What Gospel do you preach? Is it the same as Paul and the early Apostles? Today there seem to be many different ideas of what the Gospel is. How important is it to get it right? In the best case, it’s not too big a deal. But in the worst case, there’s an eternity at stake.
I’ve been a Christian all of my adult life. I have followed Jesus and loved Him. I’ve always had immense respect for God and have known His comfort and presence. I’ve made sacrifices for Him, and have sinned against Him and repented. It’s a true relationship which is genuine and continually growing. I’ve learnt a lot over the years. My understanding of God’s ways and His Character has matured. I have developed a genuine love for His Word. And an inspiring understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
But growing up is sometimes painful. Maturing takes effort. Change is hard.
When someone challenges our idea of what the Gospel is, our first response is defence mode. We fear being led astray, and with good reason. The Bible says that in the last days many will be led astray (Matthew 24:11). In my experience the best defence against fear is knowledge. I’ve made a point of testing everything I hear, keeping the good and throwing out the rubbish as in 1 Thess 5:21.
We must reject false teaching. But how do we define what is false? For me, I had to take a step back and admit I was established in my tradition. My parents’, grandparents’ and their influencers’ understanding of the Word shaped much of what I believed. I also grew up in a powerful “Bible Based” church and trusted their doctrine and complex arguments. At a point, I realised that the Lord asks us to be established in His Word.
Once you’re convinced that the Bible is the actual Word of God, it becomes pretty easy to take what it says and understand it. Yes, as humbling as it is, it often happens that we exist in error. We function with beliefs established over generations by (mainly) well-meaning men, but not with doctrines founded on the full Word of God.
The truth is that we probably all start in some way like “false prophets.” Think of the first day you told someone about Jesus and the gospel. Did you know as much then as you do now? With good intentions, we often start off giving a distorted gospel and a false picture of who God really is. The challenge is that we don’t point people to the Word, but to summaries and commentaries and Bible studies. Where do we go to learn about God? The image we have of God is often built on that of the person who shared Him with us, the local church or commentaries. As a result, our Gospel understanding is shaped by tradition and experience rather than on what the Bible really says.
Here’s a story from the Word to show how this affects us:
17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ” 20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” 21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Can you see it here? This guy had the humility to come to see Jesus, the Messiah. He was built up in his tradition and established in life, being wealthy and having kept the commandments. Then Jesus gave him a “new” instruction, one to cause change and provoke a new heart! And it was too hard for this guy to hear. He walked away sad. Aren’t we so similar? At least this man asked the question. If he spoke to the religious leaders of the day, they would agree that he was doing well… if he kept the commandments and was wealthy, surely he was blessed and would be delivered into eternal life?
As an illustration, this is a powerful testimony. This guy was a good Jew according to tradition, and he had a heart to seek Christ out. In the same way, we’re believers in Christ. But we have built the majority of our understanding upon the interpretation of man and not on the actual Word of God. Reading His word and seeking His Truth is the first step to actually following Christ. Doing what He says is the next step, and that step will cost you something!
The rich guy walked away saddened and unwilling to yield.
Build your faith and your understanding of God on His Word. Throw out the commentaries and “great Bible scholars”. Receive the Holy Spirit and read the Bible cover to cover. Test everything you read against the rest of the Scripture, NOT against a commentary or apologetic or human opinion! This is how we will learn what the Lord really asks of us. It’s dead simple and available in Black and White (with red letters too, some of the most challenging parts!).