In 2003 I moved from Alabama to a relatively small city in East Texas where the cliche, “There’s a church on every corner,” is almost a reality (the church where I serve is one of four in a row!). Â During my time here in what is sometimes joking called, “the buckle of the Bible belt,” I’ve noticed a horrifying and deeply saddening reality over the course of my time here: despite the seemingly countless churches and despite the spiritual-sounding label, the truth is that many (maybe even most) of the people do not understand the basic elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is revealed in the Word of God.
The True Gospel (i.e., Good News)â€¦
1. â€¦ Does Not Necessarily Result In Financial Prosperity Or Physical Healing/Wellness.
a. The Good News is NOT that God plans to make His people financially prosperous.
Twisting Scripture, some assert that the Good News is that Jesus came to make people rich.Â Others believe the true Gospel, but are convinced that it necessarily results in believers being financially prosperous.Â So, does the Bible indicate that financially prosperity is the Good News or that it is even a necessary outcome of believing the true Gospel?
- The Macedoniansâ€™ lives (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
- The Apostlesâ€™ lives (they forfeited earthly riches to follow Jesus).
- Jesusâ€™ own life (Matthew 8:18-22).
Were they poor because they lacked faith, as some preachers assert?Â Did Paul rebuke the Macedonians for not having more money to give?Â Quite to the contrary, Paul commends the Macedonians as examples for the Corinthians to follow!Â Certainly, God provides what His people need (Mt. 6:25-33), but He never guarantees they will be rich, and both the clear teaching of Scripture and the majority of the lives we find in the New Testament bear witness to this reality.
b. The Good News is NOT that God plans for His peopleâ€™s lives to be free from sickness and pain.
Just the other day my allergies were driving me crazy, and I had someone say to me, â€œWe need to pray Isaiah 53 over you.â€Â While Jesus did heal people’s earthly bodies in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Mt. 8:17), I couldn’t help wondering whether this person had, probably unknowingly, bought into a distortion of the Gospel.Â Most â€œprosperity preachers,â€ as they are often called, use Isaiah 53, particularly verse 5 as a â€œgo-toâ€ text to demonstrate that God plans for all of His people to be illness-free in their earthly bodies.Â But if you consider the context of Isaiah 53, Isaiahâ€™s point in writing the chapter, you quickly find that healing being described is not mainly referring to allergies or cancer or AIDS. Â The context reveals that Isaiah’s primary reference to healing in Isaiah 53 is to what is sometimes called sin-sickness. Â In other words, the primary sense of healing in Isaiah 53 is from the spiritual sickness that results from our sin.
Does that mean that God never plans to heal his people’s earthly bodies? Â Absolutely not. Â Again, see Matthew 8:17. Â But if you’ll notice, Jesus did not say that He would do this for all of His people all the time. Â The passage says He healed those people at that time.
As evidence that God does not will for all of His people to be healed from their earthly sicknesses all the time, consider the following:
i. Â Â Â Peterâ€™s commentary on Is. 53:5 (1 Pet. 2:24)â€”the healing is of our sin-sickness!
ii. Â Â Â Jesusâ€™ own life (Phil. 2:5-8).
iii. Â Â Jesusâ€™ promise to Peter (Jn. 21:18-19).
iv.Â Â Â Â Jesusâ€™ teaching to His disciples regarding signs of the end of the age (Mt. 24:9).
v. Â Â Â Paulâ€™s instructions to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23)â€”no rebuke for being sick (as if he lacked faith) or a command to repent of sin (as if Timothyâ€™s sin was the cause); rather, instructions to drink a little wine for help with his stomach problems.
vi.Â Â Â Â With the exception of 2 (Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and John, who died while he was in exile for the faith on the island of Patmos), every disciple was eventually murdered for his faith in Christ.Â Martyrdom sounds pretty painful and like a bit of a health problem!
vii. Â Â Peterâ€™s teaching (1 Peter 1:3-7)â€”Peter guarantees pain & suffering for believers!
These first 2 â€œgospelsâ€ are often lumped together.Â These are often found as a â€œpackage dealâ€ of sorts.Â Now, let me say a few things about both of them, since they are very similar.
i. Â Â Â The Gospel does not necessarily exclude physical healing or financial prosperity.
ii. Â Â Â It is also true that the Gospel does not necessarily include either of these.
iii. Â Â It is possible for someone to (mistakenly) believe the Gospel does result in these things without believing that the blessings of financial prosperity and healing from disease are, in and of themselves, the Good News.Â Someone could hold Jesus as their ultimate treasure and still believe that God plans for everyone to be rich and well.
