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Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6


Well, turn with me again to 1 John, chapter 4, as we continue to look at this wonderful letter, 1 John, chapter 4. In the last couple of years, there was an article that appeared in The Guardian entitled “Fake Drugs Kill More Than 250,000 Children A Year.” The article said this in part:

Tests on drugs in the field have identified fake and ineffective copies of a vast range of drugs including antimalarials, antibiotics, and cardiovascular, and cancer medicines. Many fakes originate in China and India and have been found to contain everything from printer ink and paint to arsenic. Beyond the fakes that are made and sold by criminal gangs, are poor quality medicines that lack sufficient active ingredients to work properly or fail to dissolve correctly when taken. Sloppy manufacturing is often to blame, but others are sold past their shelf life or have degraded in poor storage conditions. (And the article makes this conclusion.) Up to 10% of drugs in low and middle-income countries are poor quality or outright fakes.

You know, as I read that, my own heart was moved with compassion for the children and for the families affected by those fake drugs. Imagine how tragic to take a medicine that you've been promised will save your life, only to discover that it does nothing or worse, it causes your condition to deteriorate and hastens your death. As I thought about that, it occurred to me that sadly, that happens every day across our world, not only with people's physical health, but their spiritual health as well. The world, the airwaves, the Internet, are all filled with charlatans and false teachers who are peddling a spiritual version of arsenic-laced snake oil. And John the Apostle, in the texts we're studying together, warns us to be alert for those who are selling such a fake and false gospel.

So today, we continue our study in the third and final test of eternal life. It's the doctrinal test of “Faith in the Biblical Jesus and the Biblical Gospel.” To have eternal life, you have to take the right medicine, you have to believe in the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel; a fake will do you no good. That's the point John makes. Let's read it again together, 1 John, chapter 4, verses 1 to 6.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

In these verses as I've noted for you, John demands that every believer apply several very specific biblical tests to every biblical idea, to every spiritual message they're presented with, in order to distinguish genuine teachers who teach God's truth, from false teachers who teach damning error. These verses provide us with two crucial details about false teachers. In verse 1, there's “The Continual Danger That Comes to Us from False Teachers.” “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This was a danger in John's day in the first century, it continues to be a danger in ours and in every age.

The second crucial lesson that we learn here has to do with “The Chief Test for False Teachers.” In verses 2 through 6, John lays out several specific doctrinal tests that equip us to recognize false teachers. So far, we've considered that when it comes to looking at a person who's claiming to speak for God, you have to ask yourself, first of all, do they, in fact, have “A Different God?” Because many false teachers teach a different God than the God of the Bible. We looked at that in detail. Secondly, do they have “A Different Jesus?” That's really the primary point of verses 2 and 3.

Now today, we learn to investigate, as we look at a person who claims to speak for God, to see if they preach, in fact, “A Different Gospel,” a different gospel? As we've done in each case, let's begin by looking at verses 2 and 3, and the biblical test that's presented there. Look again at those verses.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you've heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

We've already worked our way through those verses in terms of the reference to Christ and His person. Although John doesn't explicitly mention the test of the gospel in these verses, he clearly does include it. Look again at verse 2, “By this, you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ (The Messiah, notice this.) has come in the flesh is from God.” And then in verse 3 he says, if they don't confess that Jesus, then they're not from God. A key element of Orthodoxy is believing that “Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the Messiah, Who has come in the flesh.”

But that immediately raises the crucial question, and that is, “Why has He come? Why has He come?” Now we're talking, not about His person, but about His work. Why has He come “in the flesh?” John intentionally includes in these verses, not only the person, but the work of Jesus Christ as vital to biblical orthodoxy. And this isn't the first time; go back to chapter 1 and notice how often he refers to the saving work of Christ. Chapter 1, verse 7, he talks about the “…blood of Jesus His Son (Who) cleanses us from all sin.” Chapter 2, verse 2, “…He Himself (Jesus) is the propitiation (the satisfaction of God's just wrath) for our sins; and not for ours only, but…for those of (people all over) the whole world,” not just for the people of Jewish descent, but for people across the world.

