The Heresy of Twisting the Gospel

Many people today are enamored with various false “gospels” that tout self-affirmation, prosperity, cultural restoration or social justice while ignoring the true Gospel as revealed in Scripture—the Good News that because of the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross, we can find forgiveness of sin when we repent and put our faith in Him. Pastor and church planter Mez McConnell has seen false gospels firsthand, and here he explains why we must be absolutely clear about the message we proclaim.

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The Gospel is good news, the best news in fact. And it is essential that we both get the message correct and also keep it in the proper place. If we get the message wrong, it’s like taking corrupted medicine: it can’t heal you. If we put other things in the Gospel’s priority of place, it’s like buying a diamond engagement ring but forgetting to include the diamond: we’re left with a setting that beautifully displays nothing. We must be willing to take the time to get the message right and to communicate it faithfully. Here are five reasons why:

1. Because Eternity Matters Most

The Gospel addresses all of life, both this life and the one to come. Many young people who want to serve with us on a short-term basis at Niddrie Community Church are on fire for the poor and passionate about being “missional” and “breaking down barriers.” But sadly, they often unwittingly put the emphasis in the wrong place: racial reconciliation, social justice or renewing the culture. The Gospel message is not simply that Jesus loves you or that God would like to get you out of your current difficulties.

As we’ve said before, the biggest need in Scotland’s housing schemes (our term for housing projects) is not social or economic change. The biggest problem in the housing schemes is that people are alienated from a holy God because the stench of their sin is an offense to Him. And so the people of the schemes need a real Lord and Savior who died and rose for them so that He can take away all of their sins and replace their stony, idolatrous hearts with worshipful hearts of flesh. No other message even begins to help.

To be clear, we are not opposed to helping people with their day-to-day physical problems. There may be situations where it would be positively wicked for a church not to help someone in physical need. But there must be a priority given to the Gospel message; it has to come first. Poverty, violence and injustice are real problems at a personal and societal level. But they are the symptoms of the spiritual disease we all carry around with us. Treating the symptoms is good and noble, but without the Gospel cure, the patient will surely die. As we approach evangelism and outreach in our needy housing schemes, we must do it with this inside-out mentality.

2. Because People Are Saved in No Other Way

In Acts 4:12 we read, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” If that is true, people must believe the true Gospel in order to be saved and brought into a right relationship with God. There is salvation in no one else; there is no back-up plan. Those who think that turning up to a scheme and emptying a few trash cans and digging a few gardens is somehow going to transmit Gospel truth by some form of spiritual osmosis are very wrong.

Faith comes through hearing (Romans 10:17), so we proclaim Jesus’ completed substitutionary work on behalf of sinners rather than offer a self-help program. Good works such as caring for the poor are a powerful sign to nonbelievers (1 Peter 2:12), but in the Book of Acts it is the Word of God that spreads and causes the explosive growth in the early church (e.g., Acts 6:7). Of course, first-century believers were doing good works by feeding the poor, looking after the widows, and helping the elderly. But these things were byproducts of a life lived for the glory of the Gospel; they were not the Gospel itself. People in our housing schemes will only be saved if they hear the Gospel word proclaimed to them in a clear and comprehensible manner. There is no other way.

3. Because Otherwise We Will Give Up

If we don’t have the Gospel right, we can forget any type of serious church planting work in schemes. We must know what we’re coming to do and the state of the people we’re coming to serve. We cannot allow ourselves to be surprised and discouraged by the depth of human depravity. People in the housing schemes don’t hide it as well as people in the suburbs. Also, we cannot despair about whether there is a solution to the problems that people face. We need the full Gospel, which tells us both the terrible truth about our sin and the glorious hope that we have in Christ. If we alter, soft sell, or pervert the Gospel, the Apostle Paul calls us accursed (Galatians 1:8), and we should not expect the favor of God on our work.

4. Because Real People Are Really Going to Hell

In Hebrews 9:27 we read: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” In a similar line of thought, when asked about a tower that fell over and killed 18 people, Jesus Himself called people to repent or else perish for their sins (Luke 13:5).

That might not seem like a very pastoral response to a question about people who had died tragically, but Jesus cared too much about the souls of His hearers to beat around the bush. Biblically speaking, there’s something worse than poverty or low self-esteem: hell. It is real, eternal and conscious. And so we have a duty to declare it boldly and fearfully.

Part of the truth about God will not do. The Bible describes God in many ways: He is angry at sin, He loves sinners, He hates and weeps and rejoices. He judges sin and sinners but He also forgives and justifies the genuinely repentant. We don’t preach a purely angry God any more than we preach God as a cosmic Santa Claus. We preach a full Gospel, not because people deserve it, but because Christ’s ultimate, loving, selfless, justifying, sanctifying and cosmic act of grace merits it. We preach to them because we love Him who first loved us.

5. Because of the Glory of God

The Gospel is ultimately about the glory of God (notice that in 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul calls it “the Gospel of the glory of Christ”). God chose to save sinners in a way that shows Himself to be both just and forgiving (Romans 3:26). He chose to redeem His people in a way that stirs up eternal praise in their hearts (Revelation 5:12). He chose to accomplish all of this in a way that magnified His wisdom while nullifying and frustrating the so-called wisdom of the powers of the world in rebellion against Him (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Do we presume to know better than God? Do we have a better, more glorifying Gospel than the one that God planned from all eternity and executed in time? A man-centered Gospel (God loves you so much, won’t you please choose Him?) glorifies sinners.

Without a message of judgment, God seems unjust and permissive, not glorious. Without a call to repentance and holiness, Jesus is proclaimed as a savior who is impotent to defeat sin in the lives of His people (contrast 1 John 3:8).

God wants to save sinners in the housing schemes of Scotland and the immigrant neighborhoods of Northern Virginia. But he will not do it through any other means than the glorious Gospel of His Son. He will not share His glory, so no half-Gospel or watered-down message will do. ©2016 Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

This article was adapted from Church in Hard Places by Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley. ©2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill.