1. Follow the Right Gospel

Cry in the Wilderness

Keith Green
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:

Please note that all Scriptures may not be posted at this time.

Mk. 7:6-7 π Acts 8:9-25 π 1 Cor. 6:18 π Gal. 1:6-7 π Gal. 1:8-10 π Eph. 6:10-20 π Phlp. 3:14 π Col. 1:22-23 π Col. 3:2 π Col. 3:3 π 2 Tim. 1:10-14 π 2 Tim. 2:11 π 2 Tim. 2:12 π 2 Tim. 2:22 π Heb. 13:8-9 π 1 Pet. 5:8-9 π 1 Jn. 2:16

Jesus said, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you...as it is written, This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me...teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” ( Mk. 7:6-7; top )

Yet [God] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach - if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. ( Col. 1:22-23; top )

The Apostle Paul warns us about other gospels that may entice us away from the true gospel Paul is very blunt about this in his letter to the Galatians:

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. ( Gal. 1:6-7 , emphasis added; top)

Are you following the true gospel - the one Jesus preached? The one Paul and the other apostles preached? How do you know? What are the consequences if you are not following the right gospel?

The word gospel means “good news.” Even in Paul’s day, other preachers had different types of “good news” for their listeners. Some preached that salvation could be obtained through eating the right foods. Others said you had to join the Jewish religion or practice strict personal disciplines in order to be saved. There was the Gnostic gospel, which was a type of early mysticism, and the reformed Jewish gospel and all kinds of other gospels. There were even other so-called “messiahs” around at the time of Christ.

Things haven’t changed much, have they?

Most born-again Christians can see through heretical teachings. Some of those teachings are so far off the wall it’s hard to believe anyone could take them seriously. But other false teachings are much more subtle and difficult to spot - especially when they infiltrate the true gospel. The teachers of these other gospels try to convince us that things are not as black and white as Paul makes them out to be. They tell us that there is a little room to accommodate the flesh - to expect wealth and good health. Or that the way pointed out in the Bible is just an ideal - goals we’re meant to aim at but not expected to hit. All these ideas are designed to appeal to our flesh, and Satan uses them to lull us until we’re ineffective.

But the gospel that Paul preached involved making tough choices and taking hard stands. It was about putting your life on the line. Paul himself lived through all these challenges. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, he became a wanted man, hunted down by the same Pharisees who had been his friends and colleagues. Why? Because he spoke against their “gospels” - which were no gospels at all. They were just vain attempts to offer God religious practices He wasn’t really interested in. What God wants is all of us - heart, soul, mind and body.

So, Paul was imprisoned for his beliefs. He suffered torture and beatings. And from this vantage point he urged both Timothy and the Galatians to be wary of a gospel that’s more comfortable. A gospel that allows you to withhold your heart from God and offer him a few trinkets. Through the things he endured in his life, Paul showed that he had the credentials to speak and teach with authority about the true gospel.

What was the true gospel for which Paul gave up everything? Here’s what he told Timothy:

[God’s grace] has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. ( 2 Tim. 1:10-14; top )

I want to warn you about this: There are lot of “other gospels.” Most of them appeal to our flesh. They avoid challenge and sacrifice. But they are not the true gospel that leads us to salvation. One mark of the true gospel is that it demands sacrifice from us. Sacrifice of having control of our lives, moment by moment. It challenges everything we do. But as we learn to embrace the gospel - and to realize that this world is not our final home - and when we live it out in our lives, God will use us to call the world to himself.

If anyone exemplified a changed life, it was Rees Howells, a famous preacher and a leader in the great Welsh Revival in the early 1900s. He went on to be used by God to bring revival to England, Ireland and Africa. Howells insisted that his effectiveness for Christ came from one incident when he was twenty-seven years old - he had a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit. This is how Norman Grubb describes it in Howells’ biography:

The meeting with the Holy Ghost was just as real to [Howells] as his [conversion to Christianity] three years before. “I saw Him as a person apart from flesh and blood and He said to me, As the Savior had a body, so I dwell in the cleansed temple of the believer. I am God and I come to ask you to give your body to Me, that I may work through you. I need a body for My temple.

But it must belong to Me without reserve for two persons with different wills can never live in the same body. Will you give Me yours?

