, “Peace,” when God promised violence. They erred because they did not hear the voice of the Lord.

And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” 

Jeremiah 14:14

We are not all that different from Jeremiah’s day. False prophets build platforms and proclaim their own ideas. In the cacophony of voices and noise around us, how do we as followers of Jesus discern truth and avoid false doctrine?

Christian, it is your responsibility to know the Word of God. Jeremiah preached truth because he preached what God said. False prophets are those who proclaim what is not true according to Scripture. Discerning the difference is our responsibility.

The Secret Service carries a responsibility to investigate counterfeit currency. They don’t learn to identify counterfeit money by studying what is fake. They learn to identify the counterfeit by studying what is authentic. As followers of Jesus, we need to study and know the authentic and true (God’s Word) so we will be able to discern what is false.

Here are some ways that you can develop your knowledge of the Bible as authentic and true. I will link to resources at the bottom of the post.

  • Read and study the Bible daily. The single greatest thing you can do for your spiritual life is read the Bible.
  • Memorize and apply the Bible regularly. Knowing the Bible is good, but living the Bible is the goal.
  • Listen to biblical preaching weekly. Make sure you are attending, watching, listening at your local church and/or listening to solid biblical preaching on the radio or podcasts as often as you are able.
  • Avoid false teaching. If you become aware of a teacher or preacher who is unbiblical, avoid it.
  • Read commentaries and books that develop your biblical understanding. Strengthening our faith through learning will help us better understand and apply our Christian faith.

If you are concerned about family or friends who are listening to false teachers, pray for them. Don’t just yell at them or condemn them. Pray that God will give you an open door to have a fruitful conversation about their church or listening habits.

Sometimes our theological concerns with family and friends is not between false and true, but rather about areas of theological interpretation. Dr. Albert Mohler offers an insightful illustration for discerning theological differences in his Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.

If you doubt there is false teaching out there, then let me commend to you the documentary, American Gospel: Christ Alone. The documentary reflects on the false doctrine that permeates the prosperity gospel movement. You can also find it on a number of streaming platforms.

Finally, here are some preaching and teaching resources and recommendations for solid biblical preaching and teaching that will strengthen your faith. These are some of my favorites.

Truth for Life, Allistair Begg

Gospel in Life, Timothy Keller

The Briefing, Albert Mohler

You can search and subscribe for any of these wherever podcasts are found. At Wilkesboro Baptist Church, we are making our Sunday sermons available in podcast format as well. Soon you will be able to download lessons in theology from our podcast channel as well. Be sure to search and subscribe “Wilkesboro Baptist Church” on the Apple Podcast App, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are found.