Go to chapter 3, verse 5, “You know that He appeared, (Why? Here it is, He has come in the flesh. Why?) in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” And of course, we're going to get there shortly. Go to 1 John, chapter 4, and look at verse 9, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world (There it is, He's come in the flesh. Why?) so that we might live through Him.” Well, how do we live through Him? Verse 10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and (Here's how we live through Him.) (He) sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Go down to verse 14, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son (Here's why He came in the flesh.) to be the Savior of the world.” So, what I want you to see is that when John talks about His coming in the flesh, he doesn't have some general generic idea that He was this wonderful example, follow His example, He lived a good life, He was a good man, He died, and He's gone. No! He was the Son of God, the eternal Son of God, who has come in the flesh to be the Savior of all by cleansing us through His blood, by being the propitiation for our sins.

And this is what John does in his gospel, you remember. He begins his gospel in John, chapter 1, verse 14, “…the Word became flesh.” Why? Verse 29, “…Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” What a teacher says, then, about why Jesus came, about His work, about the gospel, is absolutely key in discerning the true minister from the false teacher.

In 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 14, Paul tells us that, “…Satan (transforms) himself as (into) an angel of light.” That is, he looks like a messenger of truth. I think one of the cleverest things that ever happened was the idea of depicting him like a dragon in a red suit with a pitchfork, kind of a parody. The truth is if Satan were to show up here this morning, he’d have on robes that made him look like he was a very spiritual person who spoke for God. He's not just into paganism, he's not just into blatant idolatry; a key part of his strategy is to corrupt the true gospel, and because of that, our world is filled with false gospels.

Paul talks about this in Galatians, chapter 1, verses 6 and 7. In fact, look there with me. Look at Galatians, chapter 1. We’ll talk about the exact gospel, wrong gospel, different gospel he's talking about later. But notice in verse 6:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

That was in the first century when there were still Apostles. I can promise you that it's more prevalent than ever in our day. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 3 and 4, Paul writes:

I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus (a different gospel) …which you have not received (accepted)…you bear (it) beautifully.

You know, “Wow, that's wonderful. Isn't that really spiritual?” Folks, we have to know that there are false gospels in the world, and we have to be able to identify them. And the best way to know is to know the real gospel so well, that you can spot the fake. So, there's the biblical test. Look and see what they're teaching about why Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

Having considered that, let's, secondly, consider “The Biblical Gospel.” What exactly is the gospel the Scriptures set forth? There are several key biblical truths about the gospel that every Orthodox Christian and teacher will affirm. I'm just going to give you a summary; the gospel can be expressed in four basic truths. Let me just say that the full complete explanation of these four truths is in Romans, chapter 1, verse 16, through the end of chapter 4. If you want to really sink deep, go listen to the study we did through the book of Romans beginning in chapter 1, verse 16, and running all the way through the end of chapter 4. That is the explanation of the gospel.

A summary statement is in the passage we read for the Scripture reading this morning, 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. As I walk through these four truths that constitute the gospel, I'm going to give you references in both the full version, in Romans, and the shorter summary in 1 Corinthians. So, let's look at these four great truths that summarize the biblical gospel.

Number one, “There Is One God Who Made All Things and We Exist for Him;” there is one Creator. Paul doesn't make this point in 1 Corinthians 15, because he's already made it very clear in 1 Corinthians 8, where he says the gods of the nations are idols. There's only one true and living God, and He created all things by and through His Son, and they all exist for Him. In Romans, chapter 1, verses 18 to 21, Paul explains that that Creator who's made all things has made His existence, His deity, His power, and His eternality, absolutely evident and known so that every person everywhere is without excuse. How has He made it known? In the creation itself. Just look at what He's made. Look at any aspect of what He's made, and He says, “I have put Myself on display, I've made it evident to them, they understand it, they know it.” I've often quoted to you that book title, it's one of my favorites, Does God Believe in Atheists? And the answer is, “No, He doesn't.” They are, according to Romans, 1, “suppressing the truth” that He's made evident in the creation. So, every person on this planet is without excuse.

And then in Romans 2, verses 14 and 15, we learn that that God, that Creator God has written the basic substance of His Law, His expectations of every human being on every heart, and the conscience, He's wired us with a conscience that operates to either condemn us or excuse us, based on that basic understanding. So, everybody knows. That's why he ends Romans 1 by saying, “They know the ordinance of God, and he's talking about pagans who've never seen the Bible, they know the ordinance of God, and they do it anyway.” (Paraphrase.) They sin anyway. So, there is one God who made all things, and we exist for Him.

