Paul Collins writes:
"For if someone comes to you and preaches...a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" 2 Corinthians 11:4 (read also verses 2-3).
Many of the New Testament letters were written to target false gospels that had infiltrated church life. In fact, Paul wrote some of his epistles "out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears" (2 Corinthians 2:4) because these substitute gospels had begun to poison the Church.
"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" Galatians 1:6-7.
The New Testament identifies four main "toxic gospels" - gospels which are "no gospel at all."
"You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" Galatians 5:4.
The Galatian Christians had received Jesus by faith. But now they were trying to live the Christian life through observance of outward rules and regulations. This gospel of law had "[perverted] the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7). Paul wrote the book of Galatians to bring them back on the course of the pure Gospel.
"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Galatians 3:1-3.
Many Christians today have fallen into the same trap. They are trying to "crucify themselves" and "die out to self," not realising that they cannot do it themselves. This is a gospel of self-effort - what the Bible calls "the old way of the written code" (Romans 6:6). Self-effort can never deal with the problem of self. Only the true Gospel can.
"The death [Jesus] died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" Romans 6:10-11.
When Christ died on the Cross, we died in Him! Our old self was crucified in Christ 2,000 years ago. We do not need to do the work of the Cross in our own self-effort. All we do now is receive this fact by faith and count ourselves "dead to sin and alive to God." This is the true meaning of repentance. The Holy Spirit then works in our life to give us daily victory over sin. This is called "the new way of the Spirit."
"But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" Romans 7:6 (read also 8:1-2).
"For Christ did not send me.to preach the gospel .with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 (read also 2:1-5; 3:18-20).
The wisdom of the Gospel is not compatible with the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of this world focuses on self - self-esteem, self-love, self-realization, self-change. This wisdom started at the fall of man. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it was "desirable for gaining wisdom" (Genesis 3:6). From that time, mankind chose a path of self-wisdom - a wisdom independent of God. The source of our wisdom has been the central issue with God ever since.
"For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate'" 1 Corinthians 1:19 (see also Proverbs 9:10; Isaiah 55:9).
"Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" 1 Corinthians 1:20.
In this verse, Paul identifies three levels of worldly wisdom:
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" 1 Corinthians 1:21 (see also 2:6-8).
"...but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.
The Gospel encapsulates God's wisdom. This is because it targets the root problem of mankind - independence from God. The wisdom of this world is "darkened" by pride and sin, making people "enemies [of God] in [their] minds" (Colossians 1:21).
"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened" Romans 1:21 (see also Ephesians 4:18).
The word "futile" means "to go rotten, to go sour (like curdled milk)." This is how God looks at even the best of worldly wisdom. Yet the Church has had a long-running affair with the wisdom of this world. Like the Church of Corinth, many Christians today try to pepper the Gospel with worldly wisdom. We add courses in philosophy, psychology and self-help techniques. We chase the next formula and methodology that will help solve complex problems or help our church to grow. Yet all this produces is Christians who are "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). Paul gave a word of warning to Timothy - a warning which is just as applicable to our generation:
"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" 2 Timothy 4:3.
God's wisdom was to place the solution to man's problem into one package - Christ.
"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God." 1 Corinthians 1:30 (read also verse 24).
God's wisdom is found in the Gospel of the Cross - plus nothing! This Gospel releases His power into our lives to bring salvation, change and victory. The answer to solving the complex problems of human life - whether they be physical, psychological or spiritual - is not found in worldly wisdom. It is found in the pure Gospel of the Cross. When a person has a revelation that he died in Christ and receives this by faith, the next step is repentance (changing direction). We "count [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11). The Holy Spirit works on this simple act of faith and makes it real in our lives (Romans 8:2). This is why Paul wrote:
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified...My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world" 1 John 2:15-16.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church "out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears" (2 Corinthians 2:4). This was because of what had infiltrated church life. A look at the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians shows the sorry state of affairs:
All of this was a direct consequence of the infiltration of worldliness into the Church. Another gospel - a gospel of the world - had perverted the Gospel of Christ. James addressed this same problem in his letter:
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" James 4:1-4.
The gospel of the world centres around three world-defined elements:
The gospel of the world changes a Christian's focus from God to the world. This involves four things:
"I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world." 2 Corinthians 10:2-4.
