Recently, a Bible study group that I am a part of was studying the book of Galatians. In verse 6 of chapter 1, the apostle Paul tells the Galatians that he is astonished that they are turning to a different gospel than the one they were taught.
Paul makes it clear that there is only ONE gospel. He goes so far as to say that even if he (Paul) were to come and preach another gospel then he should be damned.
Often after reading this, our minds turn to figuring out what this other gospel is. The rest of the letter indicates that some people were essentially teaching that to be a Christian one had to become Jewish first, or at least as well. The idea was that you had to keep the law in order for the grace of God to be given to you. Paul makes it clear that this is not true. Grace can never be earned.
How do we apply the lessons from Galatians? First, we look for those who are preaching another gospel. The Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses and other cults come quickly to mind. But as Paul points out, even mature believers can be caught out in succumbing to another gospel. Even the apostle Peter and Barnabas faltered.
So where are we in danger of believing “another gospel”? The Reformation drew a distinction between what the church of the day was teaching and what the scriptures taught. The Reformers showed us that the church taught another gospel that the scriptures condemned.
However, in our day and throughout history, this “other gospel” has survived and been taught - often in ignorance and out of a practice of laziness. The true Gospel is that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone - period (Read Ephesians 2:8-9). This is the Gospel that Apostles taught, that there is no other name by which we are saved. We are saved by Jesus Christ alone. Jesus has done everything that is necessary for us to be saved.
Yet throughout history we the church have tried to add to that gospel and have made it cheap. When I was a teenager, some friends joined a Pentecostal church and invited us to visit. We did and their new friends informed us that we weren’t Christians because we didn’t speak in tongues. This is another false gospel. There are many versions of this out there. The most common would be about adult baptism. The implication is that if you haven’t been immersed as an adult then you fail to obey God and so you can’t really be a Christian.
The problem is that this “other gospel” is alive and well in Calvinistic and reformed churches as well. Things like whether you believe in predestination or God’s sovereignty in conversion and evangelism. The six-day creation or the world-wide flood or a host of other good doctrines are added to the gospel that make it “another gospel.” Even demanding that someone believe in the trinity before they can be a Christian is “another gospel.”
Much of this is a lazy application of the Gospel. Yes, Christians ought to behave and do certain things but because they are Christians (Ephesians 2:10), not to become Christians. Unfortunately, we tend to be lazy and imply that the two are absolutely necessary in order for us to be Christians. But that is not true. Yes, by their fruit we shall know them, but it is not infallible because we cannot see their heart. Yes, we are to grow in grace and become more Christ-like, not to be saved but because we are saved.
We call to each other to live a life that is consistent with our profession that Jesus is Lord of our life. This means studying the Scripture to see how He wants us to live and believe. In this we all are learning how to become more Christ like and the more Christ-like we are, the more gracious we will be to the ignorant around us.
This article was contributed by Wally Rakete, a pastor within the GPCNZ.