The gospel is the most important thing in the entire universe. Where someone spends eternity literally hangs in the balance of the gospel. Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” To be effective in ministry, the gospel must be central in everything we do: every sermon we preach, every devotional we write, all of our small group curriculum, and in every aspect of the life of our churches. If the gospel is not central, our churches will be built on sand and will eventually collapse into a religious relic or a glorified version of a self-help pep rally. If we’re not preaching the gospel, we are preaching a cubic zirconia version of the divine diamond of the universe--the gospel.
I’ve been a Christian for less than a decade, but I have heard some presentations of the “gospel” that have made me cringe on the inside and would be considered cursed according to the bible. All the way through the New Testament, we see the apostles correcting false gospels. So, before we get into what the gospel IS, let’s look at 3 false gospels that we must be on guard against.
False gospel #1- CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR!
“For by GRACE you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9
The gospel is the free gift of God to everyone who believes; it is not merely a call to behavior modification or moral reform. The gospel is that God lived the perfect life for us in the person of Jesus Christ because we're not able to, and then took the penalty of our sins on the cross. The heart of the gospel is not to clean yourself up; it’s that by God’s grace He will clean you up. Salvation is not based on our efforts, it’s based on Christ’s perfection. This is probably the most common form of a false gospel that easily slips into our preaching when we are teaching through a series that is not mainly evangelistic and fail to tie it back to the gospel. Let’s be ferocious in our proclamation of the free gift of the gospel in every single sermon— no matter what the topic.
False gospel #2- PRAY THIS PRAYER!
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” -Luke 14:33
Some of the most heartbreaking gospel presentations I’ve ever heard have been where the preacher didn’t even share the gospel, but told the audience that God loved them and if they prayed a prayer after him they would become a Christian. Well-intentioned preachers often fail to mention who God is; anything about sin; anything about the life, death, burial, and resurrection; or anything about repentance. This is a false gospel, and we must not fall into this trap. I am 100% for calling people to respond to Jesus during an invitation (I am a traveling evangelist, and I do this in every message I preach), but we must make sure that we are not tricking them into thinking they’re going to Heaven without placing their faith in Jesus. Before giving any kind of invitation, we must make sure we’ve shared the gospel. The invitation to become a Christian is not just to pray a prayer, but to repent of sin and put all the hopes of our souls in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Let’s be sure to share the gospel and explain what true salvation looks like, rather than having people pray an empty prayer. It is possible to make a profession of the gospel, but not have possession of the gospel.
False gospel #3- HAVE A BETTER LIFE!
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” -Luke 9:23-24
The gospel does not promise health, wealth, and prosperity--it actually promises and gives many examples of the opposite when a person starts to follow Jesus. Most of the early disciples and many people throughout history were martyred because of their faith. Peter was crucified upside down. John was boiled alive. Stephen was stoned (with rocks ;). The list goes on and on.
The draw of the gospel is not to live a more comfortable life during our time on earth; the draw of the gospel is that we get God. Peter gives a great example of this at Pentecost when he used Psalm 16:11 in the very first sermon preached after Jesus ascended: “He makes known to me the path of life. In His presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.” God is what our souls long for, not having some extra cash or a better job. Let’s offer the eternal pleasures of knowing God in the face of probable earthly suffering, rather than promising people things that the gospel does not promise.
So, what is the gospel?
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” -1 Corinthians 15:1-4
The gospel is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel saves sinners and reconciles the world to God for the glory of God. When someone repents of sin and places their faith in Jesus Christ, they are completely forgiven, eternally secure, and made into a brand new creation. God shines a light into their hearts to reveal who He really is. They are saved from the penalty of sin and set free from the power of sin. God satisfies the deepest longings of their soul and sends them on mission to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation, make disciples of all nations, and bear His image everywhere they go.
We must preach the whole gospel--not just the “attractive parts.” Holy God. Sinful man. God’s wrath on sin. God’s love in sending Jesus. Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial. and resurrection. A biblical call to repent and believe. This is our message--it's not behavior modification; it’s not just praying a prayer; and it doesn’t promise an easy life; but it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes. Let’s preach it as clearly, biblically, and often as possible!