>Beware of Gospel Substitutes

>Funny how the gospel can become so ‘elementary’ to us. For most of my Christian walk, I thought that the gospel was the propositional truths that made up Christianity (and it certainly is). I therefore assumed that the gospel was to be memorized, put into a script, and then shared with non-believers. After all, the gospel was for non-believers to come to know Jesus. Over the last 5+ years, God has been renovating my heart and relationship with him as I’ve come to understand that the gospel is for me today as much as it is for the one who’s never heard. There are still so many places in my heart that do not believe the gospel. There are so many habits and actions that operate out of functional denial of the gospel. As it is true for my own life, so I find it true of my own church. There are still so many places in our church that do not function as an expression of the gospel, but rather out of something else.

I taught a class at CF in which we talked about a true response to the gospel, and how we must by all means continue to fight to believe and hold onto the gospel. That said, there are subtle substitutes that can creep in and replace our dependency on the gospel. Here are a few.

                                      i.     Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”
                                     ii.     Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated. I have earned all the favor I have received.”
                                    iii.     Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change groups often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”
                                   iv.     Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ. My faith is about being involved in the right Christian causes.”
                                    v.     Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”
                                   vi.     Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”
                                  vii.     Social-ism. “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at my church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”

If the gospel were to jump off the pages of our doctrinal statements and into the core of our community: its practices, its values, its rule of engagement – and into our lives, what would that church look like?

Let’s pray to that end:

  • Remember how you came to know God through hearing the gospel. Take some time to thank God for that work.
  • The gospel is good news for the world.  Pray that the gospel will continue to reach those who have yet to hear and believe. 
  • Pray that the younger generation of our church would hear and respond to the gospel. 
  • Pray that the church would be united by a common passion for the gospel – that every area of our church’s life and ministry would be influenced by the gospel of grace. 
  • Pray that God would stir up a hunger to grow in the knowledge of the gospel. 
  • Pray that the forgiveness we have received through Christ would cause us to forgive others and broken relationships might be restored.

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