We seldom take notice when things change very slowly. I am sure you know the story (probably an urban legend) that if you threw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it would immediately jump out of the water, but if it is put into the pot when the water is cold and the water is gradually heated, it will stay there until it is dead.
The Gospel in the western world has gradually been changed over the past 50 (or more) years so that what is believed to be the gospel today is no longer the true Gospel but a false gospel which differs substantially and dramatically from the true Gospel. But because the changes have been brought in gradually, no one seems to have noticed.
Paul mostly just refers to the Gospel as “the gospel” meaning that there is no other gospel and assuming that his readers understand what the term means. But about 30 times he calls the gospel “the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16; 1Corinthians 9:12 etc.) or “the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1; 1Thessalonians 2:2 etc.). In fact, Mark opens his gospel with... “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
By calling it the “gospel of Christ” the writers of the New Testament are saying that the gospel is about Jesus Christ, it is founded in, and by, Him. It is completed in, and by, Him. And He is the object and center of the Gospel. Nowhere is this clearer than in Paul's explicit definition of the gospel:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved... For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NKJV).
This is about Jesus Christ, not about anyone else. Yes, we happen to be the beneficiaries of His atoning work but the only role we had to play in this great work is that He died “for our sins”. But it is He Who died, Who was buried and Who rose from the dead.
So, how does the modern gospel differ from the gospel of Christ? It differs in that Christ is no longer the center and object of the message but man is. It is no longer the gospel of Christ, it is the gospel of self, and it is another gospel entirely.
Just think about how the “gospel” is normally communicated. Those who preach the modern gospel talk about you, God's plan for you, how much He loves you, how you can be happy and fulfilled, how He wants to bless you, make you rich and make you healthy and heal your marriage etc. While many of these things are true, the emphasis is in the wrong place. They feel the need to sell people on the benefits of salvation and so it becomes a man-centered message.
Right through the book of Acts we find that they preached “Jesus the Christ”. That was their message beginning at Pentecost (Acts 2:22) and ending at the last verse (Acts 28:31).
Some may say that this is merely semantics and splitting hairs and that all that matters is that people come to accept Jesus. No, this is fundamental to the Faith. There are different gospels that each presents a different Jesus. Paul warned that there would be “another gospel” and “another Jesus”: “For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:4). On the surface this other gospel and Jesus appear very much like the real Gospel and the real Jesus, but they are counterfeits empowered by a very different spirit – the spirit of Antichrist (1John 4:3).
The gospel of Christ and the gospel of self have different messages: The object of the first is Jesus Christ, His person, His work and His glory. The object of the second message is self. This message concentrates on what man can get from God and how everything Christ has done and does, revolves around blessing man. Responses to these gospels produce dramatically different results. The gospel of Christ is unpopular and few respond to it while the gospel of self is popular and many flock to it (Matthew 7:13-15). They also produce very different attitudes in their followers. Those who obey the Gospel of Christ, worship Him and their lives and doctrine revolve around Him – they are Christ-centered. Those who choose the gospel of self worship themselves and their lives revolve around themselves – they are self-centered. Not only do these messages produce very different followers, but they produce entire congregations that are either self-centered or Christ-centered.
These differences are more than a slight difference in emphasis. They are complete opposites. The true gospel produces repentance and faith in Christ alone. The gospel of self produces arrogance and self-righteousness. The gospel of Christ leads to eternal life while the gospel of self leads to eternal damnation. Those who have been attracted by the gospel of self are not saved – they have put their trust in a false message with a false savior.
Nowhere are these two gospels more clearly illustrated than in the ministry of Jesus. The Jews preached a Messiah who would fulfill their political, economic and ego-centric goals. Their message was one of self and ultimately no different to the message so popular today. They had no time for the suffering Servant who would not dance to their tune. They had formed a gospel that had nothing to do with God and His purposes, but that had everything to do with their goals, plans and ambitions. In the process they crucified the Lord of Glory (Acts 2:23) and brought God's judgment on the whole nation.