Number two, “We all have sinned against that God, and our sins deserve death.” Spiritual death, that is, we ought to have no relationship with God and we are born without that relationship. Physical death will come for every one of us; that's part of the curse of sin, and eternal death, called the second death. We're talking about an eternity of suffering, separated from God. That's what our sins deserve. This, by the way, underscores, this second point underscores the need for the gospel. It's necessary because of two great realities: our own sin and depravity.

In Romans, Paul lays this out step by step. He begins in chapter 1, verse 18, through the end of chapter 1, he talks about the pagan, he talks about the person who's never seen a Bible, who only has the creation. And he says that knowledge of God that's in the creation, the reality of God's Law that’s written on the heart, he just ignores it, he suppresses it, and he does what he wants to anyway. And therefore, he's without excuse.

In chapter 2 of Romans, beginning in verse 1, through chapter 3, verse 8, he talks about the Jewish person. And really, he's talking about anybody who has a copy of God's Word, and who believes in the existence of the one true and living God, but believes they can get there on their own, believes they can know Him through their own efforts. And he says, “It's not happening; you condemn yourself by what you say you believe because you don't do it. You know it, but you don't do it.” (Paraphrase.)

And then he comes to the summary; go to Romans, chapter 3, and look at verse 9. When you get to verse 9 down through verse 20, he is now not talking about the pagan, and he's not talking about the Jew; he's talking about everybody. And notice what he says in verse 9 of chapter 3:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, (And now we get individual.) “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; (That's a summary of what he's going to unfold in the verses that follow.) THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, (In other words, we have depraved minds.) THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; (We have depraved wills.) ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; (That has to do with our lifestyles.) THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, (That's our behavior.) THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

And he goes on to lay it all out, and he says that's why verses 19 and 20, “Nobody is ever going to be right with God by keeping God's Law because of who we are by nature.” (Paraphrase.)

And what's the penalty for all of that? Go over to Romans, chapter 6, and look at verse 23, “For the wages of sin (what you and I earn for our sin) is death.” Spiritual death, eventually physical death, and eternal separation from God, what's called “The Second Death.” It's not that you go out of existence; it’s that apart from Christ, we would suffer forever for our sins. “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, our sin is the problem.

But there's another problem and it's God's perfect justice. If we were sinners and God wasn't perfectly just, we wouldn't have a problem. But He is! Go back to chapter 2, look at chapter 2, verse 2.

We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice… (Doesn't matter what you know, what do you do?) But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same (things) yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and (the) revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (And here's key, verse 6.) who (HE) WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.

That's God's perfect justice. He can't help Himself; it's His nature. He has to be just, and He has to give us what we deserve, and what we deserve is eternal death.

The Gospel includes a third great truth and that is that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners through His perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection.” Jesus Christ came into the world. We first have to ask the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” And we did this last time, but let me just remind you of what we discovered. Jesus Christ is “The Historical Jesus;” that is, not the ones made up by academics online, but the man of history, the person who lived 2,000 years ago. He is “The Eternal Son of God.” He is “The Promised Messiah.” That is, He's the One the Hebrew Scriptures promised would come. He is “The Perfect Man,” fully man, but without sin. And He is forever “The God-Man,” God, hyphen Man. That is, He is both fully God and fully man forever. That's who Jesus Christ is.

That raises the question, “If He's the Savior, how exactly does He save His people?” Three key points when we think about how he saves His people. First of all, “He perfectly obeyed God's Law Himself.” You can read Romans, chapter 5, verses 18 and 19, or listen to 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He…knew no sin.” Hebrews 4:15, He “…has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” He kept God's Law perfectly. You know, I am in awe of that, because I can't do that for a single day. And He did it for thirty-three years!

Secondly, “He then died to fully satisfy God's just wrath against the sins of all who would believe.” We just saw it in 1 John, right? 1 John 4, He is “…the propitiation for our sins,” (verse 10) the satisfaction of God's wrath against our sins. Look at Romans, chapter 3, verse 25, “God…publicly…displayed (Jesus) as a propitiation in His blood (that is, through His violent death, and that sacrifice is received) through faith.” This is what He did. This is how He saved us. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, it's put like this, “…I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” He died for our sins; Christian, He died for your sins, “according to the Scriptures.” 1 Peter 2:24 says, “…He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” How does He save His people? By perfectly obeying God's Law so that He qualifies to stand in our place, and then He dies to fully satisfy God's just wrath.

