If you were on a sinking ship and had a choice of going into the water holding an anchor or a life preserver, which would you choose? Silly question? Yet this is the same choice we make when we choose which gospel to be believe.
Choose a gospel? Isn’t there only one?
Many so-called gospels are preached, but there is only one which is divinely empowered to save those who trust in it. All the rest are anchors.
In Part 1 of this study we asked the question, by which gospel are you saved? The answer is the gospel of God’s grace. Contrary to what you may have heard, this is the only gospel message found in the Bible. What does the gospel of God’s grace look like? It looks like Jesus. Jesus is grace personified. To preach the gospel of grace is to preach the exceeding riches of God’s unmerited favor revealed to us through Jesus Christ (Eph 2:7).
The turned-around gospel
Tragically, the gospel of grace is not always preached in its pure form. The result is that sincere believers get confused about their standing before God. In their confusion, they may even abandon God’s grace for inferior alternatives. That’s like swapping the life preserver for an anchor. It’s not a smart move. If you see someone doing that you really ought to speak out, like Paul did with the Galatians:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal 1:6-7)
What does it mean to “pervert the gospel of Christ”? The Greek word for the verb “pervert” can be translated “turn around.” A perverted gospel is a turned-around gospel. It is a gospel which turns the focus away from Jesus onto something else. If the gospel of grace reveals Christ alone, then a perverted gospel is Christ plus something. It’s the somethings that’ll sink you.
Ten ways to set aside grace
The Bible lists many things that can distract you from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Here are some of them:
1. Human effort (Gal 3:3): think performance-oriented Christianity. “Gotta get busy for Jesus. Gotta work for my salvation. Gotta start producing fruit or he’s going to lop me.” Except that you don’t and he won’t.
2. Traditions (Col 2:8). “That’s just the way we do things around here; if you’re going to be a part of us, you’d better get used to it.” So you’re saying Jesus is the gate into the kingdom, but right behind him is this other gate that you have added.
3. Hollow and deceptive philosophy (Col 2:8), like karma: you do good, you get good. “God won’t judge me, I’m basically a good person. At least I’m better than that guy.” Indeed, there are good sinners and bad sinners, but they are sinners alike. Your goodness still falls catastrophically short of God’s goodness. What matters is whose righteousness you’re wearing – yours or his?
4. Angel worship (Col 2:18). God told you the name of the angel watching over this church? Cool! Now let’s get back to Jesus.
5. Rules and regulations (Col 2:21-23). Smoking will kill you, but it won’t send you to hell like unbelief does. Working on the Sabbath may wear you out, but Jesus still loves you.
6. Self-denial, abstinence (Col 2:23). God gave us taste buds and appetites to enjoy life! Keep your monkish asceticism away from my chocolate stash!
7. Endless genealogies (1 Ti 1:4). So you think you broke your leg because your grandfather was a mason? But weren’t you adopted into a new family when you believed? Didn’t Christ redeem us from the curse so that we might inherit the blessings of Father Abraham?
8. Myths (1 Ti 1:4). Did Adam have a second wife? Were the Nephilim really angel-spawn? Is this stuff going to be on the test? I think not.
9. Sin consciousness (Heb 10:2,22). God’s grace is greater than your sin. If you are more conscious of your sin than you are of his righteousness, it’s like saying that the payment of Jesus Christ was insufficient. His worth is greater than your unworthiness!
10. The 10 Commandments, a.k.a. the ministry that brought death (2 Cor 3:7). God hid these inside the ark under the blood-stained mercy seat and now you want to hang them on the wall? In the Sunday School?!
What’s wrong with all these things? Very simply, they diminish your faith in Christ. The more you trust in your own works, for example, the less trust you’ll place in His finished work. Trusting in your works is like filling your life preserver with cast iron.
I call these things anchors because they have no life in them. They can’t save you because they are based on “worldly principles rather than Christ” (Col 2:8). We have died to such things (Col 2:20). They have no value for us. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).