Today we recognize Palm Sunday, the day upon which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We call this spectacular event the Triumphal Entry. The adoring crowds welcomed Him by waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna”. They greeted Him as the long-awaited king who’d come to rescue them from the yoke of Roman oppression. But their perceptions of who Christ truly was and why He’d come were gravely misplaced… and less than a week later many of these same people were calling for His crucifixion.
As we continue this morning with part 2 of our message titled “The True Gospel” I can’t help but notice that countless people still have misconceptions about Jesus even today. They have believed things about Him that simply aren’t true, and have projected their own impressions upon Him about who they think He should be rather than accepting Him for who He actually is. Many have been further swayed by false teachings and heresies that are contrary to the true gospel, such as those we discussed last week - the Prosperity Gospel, the Word of Faith Movement, and the Powel Gospel.
The following sermon will focus upon 3 more prevalent perversions of the gospel. These have deceived the hearts and minds of many people. Again, my goal is not to cast stones at any particular pastor or church who advances these futile theologies, but rather to point out their errors so that we may be able to recognize and steer clear of them whenever they are preached.
I. THE INSUFFICIENT GOSPEL
There are several derivatives of the Insufficient Gospel. Each of them falsely advocates that the gospel all by itself is incomplete and unable to save. Proponents of this ideology argue that something else is needed above and beyond the grace of God in order to receive and/or maintain salvation. Some of the most common additions to the Insufficient Gospel include baptism and/or good works. This heresy teaches that people must actively do something in order to be or to stay saved.
The Bible repeatedly stresses the importance of baptism, but never states that it is necessary for salvation. Passages such as Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 appear to equate baptism and repentance, but a careful reading of these verses in context along with a broader understanding of Scripture in its entirety help clarify their meaning. Baptism is an act of obedience which should be done by all new believers as a symbolic expression of the salvation they’ve received. It is rare to find a Christian who hasn’t been baptized, but fairly common to find people who have been baptized that aren’t Christians…
In the same way, while good works should certainly be present and visible in the life of a born-again believer they are not required in order to receive or retain one’s salvation. Lordship Salvation contends that people who are disobedient to God’s commands have either never been truly saved or can lose their salvation. However, the Bible teaches that salvation is given and secured wholly by God and that, once granted, it can never be lost. Good works are the natural outpouring of a life that’s been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. They are to be done as a response to His great love, not a means of trying to earn it or keep it.
My heart breaks those who think that they have to continuously work in order to merit God’s favor. They constantly wonder whether or not they've done enough or are doing enough to be saved. Even as they aspire to live godly lives, they are plagued by fear and doubt. Satan has duped them into believing that salvation is somehow contingent upon man. Beloved, the finished work of Jesus Christ is adequate. Nothing needs to be added to it. Sinners can never earn salvation, but rather must simply accept it.
II. THE MORAL GOSPEL
The Moral Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ teachings about righteous living while downplaying His warnings about sin and the need for redemption. It reduces the gospel into a system of principles and guidelines for those who want to adhere to a virtuous and upright lifestyle. The Bible is viewed simply as a manual for moral living.
There is no question that we as Christians should strive to live godly lives. We should love one another, show kindness to each other, be patient and forgiving, courteous and respectful, peaceable and humble, along with a host of other good qualities. There are whole chapters of Scripture devoted to teaching such things, but this isn’t the primary message of the gospel. No amount of moralism can replace genuine faith.
In his last letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul warns his younger protege to avoid certain men who hold to a form of godliness yet deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Perhaps the people to whom Paul was referring were proponents of the Moral Gospel. It sure sounds like it. They practiced godly living all the while rejecting Jesus’ power to save. They saw Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not as the Savior who took away the sins of the world!
I have heard it said that Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but instead to make dead people alive. This is such an important distinction. The main goal of the gospel is not to teach people how to live wholesome and honorable lives. It isn’t a behavior management plan. The Moral Gospel is a bankrupt perversion of the truth.
III. THE POLITICAL GOSPEL
The Political Gospel rests upon the mistaken idea that the civil government is the best means by which to advance the gospel and achieve God’s will on earth. It discounts the divinely given purpose of the Church and concludes instead that human government is a better vehicle for promoting Christianity. It pictures a very close and perhaps even inseparable relationship between the church and state, contrary to what is described in the Word of God.
Adherents of the Political Gospel spend a great deal of time talking about social issues and causes. They seek to lobby politicians and legislatures to pass laws and regulations which are favorable to the Christian worldview. If taken too far, this perversion sometimes devolves into a worship of the state rather than of Christ.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an honest and upright government. As Christians, we are commanded to pray for our civil magistrates and leaders. We should definitely promote candidates who will advance moral and ethical agendas and ideas. At times we might even run for office ourselves, or help other believers who are doing so. Christians are called to be good, hard-working, and law-abiding citizens.
But isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not spend any time trying to persuade the government to promote Christian ideals? Instead, He established the Church and empowered it to be His hands and feet on the earth by sending the Holy Spirit. It is not the role of the secular government to do what God has called the Church to do. Rather the purpose of the government is to establish and maintain a neutral environment in which the church is free to operate and thrive without undue hindrance.
As we saw in last week’s message, most false teachings have some elements of truth in them. God does want His children to act in obedience by being baptized and doing good works. He does desire that His followers live godly lives and practice moral living. He even teaches believers to pray for their leaders and calls on some to serve or hold office in the secular government. But while all of these things are true, none of them is the primary purpose of the gospel. All of them are secondary to its true meaning.
Next Sunday morning, as we gather here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will conclude this 3-part message with a discussion about the true gospel. We have identified many of the ways in which it has been corrupted, but what is the truth? See you then.