And number three, “God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and He is alive forever.” Romans 1:4, “(He) was declared the Son of God with power by the (His) resurrection from the dead.” Romans 4:25, “He…was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” 1 Corinthians 15:4, “…He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

And then we can add this, “By grace alone, God offers the gift of forgiveness and a right standing with God because of the work of Jesus Christ.” This is the heart of the gospel. This is what theologians call, ‘The Great Exchange.’ It's what is called in the letter to the Romans, “Justification,” to be justified, it means to be not simply forgiven, but it means ‘to be declared right with God, to receive a right standing before God in justification.’ Here's what happens. Look at Romans 3, if you're still there., verse 23 says, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Verse 24, “(We are) justified (We are declared right with God in reference to His Law, a legal declaration that we are righteous. How?) as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

In justification, God does three things. First of all, He credits our sin to Christ. You see, God, in His perfect omniscience, knows every single sinful thought you and I have ever had. He knows every raunchy attitude we've ever displayed. He knows every sinful word that's ever exited our mouths. He knows every act that we have ever committed that's against His Law, whether it was in public or private, whether we thought it was covered by the darkness of night, or whether it was in the full blazing light of the sun, He knows them all. And on the cross for everyone who would believe in Jesus, God took that list, that comprehensive list of your sins, and He credited them to Jesus Christ's account; and on the cross, He treated Jesus as if he had committed every one of them.

And then, secondly, in justification, God credits Christ's perfect righteousness to us. You see, not only does he credit our sins to Christ and Christ dies paying the full payment for them. But then, in an amazing exchange, God credits the perfect life of Jesus Christ to us. For thirty-three years, He thought everything perfectly, He only had right attitudes, He only spoke words of grace that were intended to minister to others, sometimes firm and hard words, but never sinful words. And He only did that which honored the Father for thirty-three years, and every single one of those thoughts and attitudes and words and actions God takes and to the believing sinner, He credits into your account, and now He forever treats you as if you had lived Jesus’ perfect life. As you sit there this morning, if you've repented and believed in Him, that's how God sees you.

And then, in justification, He credits our sins to Christ, He credits Christ's righteousness to us. And then thirdly, on the basis of that, God forgives our sins and declares us forever righteous in His sight; the gavel comes down, the trial is over, the courtroom is shuttered, it's done! Salvation then, is only through the work of Christ. Acts 4:12, “…there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” This is what the Reformers used to call ‘Sola Christus.’ That is, that God justifies us, not based on our own righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone!

A fourth truth in the Gospel is that “God commands us to repent and believe the gospel to be saved.” Now, let's be clear about this; we can never earn what Christ did, it's a free gift as we saw. And even repentance, according to Acts 11, and faith according to Ephesians 2, those are gifts of God's grace to us. That's why the Reformers talked about salvation being ‘sola gratia.’ That is we are saved from God's wrath, not by our own personal merit or initiative, but by the sovereign grace of God alone. Romans 3:24, we are “…justified as a gift by His grace.” Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast.” But the amazing gift of an eternal right standing before God doesn't become ours automatically. We have to respond to that gospel, and we have to respond God's way to be reconciled to God, our Creator, through the work of His Son, we must repent and believe.

Listen to Jesus’ first message that's recorded for us in Mark's gospel. Mark, chapter 1, verses 14 and 15:

Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, (It’s here! And if you want in,) repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repent and believe in the gospel. It's the same message Paul preached in Acts, chapter 20, verse 21, Paul preached “…repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” You must repent of your sin.

What is repentance? Well, if you want, you can go back and listen; I've done a theological study of repentance, a full message, but let me just give you a summary. Repentance is, first of all, “The recognition that you have sinned,” and that you deserve nothing from God. It's the attitude of the first beatitude in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 3, “Blessed are the poor (beggars) in spirit, for (to them belongs) the kingdom of God.” Where you recognize, “I've sinned against God, I deserve nothing from Him, and all I can do is beg for pardon and beg for mercy.” It's like the Publican in Luke 18 in the story Jesus told who said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”

Secondly, “Repentance involves a genuine sorrow for that sin.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “…the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.” Not only do you have to acknowledge your sin; there has to be a genuine grief in your heart that you have done this to God, your good and gracious Creator.