What people wanted from Jesus 2000 years ago is exactly what they want from Him today: Happiness, health, material blessings, problem solving, ego boosting, political dominion, in short – heaven on earth. When Jesus refused to give them those things and rather, offered them the cross and eternal life beyond the cross, they crucified Him and chose Caesar as their king (John 19:15). Modern christianity has not crucified Him, but they quietly ushered Him out the back door of the church, locked Him out (Revelation 3:20), and crowned self as their king.
“All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:16-18).
In the next article I hope to show more specifically and practically how this works.
Modern “Christianity” has taken us back to the dark ages and beyond. In those days everyone believed that the universe revolved around the earth. It was only around 1610 that Galileo discovered that the earth is not the center of the Universe, but the Sun is the center of our solar system and that Earth actually revolves around the Sun. (Galileo was declared a heretic by the Roman church and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.) Modern Christianity teaches that God revolves around the Christian and that we are the center of His Universe. This is even worse than believing that the universe revolves around the earth.
This is the result of the false gospel – the gospel of self. By contrast, the true Gospel – the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that He is the preeminent One and that our lives should revolve around Him. These are not variants of the same gospel but they are total opposites – one emanating from and terminating in God, the other in self. The one leads to life, the other to death. But how are these two gospels manifested? Let’s look at some of the fruit of both.
The first evidence of these gospels lies in what the person thinks about. Is self the center of their thoughts – how things benefit them, what they plan to do, how they feel etc.? Or is Christ, His Word (and His body) the preeminent subject of their private thoughts? Do their thoughts revolve around earthly things or heavenly things? “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
What we think about most is evidenced in what we talk about. Jesus said: “How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35). If our heart and thinking revolves around ourselves, that is what we will speak about. Even some preachers speak about themselves more than they do about the Lord and his Word! It is very hard to have a conversation with such a person since they are not interested in you, or what you have to say. They can only think and talk about themselves. Most people in the world are like that, but when “Christians” exhibit these traits, there is a real cause for concern. Those who have truly discovered the wonder of the Lord Jesus and His Word, cannot cease to talk about the things that really matter. I don’t mean we should never express our feelings, needs and joys, but when “I” is the word used most often, there is a real problem.
The prominence of the personal pronouns “I” and “we” are also evident in much of modern worship. This is symptomatic of the gospel of self. Those who have been touched by the true Gospel will want to speak and sing about the Lord Jesus Christ and He is the theme of their songs, praise and worship. The very fact that people choose one church above the other because they “enjoy the worship” better is a blatant statement that their worship, and therefore their lives, revolve around themselves and not around the Lord. They worship so they can have a great experience and not in order to bless the Lord! Sadly, entire churches are built around the worship “experience” – plainly declaring that they preach the gospel of self.
Many people assume that only believers pray. But unbelievers also pray and, they pray in churches. Their prayers are very much like those of the Pharisee of Luke 18:11-12 who used the pronoun “I” five times in his two sentence prayer! Jesus commented that “he prayed thus with himself”. James says that your prayers are not answered because “you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Yes, we have needs and it is right to express those needs before the throne of grace. But when our lives revolve around ourselves, we only see our own wants and not the needs of others, nor the will of our Father. Many Christians have been taught that prayer is how we get God to do what we want. That is not real prayer – it is the prayer of the gospel of self. True prayer helps us discover, and do, what God wants – “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus Himself prayed “not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39).
The gospel of self produces people who choose whether, where, and when they go to church based on their own desires and not the will of God. I don’t know how many times I have heard “I want a big church” or “I want a church with a youth group”, or “I like a church that serves good coffee” or any dozens of other selfish desires. Very seldom do we hear people praying for the Lord to lead them where He wants them or where they are needed. It is always about what people get from the church and not what they can contribute. For that reason big churches get bigger and small churches decline. The very existence of mega churches is evidence of the gospel of self!
I once knew a lady who had a beautiful voice and who, for a while, made a real contribution to the singing in a small church. But she chose to go to another church in the next city because the singing was better at that church. What the small church needed and what the Lord’s will was had nothing to do with her decision. She was not serving the Lord, but herself. Sadly, there are millions of people in churches today who choose “their” church based on selfish desires and not on God’s will for them. And when that church no longer serves their wants, they will move on to the next one that will serve them better. Such churches and their ministries revolve around the selfish desires of the people and have very little to do with true Christianity.