You must go out. I shall not mix Myself with yourself.’ I saw the honor He gave me in offering to indwell me but there were many things very dear to me and I knew He wouldn’t keep even one of them. The change He would make was very clear. It meant every bit of my fallen nature was to go to the cross and He would bring His own life and His own nature into me. It was unconditional surrender.” [1]

The story continues with God giving Howells an ultimatum: Would he obey or not? He had to give God his reply the following week.

For the next few days Howells wept continually. He couldn’t eat or sleep and he lost seven pounds. This was the hardest decision he would ever have to make - to hand over his life like a blank check to God. Was he willing to let go of all his dreams, all his possessions, and let the Holy Spirit take full control?

This is what happened when he reached his decision:

“Nothing was more real to me than the process I went through for that whole week... The Holy Spirit went on dealing with me exposing the root of my nature which was self and you can only get out of a thing what is in its root. Sin was canceled and it wasn’t sin He was dealing with; it was self - that thing which came from the Fall. He was not going to take any superficial surrender. He put His finger on each part of my self-life, and I have to decide in cold-blood. He could never take a thing away until I gave my consent.” [2]

Like the Apostle Paul, Howells found God does not want us to play games. There comes a time when the Holy Spirit puts His finger on areas in our life and asks us to hand over control of them to Him. In order to receive the resurrection life and the power that goes along with it, we must be willing to let go of everything we hold close. Sometimes our flesh screams as we do this. Other times it devises subtle ways of getting us off-track. Instead of kicking and screaming, our flesh quietly tries to distract us with side issues - anything to keep us from giving everything to God. Suddenly, small matters of theology become major issues as we focus on anything but what the Holy Spirit wants to deal with.

Have you ever noticed how easily small children can be distracted? Give children candy, and you can walk off with all their toys. For awhile, they’ll be so happy with the candy they won’t even notice.

Believers can be like that too. Paul continually reminded the Christians of his day to stay on-track. If they did not stay focused on Christ, the Way, other preachers would come along to lead them astray with their fleshly gospels. Some people focused on getting rich quick, like Simon the sorcerer. ( Acts 8:9-25; top ) Others sought to turn the gospel into a purely mystical experience. And still others wanted to bog down the whole message in Jewish laws and customs. After about two months, if these young Christians hadn’t received a letter from Paul, they would begin to listen to these other gospels. They wanted to see if other interpretations of the Christian life were easier to follow. Though they were hungry for spiritual truth, their flesh kept tempting them to believe many things that weren’t the gospel of the kingdom.

Today Jesus Christ is being despatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. 4 He is that, but He is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. - Oswald Chambers [3]

I once heard a prophecy that the city of Chicago was going to be leveled by an earthquake on a particular day. I thought, I’ll believe it when I see it. A couple of young Christians I worked with got excited. “What time will it hit?” one of them asked me. He was so trusting. Another one said, “I have an uncle in Chicago. I’m going to call him and tell him to get out before it’s too late.” I can understand their concern, because there was a time when I would have been swayed by the gospel of sensationalism. I used to look for big signs to occur too. As a result I was easily led astray. I believed things that were not doctrinally sound.

Here’s the point: Each one of us must take responsibility before God to keep our eyes on the gospel. We can’t allow anything or anyone to distract or mislead us.

Paul gave us some strong warnings about this:

Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. ( Gal. 1:8-10 , emphasis added; top)

How can we know for sure that we’re following the true gospel? Paul laid out for Timothy the hallmarks of the person who has embraced the true gospel. We need to see if these things are part of our lives.

Here’s the first:

It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. ( 2 Tim. 2:11; top )

The heart of the gospel is that we must die with Christ in order to live with Him. But what exactly does it mean to die with Christ? To begin, it means that we are to be dead to our rights. And that means signing over to God our desires, our dreams, our hurts. All that we are or will be.

What do you think Paul meant when he said, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” ( Col. 3:3; top )? He wasn’t talking about a theory, or a nice metaphor. He meant that at the point of real salvation we are nailed to the cross with Jesus. We go down to the grave. And a new life - God’s life - is born in us.

What we’re talking about, at the deepest level, is an exchange of our will. I give my will over to God, and begin to pursue His will for me.