The truth is that many who preach and believe that God plans for all His people to be healthy and wealthy often fall into the trap of believing that financial prosperity and physical healing are, themselves, the ultimate treasure.Â This belief is not onlydangerous, but (at least potentially)Â damning, because the Good News makes Jesus Himself, not the gifts He gives, the ultimate treasure.Â This is the purpose of Jesusâ€™ words in Matthew 13:44, which says:
â€œThe kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.â€
The greatest tragedy of believing this â€œgospelâ€ is that it turns the cross into nothing more than a means for people to obtain the very same treasures everyone else in the world so highly esteems. Â The truth about financial prosperity and physical wellness is that not only are they not in and of themselves the Good News, but they are not even necessary effects of the Gospel.
2. … Is NOT that Jesus died to give you purpose/meaning/fulfillment in life.
Undoubtedly, the Gospel gives purpose, meaning and fulfillment to life, but Jesus didnâ€™t die primarily to give people full and meaningful lives.Â Furthermore, preaching this as the Gospel often makes people sound more like innocent victims than guilty criminals (sinners).Â Gilbert writes:
â€œItâ€™s become fashionable lately to present the gospel by saying that Jesus came to save humanity from an innate sense of guilt of meaninglessness or purposelessness or emptiness.Â Now of coarse those things really are problems, and many people feel them deeply.Â But the Bible teaches that humanityâ€™s fundamental problemâ€”the thing from which we need to be savedâ€”is not meaninglessness or disintegration in our lives, or even a debilitating sense of guilt.Â Those are merely symptoms of a deeper and much more profound problem: our sin.Â What we must understand is that the predicament weâ€™re in is a predicament of our own making.Â We have disobeyed Godâ€™s Word.Â We have ignored His commands.Â We have sinned against Him.Â To talk about salvation being from meaninglessness or purposelessness without tracing those things down to their root in sin may make the medicine go down easier, but it is the wrong medicine.Â It allows a person to continue thinking of himself as a victim and never really deal with the fact that he himself is the criminal, unrighteous and deserving of judgment.â€
Itâ€™s not that many who are separated from Christ donâ€™t feel alone and without purpose in the world.Â Being disconnected from God absolutely causes that.Â But our biggest need is not to feel a sense of purpose or to feel lovedâ€”our greatest need is for forgiveness.
3 … Is NOT that God is using Christians to bring about social justice.
It is true that those who know Jesus will strive for justice in the world (Micah 6:8; Luke 11:42), but, again, this is an effect of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself.Â The salvation Jesus purchased on the cross accomplished mainly the rescue of people from spiritual bondage to sin, not physical bondage to unjust captivity.Â Believers being light to the world and salt to the earth, being good neighbors, and doing good to all people, especially to those who believe, results from the Gospel, but is not the Gospel.
4. … Is NOT that we can work our way to God by living rightly.
The temptation for believers is to believe the Gospel is simply that we should live upright, moral lives, reading our Bibles and praying and serving and sharing the Gospel.Â These are effects of the Gospel, but are not the Good News themselves.Â We are not saved because of these things.Â The Gospel does result in these things.Â 1 John does away with any and all confusion about that.Â In Romans 8, Paul asserts that God is actively conforming all of His people into the image of Christ.Â Believers must and will pursue growth in holiness, but the believerâ€™s pursuit of holiness is not the Good News, but a result of it.
5. â€¦ Is NOT that the cross has redeemed everyone from the effects of the Fall.
Sadly, this is an incredibly popular view, not only by heretics, but also by professing believers.Â The Church of Latter Day Saints website says this regarding the Gospel:
â€œAs descendants of Adam and Eve, all people inherit the effects of the Fall.Â In our fallen state, we are subject to opposition and temptation.Â When we give in to temptation, we are alienated from God, and if we continue in sin, we experience spiritual death, being separated from His presence. We are all subject to temporal death, which is the death of the physical body (see Alma 42:6-9; D&C 29:41â€“42). . . .
