4 Ways To Distort The Gospel

Reading Galatians 1 this morning I came across Paul’s warning to not “distort the gospel of Christ” (1:7). This warning is particularly weighty because the apostle says in this same chapter that there is really is no other gospel. The point is that to change (or distort) the gospel is to leave God’s gospel which is the only gospel that saves. Simultaneous to reading Galatians, I was reading J. C. Ryle’s sermon on Evangelical Religion and Graham Cole’s new book Engaging with the Holy Spirit. Both authors use different language to explore the same topic.

Somewhat based on Ryle and Cole, here are some of my thoughts on how we fall into this dangerous trap.

4 Ways We Commonly Distort The Gospel

1. Substitution happens when we put anyone or anything in the place that only Christ belongs. This usually involves religious practices such as church, baptism, communion, and confession to name only a few. These are all tempting substitutes because they are good things that God commands and therefore we should be involved in them. The problem is that they make poor Saviors because they don’t deal with our greatest need–sin. When we look to religious acts to make us right with God, we ask them to do something that they were never intended to do.

2. Addition happens when we add our good works to the gospel. I recently spoke with a man who said that he thinks God will accept him if he believes in Christ AND he lives the right way. But when a person says that what they are really saying–whether they realize it or not–is something along the lines of, “Jesus, thanks for dying on the cross for my sin. I know that you did your best but you didn’t quite do enough. I am going to add my good works to make up the difference.”

When Jesus was on the cross, the last thing he said before he died was, “It is finished.” He did all the work to reconcile sinners to God. There is nothing left for us to do. That’s good news because there is really nothing sinners can add to Christ’s perfect sacrifice.

3. Subtraction occurs when we deny that true belief in the gospel brings real change to our lives. When that happens, what we are subtracting is the fruit that Christ bears in every believer’s life. This distortion pretends that we can separate Christ as Savior from Christ as Lord and treats the gospel as if it is nothing more than a “get out of jail free” card. But the Bible repeatedly teaches that true faith produces genuine obedience. So we distort the gospel when we talk about it in a way that minimizes how Christ transforms our lives.

4. Disproportion occurs when we give one part of the Christian life or one element of biblical teaching more weight than the Bible gives it. According to Cole, an example is when “pneumatology (Holy Spirit) becomes our primary emphasis rather than Christology.” This leads some to speak more of the Spirit’s leading than they do of the cross.

Another example of disproportion occurs when we give social activism–no matter how biblical –more of an emphasis than it deserves. Some Christians are seemingly more enthused about fighting abortion or what they perceive to be the “homosexual agenda” than loving God and loving their neighbor.

Do you have other examples of how the gospel can be distorted?

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