And thirdly, there has to be “The determination to turn from everything you know to be sin in your life.” This doesn't mean you have to clean yourself up before you come to Jesus. Notice the key word is ‘determination,’ willingness would be another good word. It's the attitude of your heart. In Acts 8:22, Peter says, “…repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, (Pray that the Lord that, if possible.) the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.”

Notice, repentance involves a willingness to desert, to abandon the intentions of your will, the sinful intentions of your will. And that willingness to turn from sin that is part of repentance will be expressed after salvation in a changed life, not as the cause of salvation, but as the fruit of salvation. Repentance is like this. It's like a rebel laying down his weapons and acknowledging his king’s rightful rule of him. It's like a prodigal son leaving the place where he's deserted and returning and seeking his father's forgiveness. It's like a criminal confessing his crimes, agreeing with the justice of his sentence and pleading to be pardoned. You must repent.

And secondly, “You must believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord,” you must believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Look back at Romans, chapter 1. This is how Paul introduces the theme of this letter about the gospel. Romans, chapter 1, verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Notice, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, for in it, that is in the Gospel, the righteousness of God, the gift of righteousness is revealed. How do we get that gift? “From faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Go over to chapter 3, verse 21. Here's where Paul begins to explain positively, justification. He says:

But now apart from the Law (That is apart from keeping the Law, the righteousness of) God has been manifested, (this gift of righteousness) being (and this was) witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (It's not new; it's in the Old Testament.) even the righteousness of God (that you received) through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (and those who are justified are justified as a gift by His grace).

So, it is believing. Look at chapter 4, verse 4, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited (counted) as a favor, but as what is due.” Listen, when your boss hands you your paycheck, you don't say, “Thank you for your kindness in giving me this gift.” No! It's, “Look, I worked for this. It's mine; I earned it.” That's not how salvation, justification comes. Verse 5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” And verse 6 says, “…God credits righteousness apart from works.”

And of course, famously in Romans, chapter 10, verse 9, here is the message of faith which Paul was preaching, and what was that message? What does it mean to believe? Here it is, verse 9:

That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

So, faith then involves three things as well, it involves, first of all, “Knowing the gospel;” involves your mind. You can't believe something you don't know–you don't understand. Romans 10 says, “How will (shall) they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” You have to know the gospel. And in 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul says, “…I make known to you…the gospel,” I preached this gospel to you, I explained it to you.

Secondly, you must “Believe that gospel to be true.” In 1 Corinthians 15:1, he goes on to say, “…the gospel…which also you received,” that is, you welcomed it, you received it as true.

And thirdly, you must, in terms of faith, “You must trust in and depend on Christ alone for forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation with God to the extent that you're willing to follow Him as Lord.” That's what faith looks like. That's why he says in Romans 10, “confess Him as Lord.” It's not a pre salvation work; it's an expression of faith that says, “I believe so much in Jesus Christ and who He is and what He's done, that nothing else matters. I believe in Him, and I'm going to follow Him.” 1 Corinthians 15:1, goes on to say, “…I (made) known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, (And then he adds this.) in which also you stand.” There's the trust in and dependence on that gospel message. This is what the great reformers meant by ‘sola fide,’ faith alone. God justifies us not because of any human works of any kind, but by faith alone.

So, let me put it all together, we are saved then by grace alone, through faith alone, because of the work of Christ alone, and the ultimate goal of our salvation, the goal of the gospel is God's glory alone, ‘soli, Deo Gloria.’ That's the biblical gospel.

So, with that understanding then, let's briefly consider some key gospel heresies. As we've done in each case, we want to know the right; we need to be able to recognize the fake. Here is just a short list. Now, let me just say this, there's a lot of bad teaching about the gospel that isn't heresy. For example, teaching that downplays God's sovereignty in salvation is bad teaching; it's not biblical teaching, but it's not heresy. There's a difference between bad teaching and heresy. There'll be Arminians in heaven, but there'll be no one in heaven who thinks they're getting in there by their own works and efforts.

