When we think of false gospels, a couple of common ones that raise to the top are the false gospel of works based acceptance and the prosperity gospel. In both cases, the gospel is false because our hope and trust is anchored in something other than the completed work of Christ. And let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean that perpetrators of false gospels don’t acknowledge Jesus and his sacrificial work on our behalf. In fact, you’ll find they most likely do. For the most part, they will acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who came in the flesh and atoned for our sins without which there is no reconciliation to the Father. They will even talk about grace and forgiveness.
However, what makes the gospel false is when acceptance and approval by God is placed in something other than Christ. This is crucial because Christianity is Christianity because of what God has done through his Son, because of God’s singular plan for redemption based on his promises and work. That God made all creation good but it plunged headlong into sin due to the first man and woman’s disobedience, he began a work starting with Genesis 3:15 to rescue lost humanity from its disconnected and downcast position. When Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, said, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind” he means HE is the only one through whom lost humanity can have redemption. The whole Old Testament pointed to his ultimate victory over sin and death, requiring that belief rest in him as the fulfiller of all promises (2 Cor. 1:20).
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb. 9:6)
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Heb. 9:23-24)
What the perpetrators of false gospels do is to encourage you to be obedient to something other than the gospel. But let’s be clear about what obedience to the gospel really means. It is first believing in who Jesus is, the 2nd person of the godhead who took on flesh, perfectly fulfilled the law of God and offered himself over as the sacrifice for sin. Obedience to God is in response to what he has done, resting on the promises of what he has already spoken and already accomplished. Our response to live in accordance to what he has done, is obedience to his will according to what the Father purposed in Christ (read Eph 1-3).
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Eph. 4:1)
In consideration of the first 3 chapters of Ephesians, Paul clearly shows that walking worthy implications for obedience in a corporate setting according to what God has required for his body. It does mean examining Scripture to see what God requires. He’s already told us. It is not some random, arbitrary subjective notion we believe God wants us to do.
But for the false gospelers, Jesus is only a stepping stone to something else that gains you favor with God. This can take on many dimensions but finds the common error in displacing the all sufficient, atoning work of Christ with something else that requires obedience to it.
With that said, there is a false gospel rarely spoken about: the pastor’s vision.
Now, I’m not talking about the vision that Jesus himself gave concerning his body found in the pages of Scripture. I often balk at church’s vision statements as if the church needs to create its own statement. However, I recognize that where the vision statement finds alignment with what Jesus already said and established concerning his body, then vision statements can be helpful especially for those young in the faith and without a good familiarity with Scripture to define what that vision is. I reject the idea that the local assembly needs to come up with something new and different as if what Christ established is not sufficient. He is the one building his church.
But that is where this idea of pastors’ visions can go. It’s when the pastor receives a so-called prophetic word from God about what God is doing in that body and the members are required to obey it. This invokes fear for the sincerely faithful who really want to obey God, do not want to lose his favor and are encouraged to follow whatever the pastor says according to his so-called vision. Members are manipulated into believing they must obey or face consequences for disobedience. This is how cults are formed.
I’ll be honest, I spent a good chunk of my Christian life under such misguided and distorted teaching. I’ve even heard pastors say if you don’t obey their vision, you are not obeying God and will never be blessed. Imagine that, not being blessed because you are not locking step with a manufactured paradigm and encouraged to place your hope in that. No, we are blessed according to what Christ has done. Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:3-6)
But it reminds me that just because the preacher uses the Bible and quotes Scripture, doesn’t mean he is preaching the gospel. I don’t care how many Bible verses you hear, how spiritual the exhortation to obey the vision, if the preacher is telling you that your favor and acceptance from God is something other than in Christ, you should probably run as far away from that place as possible and find a church who will anchor your faith in the gospel and instruct your Christian walk according to what God has purposed in his Son. We can look to the pages of Scripture to find that, not the so-called prophetic utterings that deviate from it.