Over the next 3 weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday we are going to talk about the gospel. What exactly is the gospel? Why are there so many differing perspectives about the gospel? What are some of the most common perversions of the gospel being preached in America and around the world today? How can I recognize the true gospel? These are some of the questions that we’ll seek to address during this short study. My hope is that, as we approach Easter this year, we are able to come to a greater appreciation and understanding of the gospel.
The term gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion which means “good news”. As its definition implies, the gospel is a positive message which should be received joyfully by those who hear it. It speaks of God’s favor toward mankind and his amazing love for us. Sadly, many people do not understand or accept the gospel. Countless others have been misled by a false, and often demoralizing gospel, which is anything but “good news”.
It is not my intent to castigate or denounce any particular pastor or church during this series. As such, I am not going to provide any names or specific examples of those promoting false gospels. Instead I am going to focus upon the spurious teachings themselves, and leave it up to you to identify the charlatans who promote them.
We are going to begin our series this morning by briefly summarizing 3 of the most prevalent false teachings that are being proclaimed from the contemporary pulpit. Like all effective lies, each of these has some semblance of truth. Unfortunately that nugget of truth has been grossly corrupted or distorted resulting in outright heresy.
I. THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
The Prosperity Gospel is based upon the notion that health and wealth are the premiere measures of one’s faith. Those who enjoy luxury and riches have been abundantly blessed by God for their faith, while those who languish in poverty have not. Likewise, those who enjoy good health and vitality are the recipients of God’s favor while those who are ailing or sick are the subjects of His judgment. This fallacy exalts the temporal experiences and successes of this life over one’s eternal well being.
While it is true that God delights in giving His children the desires of their heart, these desires are not to be rooted in worldly materialism or gain. As Christians, we are to submit our own selfish pleasures and ambitions to the Lord and to make His will our own. If we truly do that, then the things we value and seek will be the very things that God wants to give us - not necessarily earthly riches or financial prosperity. The redeemed are called to deny themselves daily in order to take up their crosses and follow Christ.
Jesus also taught us not to store up worldly treasures for ourselves, but rather to invest in heavenly and eternal things. He warned us repeatedly to resist the allure of money which would almost certainly lead us astray. He stated that is is very difficult for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God because they are prone to worship their money instead of the LORD. While there are certainly examples of wealthy people who have faithfully followed Christ (including some in the Bible), this seems to be the exception and not the rule.
Obviously health and wealth can be signs of God’s blessing, but not always. When such things take our eyes away from Jesus, they become curses. The LORD is much more concerned about our eternal well-being than our present one. The Bible predicts that true believers will experience suffering, hardship, and persecution. These difficulties are indicative of real discipleship. Understanding that suffering and self-denial are closely associated to the true gospel message runs in direct contrast to the Prosperity perversion.
II. THE WORD OF FAITH MOVEMENT
The Word of Faith Movement is based upon the faulty idea that God can be manipulated by a person’s faith. In other words, if someone’s faith is strong enough then God is compelled to act in accordance to their wishes. This belief is often referred to as the “Name it, Claim it” philosophy. It advocates that a person can do or have anything they truly believe in it enough.
This perversion of the gospel causes great harm to many who embrace it. Whenever God answers someone’s prayers in a way contrary to their request, it is understood to be a lack of faith. For example, if my son was to become gravely ill I would most definitely turn to God and begin praying desperately for his healing. But what if he died anyway? Not only would I suffer the enormous grief of my child’s loss, but would also be troubled by the thought that my faith was insufficient to save him. The incredible hurt is compounded by this bogus theology.
The truth is that God does not answer our petitions primarily on the basis of our faith. While we should always ask with a sincere heart and belief that God is able, we must understand that His ways are higher than our own. God’s answers to our prayers are based firstly upon His sovereign will. No amount of human faith can coerce God into doing something contrary to that. It is true that our faith or lack thereof can have an influence on God’s willingness to act (within His will), but in no way does it compel Him to do so.
Faith-based teachers elevate human faith over God’s sovereignty. They view faith as a means of getting what they want from God. They teach that unanswered prayers are a sign of a weak and impotent faith. But the fact is, even the most mature Christian sometimes struggle with moments of doubt. This is a natural result of the fallen human condition. Despite these doubts, God always remains faithful. Though our faith is frail and small (like a mustard seed), we serve a God who is able to move mountains nonetheless.
III. THE POWER GOSPEL
The Power Gospel emphasizes the existence of the signs, healings, and miracles as indicators of true faith. It focuses upon the most sensational of the spiritual gifts - healings, prophecy, and tongues. These are sometimes called the charismatic gifts, though this name is somewhat misleading. Nevertheless, the most stringent advocates of this erroneous doctrine teach that all true believers can perform these signs. This assumption is simply not true and it communicates a terrible misunderstanding of the purpose of the Holy Spirit within a believer’s life.
They teach that a person must be filled with the Holy Spirit, which is then confirmed by the manifestation of wondrous signs in their life. They reason that if a person cannot speak in tongues, survive poisonous snake bites, or complete other similar miraculous and/or supernatural feats then they must not be filled with the Holy Spirit. This has sometimes led misguided people to act recklessly or carelessly believing that they are somehow invincible.
Jesus performed physical miracles as a means of confirming His identity and establishing His credibility as the Son of God. In other words, the healings and other wonders that He did were intended to prove that He had both the ability and authority to forgive sin. They were secondary to His true mission of seeking and saving the lost. The real power of the gospel is that Christ has conquered death and the grave, that Satan is a defeated enemy, and that every chain of sin that once enslaved man has been broken.
It is true that God wants his people to prosper, but His definition of prosperity is much different than that of the world. God wants us to grow in our faith and Christ-likeness… to become increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus. As we do so we will bear much fruit - things such as love, joy, and peace. We will live lives of contentment, satisfaction, and purpose. In this we will discover a greater prosperity than the world could ever offer.
We should have confidence that God will keep His promises. We should have assurance that our salvation is secure in Christ. We should live with the knowledge that God is sovereign and always in control. He will someday make all things new and right. Our faith is an expression of our love for and trust in God. It is not and never should be thought of as an instrument used to acquire things that we want for ourselves.
And lastly, I do believe that God is still in the miracle business. He continues to do amazing things everyday which are beyond human ability and understanding. But the idea that all true Christians can and will perform visible, miraculous wonders is absurd. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our spiritual callings, not to become a circus act!