So, let me give you a little list. This list, by the way, is not comprehensive, but it will give you some categories to be aware of. First of all, there are the “Heresies that Deny Man's Need of Salvation.” These heresies deny the need for individual salvation at all. There are three of them. First of all, “Pelagianism,” named after its founder, “there is no original sin or depravity, so man is free to choose virtue and needs no salvation.” I just want to ask him, “What world did you live in?”

Number two, “Inclusivism–all religions lead to God and a right relationship with Him.” This is the whole mountain illustration, right? There are many trails to reach the top of the mountain, but they're all leading to the top of the mountain, so no matter what you believe, we're all going to get to the top of the mountain. The problem with that illustration is they're climbing different mountains with different destinations. Or, to use Jesus’ analogy, they enter different gates and they're own different roads headed to different destinations.

“Universalism–every person will eventually be saved, regardless of what they believe.” That is so clearly contrary to what the Scriptures teach; it doesn't even really need to be addressed.

A second common heresy, I'll call “The Pop-Heresy that Teaches that Faith in Personal Merit or Works instead of Christ at all.” In other words, it just sort-of leaves Christ off the table; let's not even talk about that. Ask the average person in America how he or she hopes to get to heaven, and this is what you'll hear, “Well, you know, I'm just hoping that when the day comes, my good deeds will outweigh my bad deeds.” It's not going to happen.; that's a false gospel, it's a false hope. Galatians 3:10 says, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE LAW.” In other words, the only way you get to heaven by your works is if you're perfect. Good luck with that.

Thirdly, “Heresies that Add Works (Notice the word add; that's the key word, add works.) to the Ground of Justification.” These heresies teach a person to trust in his own merit or works to gain a right standing with God, in addition to faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. So, these people will talk about grace, they'll talk about faith, they'll talk about Christ. But they won't talk about grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone, because they're adding something to grace. They're adding something to Christ, they're adding something to faith. These heresies come in several different forms. Some add to grace and faith in Christ, “The Mosaic law.” The Judaizers in the New Testament are the perfect example of this. They were a group of former Pharisees in the Jerusalem church. Their teaching was a legalistic blending of first century Judaism with Christianity. This is powerfully answered in Romans 2, in the entire Book of Galatians, especially Galatians, chapter 3, and in Philippians 3 where Paul talks about his own past as a Pharisee and how it did him no good. He had to abandon all of that for Christ. Paul calls this “another gospel.” We saw it in Galatians 1, verses 6 and 7. Galatians 2:21 says, “…if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (for nothing).

What are some modern groups that take this approach? Some in the Hebrew Roots movement, not all of them, but some in that movement argue that believers must keep the Mosaic Law and they won't say, “to get saved,” they have enough integrity not to say that, but they will say, “to maintain your salvation, or to keep yourself in a state of grace,” you have to keep the Law.

Another modern group is the Black Hebrew Israelites. One expose’ on them says this, “They believe that the Euro-Christian theological teaching that the Old Testament has been fulfilled is a lie. Consequently, one is made right with God through obedience to the Law.” Others add religious rituals. The Judaizers insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation; you can read it in Acts 15 and see what they taught and how the Apostles responded.

What are the modern groups that say you're saved by some religious ritual? Well, the Roman Catholic Church for one. Trent, a response to the Reformation, teaches that at baptism, God infuses grace, listen to this, “Whereby an unjust man actually becomes just through baptism.” The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that through ritual you become a true believer. In “Watchtower” magazine you can read this, “For all who wish to gain an approved standing with God, Christian baptism is a requirement.” The Church of Christ has historically embraced baptismal regeneration. There are some today that don't, but many still do, and it's fuzzy, frankly, in many cases. But the idea that you are saved in part through your baptism, that is a heresy! Others add just human works to the message of grace and Christ and faith.

Again, the Roman Catholic Church weighs in on this one. Again, Trent says this:

Through the observance of the commandments of God and the church, faith cooperating with good works, (It says.) believers may increase in that righteousness received through the grace of Christ and are further justified.

And just in case that wasn't clear enough, here's their anathema. Again, this is Trent:

If anyone says that the righteousness received in justification is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works (Which is exactly what we say the Scriptures teach.) but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not because of its increase, let him be damned. Let him be anathema.

That's what the Catholic Church believes. They believe human works, added to grace and faith in Christ. St. Paul calls that “another gospel,” a damning gospel.

