“6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)
In the above passage, the Apostle Paul is speaking to four local churches he had planted during his first missionary Journey in the Galatian cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Not long after he had planted those churches, false teachers arose in Galatia asserting that in order to really be a Christian, one had to also follow Mosiac Law. Paul was astonished that believers in Galatia had departed from the gospel of faith alone that he had preached to them and had turned to ‘another’ gospel that was really not the gospel. In fact, Paul accused those believers of turning away from Christ himself, not just the message of justification by faith.
Paul also had some very harsh words for those who would preach ‘another’ gospel. He first says in verse 8 that if he (Paul) or his companions preached a different gospel that they should be ‘accursed’. In verse 9 he broadens the group of those that should be ‘accursed’ to include anyone who would preach a different or false gospel.
The word ‘accursed’ literally means ‘devoted to destruction’. The term was used in the Old testament in connection with the fall of Jericho. It was a term used for the city of Jericho itself and for one Achan, who had stolen an ingot of gold, a quantity of silver, and a costly garment during Jericho’s demise. When Paul states that those who preach a ‘different’ gospel should be ‘accursed’ he is pronouncing that they are deserving of condemnation.
Since preachers of false gospels deserve condemnation, we need to be able to spot a ‘different’ gospel and avoid it, along with its purveyors, like the plague. First, let us define the true gospel according to Jesus and Paul.
Jesus, at the beginning of his earthly ministry said:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
The Apostle defined the gospel message quite clearly:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-4)
So what are the marks of a false gospel?
Well, the list could be quite long, and would become even longer if we named some of today’s false teachers, many of whom appear regularly on ‘Christian’ TV. Rather than get into the weeds however, allow me to suggest three questions that can be asked of any teaching that you might come across.
1. What is the teaching’s SOURCE of truth?
2. What about the SAVIOR?
3. What are the requirements for SALVATION?
If you can remember three key words, SOURCE, SAVIOR, & SALVATION and what they mean, you will be well on your way to being able to spot (discern) just about any ‘different’ gospel on the street
What is the teaching’s SOURCE of truth?
Is the ultimate source of truth for the teaching you are listening to the Bible or something else, such as the teachings of Ellen G. White for Seventh Day Adventists, the Book of Mormon, or a human institution outside of the Bible. If the Bible is not the ultimate source of truth there’s a problem.
What about the SAVIOR?
Another way to ask this question is “Who is Jesus according to this teaching/teacher?” Is the Jesus of this teaching the Jesus of the Bible? Is he the eternal Son of God and equal member of the trinity, or is he just a good man, great teacher, a man who somehow attained ‘godhood’? Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was ‘a god’, not God. Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the creator and savior of mankind, but that he is one of many gods, a created being and elder brother of Lucifer.
What are the requirements for SALVATION?
This question gets to the heart of Paul’s argument in the book of Galatians. If anything is added to Christ’s death for OUR sins (substitutionary sacrifice), there is a ‘different’ (false) gospel. In the case of the Galatians, it was adding the keeping of the Mosaic law. For Mormons and JW’s salvation is based on believing the ‘right’ things according to their respective doctrinal statements and having achieved a certain level the ‘right’ works.
Sinners are in fact justified (declared righteous) before a holy God by works, just not human works, but the perfect work of Christ on our behalf.
If you are reading this, by now you are probably thinking about other religions or even Christian denominations that might be categorized as teaching a ‘different’ gospel. If you are, I encourage you to apply the three “S” questions. If you still have honest questions, leave a comment and perhaps we can shed more light or point you in the right direction for a satisfactory answer.
This is a great list. How would you categorize “liberal Christianity”?
In trying to apply it myself, it seems the first criteria, source of truth, is subtly violated through the adding of mainstream thinking and secular science as the filters through which the Scripture is understood. The second, the Savior may or may not be changed, as some liberal Christians do consider Christ divine. The third, what is necessary, also may be subtle. Generic “love” works are essential in the social gospel. But are they the outgrowths of salvation, or the cause?
The trickier the false gospel, the more dangerous it is. Or maybe they’re all equally dangerous.
I don’t believe works of any sort are the cause of salvation, but they will be a result of salvation. Faith alone saves but saving faith is never alone. I appreciate your comment concerning ‘trickier false gospels’. I would consider Joel Osteen pretty much one of the trickiest. He’s not a Word of Faith preacher like Kenneth Hagin or Kenneth Copeland, but he preaches the same name false ‘name it name it and claim it’ / ‘faith is a force we control’ message. He lies with a bigger smile.