True church is where people meet to serve, not be served; to give and not to receive. It is where they go to worship, not be worshiped; and where they seek God’s will and not their own. True Christianity is where the focus and center is the Lord Jesus Christ, not individuals, programs, entertainment or any other human endeavor. The true gospel, church and Christianity seek to please and glorify the One who bought us at a great price. The counterfeits are pleasing to man and the flesh.
The word “sacrifice” has no place in the gospel of self. The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross is barely mentioned and the concept that Christians should make certain sacrifices is not mentioned. Not only do they not mention personal sacrifice, they regard that notion as heresy. That is not hard to understand when you realize that the gospel of self is all about personal gain which is the opposite of sacrifice.
Yet Paul says that it is only reasonable to present our bodies as living sacrifices in the light of the fact that everything is of Him, through Him and to Him (Romans 11:36-12:1). In other words, because Christ is the center of our lives, being a living sacrifice (being continually offered) is the only rational and logical response. That obviously means that those who are not willing to make sacrifices do not have Christ as the source, the enabler and the purpose of their lives (Romans 11:36). Paul says those who live for themselves and not for Christ are not saved – they live just like the rest of the world (Ephesians 2:3). Those are strong words but Paul is explicit that selfish living is an attribute of the “children of wrath”.
Sacrifice means doing things that we do not want to do and giving things that hurt to give. Doing the easy things and giving the things that we can spare are no sacrifice. Sacrifice is doing the hard things and giving the things that we cherish most. It means doing things when we don’t feel like doing them and giving the things we cannot do without. Let me be honest, I know very few Christians who really make any sacrifices to serve the Lord. For most modern Christians going to church when it is perfect beach weather is a sacrifice. That is no sacrifice. Leaving home and family and living in the mountains of China to preach the gospel at the risk of your life is sacrifice. Giving 10% is not sacrifice – giving 100% is sacrifice. There is no provision in the Law for giving half or portion of an animal as sacrifice. The whole animal was laid on the altar just as Jesus was fully crucified on the cross.
When Paul speaks about presenting our bodies as living sacrifices and that that is our “reasonable” service, the word “reasonable” refers to a logical and rational decision. This is not an emotional response but a decision of the will, having taken all the facts into consideration. But that is just where the problem lies – with our decision making. The unregenerate person can only make decisions that are self-centered. It is impossible for him to make self-sacrificing decisions since his mind is just not wired that way. Only the truly born-again believer can make those kind of decisions because his mind has been changed by the power of the Gospel.
Every decision of the self-centered person is flawed; he is just not capable of making godly and righteous decisions. Only those who have been transformed by the true gospel can begin to make right decisions. However, they also need to grow to maturity and constantly put off the fleshly desire to make decisions that are based on personal desires rather than on the will of God.
Jesus was very clear when He said: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). These words are repeated five times in the Gospels making them extremely important. To lose our life means to surrender it and to die to it. “Our life” means everything about “self”. In order to gain eternal life, we have to give up our lives in this world. Which means giving up everything, especially our desires, goals, ambitions and ego. Yes, I know you think that is rather extreme (yet more evidence of the impact of the gospel of self). But Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). What does Jesus mean by the word “die” and in what context was He speaking? The context was Jesus speaking about His death and He was saying that His disciples should die to themselves just as He would die on the cross. To die in this context means to lose everything the same way as a corpse owns nothing and has no more personal goals, feelings or desires. That is the only way to eternal life!
Yet those who preach the gospel of self have turned this whole principle on its head and teach that the gospel is the means of “finding yourself”. No, the true gospel is not how to discover yourself. It is about losing yourself and discovering Jesus Christ. It is about me dying so that His life can begin to manifest itself through me (Galatians 2:20). It is not about me, it is about Him.
Those who are born-again by the Gospel of Christ have surrendered their rights and make no demands exactly because they are dead. Such people do not push their agenda and do not require constant attention. They willingly seek the good of the church over their own and do not hesitate to make whatever sacrifice are necessary to serve others and their Lord. Unfortunately this is not behavior that can be learnt, even though many have tried. It is only the fruit of the true Gospel.