Jesus Christ redeemsÂ allÂ people from the effects of the Fall.Â All people who have ever lived on the earth and who ever will live on the earth will be resurrected and brought back into the presence of God to be judged (see 2 Nephi 2:5â€“10; Helaman 14:15â€“17).Â Through the Savior’s gift of mercy and redeeming grace, we willÂ allÂ receive the gift of immortality and live forever in glorified, resurrected bodies.
Although we are redeemed unconditionally from the universal effects of the Fall, we are accountable for our own sins.Â But we can be forgiven and cleansed from the stain of sin if we â€˜apply the atoning blood of Christâ€™ (Mosiah 4:2).Â We must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized for the remission of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.â€
Regarding original sin, the LDS website says:
â€œBecause of theÂ Fall of Adam and Eve, all people live in a fallen condition, separated from God and subject to physical death. Â However,Â we are not condemned by what many call the â€˜original sin.â€™ Â In other words, we are not accountable for Adam’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, â€˜We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressionâ€™ (Articles of Faith 1:2).
Through theÂ Atonement, the Savior paid the price for the transgression in the Garden of Eden (seeÂ Moses 6:53). He has given us the assurance of resurrection and the promise that, based on our faithfulness, we can return to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father forever.â€
Problems (Just A Few):
a. Â Nowhere does Scripture teach universal redemption of any kind.Â To the contrary, Scripture teaches a very particular redemption (John 6:37-40, 17:6-12; Eph. 1:3-6).Â Furthermore, those who are redeemed are forgiven and permanently sealed for salvation (Eph. 1:7-14).
b. Â Scripture plainly teaches the doctrine of original sin.Â Romans 5:12 says:
c. Â â€œTherefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.â€
d. Â Adam and Eve were Godâ€™s enemies after they sinned against God once.Â How is sin paid for in our lives if, after having the effects of the Fall reversed by the cross, we sin again?Â Does Jesus need to come back and offer Himself again?Â Hebrews 10, among hosts of other Scriptures, answer with a firm, â€œNo!!â€
6. â€¦ Is NOT that God is love.
The Good News is not that God has become a tolerant grandfather who is so proud of his grandchild that he overlooks all his wrongdoing.Â Such an understanding of the fact that â€œGod is loveâ€ is rooted much more in Western philosophy than in biblical truth.Â â€œGod is loveâ€ does not negate the fact that God is just or that God is jealous or that God is holy or that God is wrathâ€”all of these must be held in tension together, so that one does not ascribe to the false assumption that God tolerates sin.Â The â€œgospelâ€ that God is tolerant of sin has permeated even mainline Protestant denominations.Â For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America now allows homosexuals (i.e., not just those whoÂ struggle with homosexuality while acknowledging it as sil, but those whoÂ actively practice homosexual behavior, and assert that such behavior is acceptable to God (Rom. 1:32)) to serve as pastors.Â This view of the love of God is horrifically unbiblical, because we find in Scripture that â€œlove does rejoice with wrongdoingâ€ (1 Cor. 13), and that God punishes/disciplines His people for their good, and punishes in hell all who reject Him as the just consequence of their sin.Â Godâ€™s love must never be used as a covering for sin (i.e., that God is tolerant of sin).Â After all, does it stand to reason that God would take lightly that which resulted in the brutal murder of His Son?Â This is NOT the Gospel.
7. â€¦ Is NOT that people arenâ€™t so bad after all.
Some treat Jesus as though He is the spiritual icing on the cake.Â Because theyâ€™re good people who are almost where they need to be, they really only need a little â€œboostâ€ from God in order to get to heaven.Â This is absolute heresy, and is rooted in human philosophy rather than Scripture.
a.Â Â Â Â Romans 3:10-18.
b.Â Â Â Â Ephesians 2:1-3.
Although we (often desperately) want to feel like we’re generally good people, the reality is that every human is entirely wicked in his/her natural condition. Â And, if you’re honest, you don’t need the Bible to tell you that people are entirely wicked when left to themselves, since certainly human experience fleshes this out for us at virtually every turn.
What Do You Believe?
Were you surprised that any of these are, in fact, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Â If so, would you email me or at least read my next post, which will explain what the Gospel is?
Did you realize, like I have, that some of the people you know and love believe a “gospel” that is, in fact, no gospel, or “Good News,” at all. Â If so, I’m praying that God will open doors for you to proclaim the greatness and beauty of the real Gospel in love and with clarity (Col. 4:3-6).