True and False Gospel Teaching
Sunday, Dec. 5th, I preached on Deuteronomy 18:15-22. In that sermon, I said that Jesus is the true and final prophet; he is the full revelation of God, his ways, and salvation. While many, if not most, were in agreement with that statement, one congregant ask, "2 Corinthians 11:14 says that Satan disguises himself like an angel of the light. How can we discern true gospel teaching from false gospels?"
That is a great question. How can we discern true gospel teaching from false gospel teaching? The sad truth is that people pretend to be good gospel pastors but really preach something other than the gospel. The Apostle Paul says to the elders in Ephesus, " I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30) False wolves come into the church to destroy believers. Some come even from within.
These false wolves attack in a variety of ways. Some attack by mocking, slandering, and persecuting believers. Others are far more crafty like their father and attack by twisting and distorting God's word. This type of attack is far more insidious and damaging to the church. Often they come from within the Church herself.
So how do we discern between true and false gospel presentations? First and foremost we need to know what the gospel is. Is the gospel a command to do better? Is the gospel a mantra? No. The gospel is a declaration of God's salvation. Gospel means good news.
It is the good news that God has done something about our sin. He has borne our sin and shame on the cross. His only Begotten Son, begotten before all worlds, was crushed for our iniquities. Then on the third day, he was raised from the dead. And this happened just as God said it would in the Old Testament. The entire Old Testament prepares us for this salvation in types, shadows, and promises.
And this didn't happen in a corner; it didn't happen in a locked room behind closed doors. Jesus was crucified in public. Dozens, hundreds of people saw him hanging on the cross. Then when he was raised from the dead, it was public. He appeared first to Peter and the rest of the twelve before appearing to more than five hundred at once. And he appeared lastly to one untimely born, the Apostle Paul.
This is the good news. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ that he was born, he lived the life we failed to live, he died the death we deserve to die, and he was raised on the third day so that all who are in him might have new life. It is history.
Second, all preaching and teaching show how every passage either points us to Christ and his atoning work or is resultant of his atoning work. It is common for people to ask what does this passage tell me to do. One of the homiletical texts I read in seminary said that should be our first question. The author gave this anecdote: when my wife says the trash is full she is ultimately telling me to take the trash out. In his opinion that is how we should read the Bible. There certainly are imperatives in Scripture. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. But all of the imperatives rest on the indicative.
Our first question shouldn't be, "What does this text tell me to do?" Our first question should be, "Does this text prepare me for Christ and his atoning work or does it stem from it?" Once we know that, we can see the gospel clearly in every passage and rightly apply it to our lives.
If we don't do that, then our application will be wrong. Let's take Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as an example. If our first question is, "What does this tell me to do?" we will think we need to be sacrificed to save others; that we will need to be crushed for the sins of others. No one in the history of Christian interpretation has found that an appropriate application. We know that it isn't about you or me or Billy or Bobby or Betty or Sue because it is a text that prepares us for the atoning work of Christ on the cross. And once we recognize it prepares us for Christ, we can then rightly apply it.
Any preaching or teaching that does not ground application in the gospel itself isn't gospel preaching. Let's take the Ten Commandments. At Mt. Sinai God gave Israel the Ten Commandments. In classic Dispensationalism, they say Israel should have rejected the covenant at Sinai because it is law. They say it is salvation by works and not grace. However it ignores the 20 chapters that came before. It ignores the fact that God has already redeemed his people. He had already saved them. And the covenant at Mt. Sinai flowed out of the grace and salvation of God at Passover and the Red Sea. Understood this way, then the Ten Commandments aren't "do this and be saved", they are "do this because you are saved". True application flows from and is resultant of the gospel.
These two simple things help us identify true gospel teaching from false gospel teaching. Every preacher or teacher should show how the passage prepares us for Christ's atoning work or flows from his atoning work.