Now, more than ever, it is apparent that both believers and non-believers need to hear and know the true Gospel of Christ. We are living in a world with a myriad of counterfeit gospels, especially, it seems, here in the United States. Before defining and explaining a couple of the more prevalent counterfeits, it is essential to establish what Christ's Gospel actually is. Without a proper understanding of the true gospel, one cannot possibly begin to identify frauds (Wetherell, 2022). A common analogy is as follows: An individual who works in a bank handles large amounts of money daily. As part of his or her professional responsibilities, the man or woman must study an assortment of bills to learn the intricate details of each. In doing so, he or she is easily able to discern counterfeits whenever they come across one. Similarly, studying the Gospel and knowing it fully, makes it easier to know when you are presented with a false one.
First, it is important to provide a definition of the Gospel. According to Sutanto (2022), the Gospel is, "...the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God and mediator of the covenant of grace, who is united with his people by the Spirit through faith to forgive sin and reconcile to God, thus justifying, sanctifying, and adopting them, to the hope of eternal life with God in the new creation with resurrected bodies" (p. 1). To uphold His promise of the covenant, the Lord planned redemption for mankind by sending Jesus as the second Adam, who, as God-incarnate, obeyed where Adam failed. The penalty of the covenant of works is satisfied through Christ's death on the cross and, by fulfilling the requirement of perfect obedience to God, Jesus secured eternal life for all who would believe in Him. To capture the full beauty of this merciful exchange, I want to present Romans 5:12-21, which reads, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 2001, Romans 5:12-21). Knowing sin originated in Adam means every one of his descendants, which includes me and you, are in rebellion against God.
Thus, the Gospel can be summarized as follows: (1) We are accountable to God, (2) we are innately sinful and in constant rebellion against the Lord, (3) God planned for Jesus to come to rectify Adam's original sin and provide salvation for all who believe in Him, and (4) the gift of salvation is available to anyone who repents and surrenders his or her life to Christ (Gilbert, 2016). There are two key points here that are often neglected or intentionally ignored: sin and repentance. To recognize we are dead and in need of a Savior, we must first acknowledge what makes us sick: sin. According to Gilbert (2016), "Sin is the rejection of God himself and his authority over those to whom he gives life." Unfortunately, we live in a culture saturated with self-worship and idolization. You constantly hear messages like, "You do you," "Live your truth," "Follow your heart," and so much more. Yet, when you realize the underlying message of each phrase, you will see how inherently selfish it is. There is absolutely no mention of anyone else in those statements. Oftentimes, that is the point. They tell individuals to do what makes them happy even at the expense of others. An entire article could be dedicated to dissecting and refuting these statements, so I will save that for a later time. Regardless, the point is, the world tells us there is nothing wrong with us; it is the fault of others we are not prospering, or we are disadvantaged. Here is the problem with that rationale: we are not held accountable for anything we do, and it fails to acknowledge our inherently sinful nature. No man who has ever lived or will ever live is perfect except for Christ. The second point typically left out, or toned down, is repentance. According to Storms (2022), "True Christian repentance involves a heartfelt conviction of sin, contrition over the offense to God, a turning away from the sinful way of life, and a turning towards a God-honoring way of life; Repentance must be first rooted in the realization of how sinful an action, emotion, belief, or way of life is. Then, one must be grieved by how offensive and grieving sin is to God, not simply afraid of God’s retribution for your sin. In other words, repentance must be rooted in a high value on God, not a high value on oneself." Thus, the failure to repent is a form of idolatry, and it prevents us from receiving the full gift of the Gospel. One final point I would like to make is that the true Gospel doesn't condemn individuals; it convicts them.
Now, I will present three popular false gospels often seen in American culture. First, the Optional-Jesus gospel, which says, "Jesus is a way, not the way" (Wetherell, 2022). Ultimately, this gospel suggests people who practice religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, can still go to Heaven just through different means; however, this is wrong. In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" (Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 2001, John 14:6). Yes, there is exclusivity in Jesus' statement, which many people find offensive, but the truth is often hard to hear. Additionally, this belief distorts the true gospel. More specifically, if Christ is not really the righteous, holy Son of God who came to (1) bear our iniquities, (2) absorb God's judgment, and (3) establish peace with the Lord through reconciliation then there is no good news to believe in (Wetherell, 2022).
Second, the Expressive-Individualism gospel, which asserts Christianity is based on "living authentically," "being true to yourself," and "following your heart." Sound familiar? As stated above, these claims are in complete opposition to the Gospel. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that we are sinners who cannot trust our hearts because our hearts are deceitful above all things. Furthermore, sin blinds our eyes and darkens our minds to God's reality, so we do not have the capacity to discover what is true and authentic.
Third, the Prosperity gospel. Currently, this seems to be the most prevalent fraud of them all. This gospel maintains a distorted view of Jesus and says he guarantees Christians a happy, healthy, and successful life with no hardships. Obviously, this is not possible when we have already asserted every man is sinful, thus, suffering is inevitable. More importantly, Jesus suffered. He suffered more than any man has or ever will. Therefore, his followers will suffer, too. At the beginning of the article, I provided the analogy of bankers studying real money to better identify counterfeit bills. Similarly, you need to know the true Gospel to know when you are presented with a false one. With that said, there are several prosperity gospel teachers who are very prominent in the United States today, and I think it is important to name them, so people are aware of their false teachings. Here are just a few: Steven Furtick, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Paula White, and Rick Warren. I encourage you to research these individuals and their teachings to discern for yourself whether or not they align with the biblical Gospel.
In conclusion, the Gospel is the best news ever. If you have not already experienced the joy and peace that comes from completely surrendering your life to Christ, I pray you will. It is an unexplainable feeling, knowing your life and eternity are secure through the reconciling act of one man. When Adam fell, God could have let us die in our sins and spend eternity in Hell, which is what we deserved. Instead, He sent His only Son to reconcile all of mankind into a right relationship with Him. There has never been nor will there ever be a greater love than His.
Crossway Bibles. (2001). Holy Bible: English Standard Version.
Gilbert, G. (2016). What is the gospel? Crossway. Retrieved from https://www.crossway.org/articles/what-is-the-gospel-2/.
Storms, S. (2022). The Christian and repentance. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-christian-and-repentance/.
Sutanto, N. G. (2022). The gospel. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-gospel/.
Wetherell, K. (2022). Beware of these seven counterfeit gospels. Open the Bible. Retrieved from https://openthebible.org/article/beware-these-seven-counterfeit-gospels/.