The New Testament has much to say about antichrists and false gospels. Paul dealt with them. Peter dealt with them. John dealt with them. We still deal with them today.
Some false gospels are easy to identify. They don’t look anything like the real Gospel.
Take the Gospel According to Oprah, for example. Oprah Winfrey claims that all roads lead to heaven. It doesn’t really matter who or what you are worshiping just so long as your worshiping. Any worship, she says, is worship directed to the one, true god, whoever he, she, or it may be. Better yet, this “god” is pleased when the creation worships “it”. So much so that worship, true, false or otherwise, guarantees one access to eternal bliss. Oprah’s gospel is blatantly obvious and patently wrong.
Other false gospels are a little more subtle and, thus, more pernicious. Consider, for example, Socianisim. They claim to be followers of Christ. They label themselves Christians. Yet, their understanding of Christ differs from orthodoxy Christianity on a monumental scale.
Socinians, and their modern day variation called Jehovah’s Witnesses, deny the deity the Christ. He is not the God-Man. He is a created being just like the rest of us. He’s just a specially anointed created being that God blessed for a special mission. Sorry, Charles Taze Russell (and Joseph Smith and Arius), that was determined to be a heresy and ruled unbiblical 1700 years ago at the Council of Nicea (325).
Since the opening days of the church, another false gospel has dogged God’s people like Spot chasin’ a ‘coon through the scrub brush. It’s been known by a variety of names: Judaizers, Phariseeism, fundamentalism, and legalism. This gospel proclaims faith in the saving work of Christ. So far, so good. However, adherents then claim that there are certain things that Christians can do and should do and others that they can’t and shan’t do. Dress this way not that. Listen to these songs but not those. Do, do, do or don’t, don’t, don’t. To violate the norms of legalism is to risk excommunication and damnation.
In other words, legalism and its proponents add works back into the mix. The finished work of Christ, it seems, is actually insufficient to completely save someone. When Christ said, “It is finished,” He must have had something else in mind. Legalists add our efforts to Christ’s labors. We now are in charge of our eternal destiny. It is our faithfulness to a humanly-devised and sermonically-prescribed set of do’s and don’ts that assures or undermines our salvific hopes.
Legalism is not a Christ-centered Gospel. It is the message of doom and damnation. If you try to save yourself according to this gospel, you have assured your destruction. To lean upon your own efforts is to crucify Christ again (Hebrews 6:1-4). From this point, you have no hope.
If legalism is your gospel, you will one day stand before Christ and complain, “Lord, Lord, did we not do (fill in the blank) in your name?” And Christ will respond, “Depart from me for I knew you not.”
Legalism does not steal our joy by weighing us down with the baggage of killjoy labors. Legalism steals our salvation by putting us back on the cross that we deserved in the first place. Either Christ is your Savior as the true Gospel describes or legalism is your downfall as your judge and pastor prescribes. Beware the false gospels of this world and turn to the only Gospel that can save.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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