In 2 Kings 16:10-15, we find the story of King Ahaz, who went to Damascus and saw a pagan altar. It was so beautiful that he sent the design to the high priest and ordered a duplicate made for him in Israel. He replaced the bronze altar (which had been prescribed by God) with this new pagan altar and started to offer sacrifices to God on it. In his mind, he was not worshipping foreign gods but the Lord. But the results were a gradual change in the temple's format to become like that of a pagan god (2 Kings 16:10-18). In the same way, the Church has introduced many methods of worldly entertainment and performance into church worship, evangelism and fellowship. All of this is focused on self, not on God.
"Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings - and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!" 1 Corinthians 4:8 (read also verses 9-13).
The Corinthian Church had been swayed by the "super-apostles" who boasted of their gifts and eloquence (just like in the world - 2 Corinthians 11:8) and were peddling the word of God for profit (2 Corinthians 2:17). The focus of Corinth had become "personality ministries" who preached a gospel which promised a "Hollywood Christianity" of worldly status, wealth and success. The Church at Laodicea fell into the same trap:
"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see" Revelation 3:17-18.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives..." John 14:27.
The Bible says that it is God's good pleasure to bless us. But when we chase the material blessings of God, we have missed the whole point of the Christian life. Our focus should be on God, not His blessings. As we walk with Him, he blesses us with:
"Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions" Colossians 2:18.
Gnosticism was a rising force toward the end of the first century and it had begun to influence the early Church. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means "knowledge." A secret knowledge was given to those initiated - a knowledge of principalities and powers and the keys to breaking their power. This teaching went into great detail concerning their hierarchy and the passwords needed to break through their layered ranks. Jesus referred to this gnostic teaching when He spoke to the Church of Thyatira:
"Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets." Revelation 2:24.
One of Satan's most subtle strategies is to flavour the Gospel with gnostic concepts. This can happen on two levels:
We have been given authority over demonic spirits (Luke 10:19). But demons should never become the focus of our ministry. If we begin to search deeply for demonic bondage and generational curses, we have strayed from the core of the Gospel. It is in Christ that "the old has gone; the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We do not need to have a "Dick Tracey" ministry. We do not need to go back to previous generations to cut off the power of the enemy. No, God went all the way back to Adam and cut it off there. The Bible says we are either "in Adam" or "in Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:22). There is no inbetween.
Although deliverance plays an important part in the power ministry of the Church, it was never designed by God to be the means for Christian growth. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a ministry of deliverance within the Church. This is not to say that deliverance is not needed, at times, within the Church. The New Testament pattern, however, was that deliverance was ministered to unbelievers. Christian growth comes when we receive the Gospel by faith and repent from sin and the world. This faith and repentance is expressed in Romans 6:11: "In the same way, [once and for all] count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
We repent by recognising the finished work of the Cross - that "our old self was crucified in Christ" (Romans 6:6). We then turn our back on sin and the world and turn to God. It is in this change of focus that lies the grace of God (Romans 8:5-6). We do not need to perform spiritual autopsies on the old self. God's Word tells us it has been buried in Christ and we are now free in the Spirit to be "alive to God" (2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:16).
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" John 8:32,36 (read also verses 33-35).
I believe in spiritual warfare (read Ephesians 6:10-18). But Satan seeks to draw the believer into gnostic extremes. The Bible teaches that principalities and powers are real, but declares that their power has already been broken in the Cross of Christ.
"And having disarmed the [principalities and powers], he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" Colossians 2:15.
Every time principalities and powers are mentioned in scripture, it relates to the Christian's position above them. We are not called to "rail against" principalities and powers (Jude 8-9). At no time in the New Testament do we see either Jesus or the apostles dealing directly with "strongholds" over a community. Demonic strongholds are real, but note these facts:
We do not need to dissect the principalities and powers so as to discover the inner workings of Satan's organisation. Instead, as we preach the Gospel, God gives special discernment and anointing in the preaching of the Gospel. It is in the course of the proclamation of the Gospel that we "wrestle against principalities and powers" (Ephesians 6:12). This wrestling is not an activity that we set out to do separate from the preaching of the Gospel.
Go to Part 3: The Gospel We Preach
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