One of the greatest threats to the Christian Church doesn’t involve those on the outside of the Church. It’s those on the inside that can pose the biggest threat by twisting, misusing and abandoning God’s Word. There are some that use the right words, but use them in the wrong ways. They may make you feel motivated, but they twist words in a way that doesn’t point people to the work of Jesus. In fact, this can point people away from Jesus. They also make it hard to distinguish between law and grace, leaving people confused and condemned. The fact that this threat comes from within the Church, it can be really tough to detect. Here are seven distortions of the Gospel that trap believers:
The “Financial Prosperity” Gospel
This distortion of the Gospel traps believers into thinking that the more they give to the church, the more they will receive. This ‘gospel’ teaches that Christians are guaranteed to be financially prosperous and if you aren’t, it’s because you aren’t praying hard enough and that you simply need to name it and claim it. Prosperity gospel churches often equate church membership with regular attendance, tithing and service – with or without formal commitment. People are often “grandfathered” into church membership if they do these things long enough. These people may receive the benefits of membership, yet never formally join the church. They often feel no need to join since they give financially and serve. In some circumstances, they end up avoiding church discipline and live in open sin.
A healthy church presents church membership as a blessing and mandate for a believer. The blessing is that the church affirms the believer’s faith and builds the believer up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). The mandate is that Jesus requires Christians to submit to his authority by submitting to the church’s authority.
The “Feel Good” Gospel
The Feel Good gospel teaches a surface level gospel that is seeker friendly and never dives into the depth of sin, conviction or anything messing about the Christian life. This false teaching suggests that sin and hell don’t exist, so there’s no real cause for alarm. What makes this especially troubling and hard to read is the fact that it shares some elements of the Bible that are easy to digest but it is a watered down version that avoids the hard truths of the Word. It seeks to not offend and avoids hot button issues like sin and politics so that no one is offended. The real Gospel is solid. The Bible tells us, “Now I would remind you, brothers of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by wish you are being saved, if you hold fast to the Word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
The “Good Works” Gospel
This distorted version of the gospel teaches that we can earn our way into heaven by doing good things. The truth is salvation is not based on our goodness but on Jesus’ goodness. IF we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9).
The salvation in Christ is a precious gift, and like all true gifts, it is unearned (Romans 6:23). The message of the Gospel is that we can never be good enough to get to heaven. We must recognize that we are sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and we must obey the command to repent of our sins and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus was good enough to earn heaven, and He gives His righteousness to those who believe in His name (Romans 1:17).
The “Mysticism” Gospel
This distortion of the gospel places more importance on a special spiritual experience or feeling than on true biblical faith that rest on Jesus. Christianity is a religion that touches all of life and the human experience, including emotions. The error of mysticism is that it overemphasizes the emotional and experiential dimension of Christian, forgetting that God works in our lives through the Gospel, even when we don’t feel it directly.
The “Formalism” Gospel
This distortion of the Gospel is wrapped up in cultural Christianity. Most Christians that fall into formalism think that their actions like church attendance and service are enough and often neglect a real heart change. Too often, people who subscribe to formalism neglect a real heart change that comes from encountering God. They may also find difficult to see their need for God’s grace because of their external performance.
The “Abusing Freedom” Gospel
This ‘gospel’ abuses freedom in Christ. In this false teaching, Christians are only taught about grace, but not about the wrath of the Lord. This is problematic for many reasons, the main one being that it gives believers permission to live life in a way that isn’t focused on the Gospel at all, giving believers permission to live like the world. But this isn’t Grace. The Bible tells us, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that Grace may abound? By no means!
How can we who died to sin still live in it?” True followers of Christ and believers of the real Gospel know that God is love and God is just. While grace abounds, we are also called to be holy, as Christ is holy. Scripture reminds us, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct, for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). Someone who is comfortable living in sin because “God will forgive me later” has good cause to evaluate their salvation.
The “Legalism” Gospel
On the other side, there is the false gospel of legalism that is the opposite of abusing freedom. This false teaching holds that in order to be a real or true Christian, you must attend church every Sunday, pray a certain number of times daily, never do this, always do that, etc. It is a gospel of rules, not a Spirit-filled relationship with God. This teaching puts grace aside, and demands perfection in a way that separates people from the Lord rather than drawing them closer to Him. The danger of subscribing to legalism is that it ignores the heart of the Christian and bases spiritual growth on works alone.
The truth is a distortion of the Gospel is no Gospel at all. It’s so important that we’re able to distinguish between the two. Jesus gives us what none of these distorted ‘gospels’ give: grace and peace.