Jehovah's Witnesses also add human works. In one of the main works of the Jehovah's Witnesses, you can read this, “Ways and thoughts approved by the God of righteousness are a requirement for gaining entrance to the spiritual paradise of His worshipers and servants.” The Mormons are particularly odd on this front. Listen to Joseph Smith, “Abraham received concubines and they bore him children, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Go ye therefore and do the works of Abraham and you shall be saved.” I'm not making this up, folks. That is a quote from Joseph Smith. James Talmage, one of the apostles of the of the Mormon church said, “The blessing of redemption from individual sins, while free for all to attain, is nevertheless conditioned on individual effort.” Let me say it as plainly as I can, if you add any basis to your acceptance with God other than the work of Jesus Christ alone, even if it's something God commanded, in the Old Testament circumcision, in the New Testament baptism, you are believing “another gospel;” that is not a saving gospel. If you add anything to grace and faith and Christ, it's a different gospel!

Number four “Heresies that Teach a Wrong Goal or Purpose for Salvation.” In other words, it's not about spiritual salvation at all; it's not what we're even talking about with salvation. There are a couple of these, the “Social Gospel” was a redefinition of the Gospel by liberalism in the early 20th century. And they said, “We don't need salvation from sin, that's not what the gospel is about, it's about salvation from the conditions in society. Let's make things better here on the planet.” Listen, I'm all for caring for people's physical needs, but if that's all you do, you're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Many in the “Social Justice” today or “Critical Race Theory” movement teach that the only real sin is oppression, and salvation is the reversal of the oppressors and the oppressed. That's not a biblical gospel.

The “Prosperity Gospel” is the heretical gospel that invites people to follow Jesus solely for temporal blessings. In this perversion of the Gospel, Jesus is merely the means to an end to achieve health and wealth and power today, your best life now. The Pew Forum Data suggests that over 90% of charismatics in most countries hold to some form of “The Prosperity Gospel.” Even charismatic writers, by the way, they don't like that 90% number, but they will agree that more than 40% of the people in the charismatic movement are involved in “The Prosperity Gospel.”

So, think about that for a moment, somewhere between 40 and 90% of a movement that claims to be the work of the Spirit is actually preaching a false gospel! Here are just a few of some of the better-known prosperity gospel preachers whose materials are still available. Avoid these people: Todd White, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Jesse Duplantis, Paula White, Myles Munroe, and Todd Bentley has shown up again after he was disgraced a couple of years ago. That's just a little list; the list could sadly go on. So those are some key heresies about the gospel.

Just to conclude, what are some applications of what we have studied together this morning? Let me just give you three of them very quickly. Number one, this test of a different gospel will help you “Examine and Identify False Teachers.” it'll help you identify false teachers. Do they teach a different gospel?

Secondly, this test will help you “Examine Your Own Faith,” if you already claim to be a Christian. What is the gospel that you have believed? Is it the biblical gospel that saves, that we talked about this morning? Or is it one of these aberrations, one of these perversions, a false damning gospel?

And a third implication is this, if you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, “You Must Repent and Believe in The Gospel” that I've just explained in order for you to be right with God your Creator, in order for your sins to be forgiven, for you by grace alone, to receive as a gift, the work of Jesus Christ by which you can be reconciled to God and no longer be His enemy, but actually become His child. And my plea with you this morning, is to repent and believe this gospel.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for the truth of Your Word, and thank You above all for Jesus Christ our Lord and His gospel. Lord, help us to love the gospel, to treasure it, to guard it. Lord, don't let us be sloppy, don’t let us be naïve, but help us to love the truth of the gospel. And, Father, help us to live in light of it.

I pray for those who may be here this morning who've never really believed this gospel. Lord, maybe they know they've not believed or maybe they believe some perversion. I pray that even this morning they would truly repent as they've heard it explained and they would truly believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ as their only hope of being right with you. I pray it in His Wonderful Name, Amen.


Recognizing False Teachers - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

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1 John


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The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 6

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Loving One Another - Part 2

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It Matters What You Believe - Part 2

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It Matters What You Believe - Part 3

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It Matters What You Believe - Part 5

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It Matters What You Believe - Part 6

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This Is Love - Part 1

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This Is Love - Part 2

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This Is Love - Part 4

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This Is Love - Part 5

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