A lot of people get stuck on certain behaviors - old habits, for instance. They want to clean up their flesh without becoming pure in heart first. You become pure in heart by wanting what God wants. It’s easy to give up your wrongs - but much harder to give up your rights. Have you ever heard of a dead person calling a lawyer from the grave to sue someone for violating his rights? The dead have no rights.

What about me, as a Christian? I have no rights. I have no right to run a ministry. I have no right to own a car. But in Christ, I do have a right to inherit all of God’s promises in the Bible - if I can prove to myself, to the world and to Jesus that I am dead. Here’s a promise our flesh might not like to claim: “If we died with Him, we will be raised with Him.” The “if” is a crucial part. People who follow the wrong gospel want to make the “ifs” invisible. They like to think there are no conditions in the Bible. True, God’s love is not conditional - but there is a condition on experiencing the true life of Christ. It is giving over my will. That means I have stopped manipulating God’s Word for my own gain.

Have you died with Christ? Or are you trying to live with Him at the same time you’re doing everything to accommodate your own fleshly desires?

Like Rees Howells, God requires each of us to make a choice. You cannot have your life and the life of Christ residing in you at the same time. The Holy Spirit doesn’t want the flesh for a roommate.

The problem for most of us is that we want a spiritual crown, yet we want to avoid the cross that must come first. But as Paul says:

If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. ( 2 Tim. 2:12 , emphasis added; top)

When people read this they think, Yes! I’m going to reign with Christ. They ignore the “if.” They think God is going to endure for them. So they sit back and act as if God will do all the work.

The problem is, Paul turned the spotlight on us: We are to endure. How do we do it? We endure by casting everything - hopes and cares alike - upon Him. That’s our work of faith: to identify every fleshly goal or care that draws us away from God, and cast it all over to Him. Dying to it. Faith is not just a hope - faith is a deed. It’s active, not passive. Faith is God and me in partnership. First, His will replaces mine, then His power enables me to do all that He says.

“If we endure...,” Paul says. And we endure by entering into the will of God. It’s when we do His will that God blesses us. We can’t be blessed in a place where His will does not reign.

If we’re going to endure - to choose the high road of faith - then we have to be prepared for some attacks. We might as well know this from the start. Be prepared. Count the cost. So we don’t get weary and give up.

First, we’ll have to endure assaults on our soul by the devil. Peter says,

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. ( 1 Pet. 5:8-9; top )

Satan is the most powerful being in the universe, apart from God. He’s like a lion on the prowl, looking for unsuspecting Christians to chew up. He’s inflamed with pride, jealousy, greed and with the power God has allowed him to keep. Our conflict is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the darkness of this world. And to fight them, we need spiritual weapons - truth, salvation and prayer. ( Eph. 6:10-20; top ) When we choose God’s will, we’re guaranteed the power of the Holy Spirit in order to endure the assaults of the devil.

Second, we must endure false teachings, holding on to the truth even when it is not popular. In Hebrews we read,

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings. ( Heb. 13:8-9; top )

When Melody and I were new Christians, all sorts of people came to our Bible studies. I’ll never forget one guy in particular. He was a new believer, but he came with every spiritual book imaginable - including a Bible, a concordance and an “Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ.” I’d begin a Bible study, and he’d take over, reading from all these other spiritual books. He spent hours telling us that eating meat was of the devil. He went on and on about weird doctrines.

I lost touch with him for a long time, and then I saw him at a convention. He told me he’d just come back from Israel where he chanted on the streets. As I listened to his experiences I thought, Here’s a brand-new believer who never got off the ground! He couldn’t discern false teaching and he wouldn’t listen to anyone who might help him. He was completely derailed. All kinds of seeds of darkness had been sown in him and he had no way to fend them off.

In the end times we’re going to experience false teachings that are doctrines of demons, and smooth-sounding teachings that are really antichrist. There will be people close to becoming Christians, but who nevertheless are deceived. Do we have a safeguard? Yes, by listening only to teachers in whose lives we can see the fruit of the Spirit - those who do what they preach...

Finally, we know we’re following the right gospel if we learn to endure and overcome the lusts of the flesh - and by that, I mean, we’re learning to live free from all the things that seek to bind us to this world. John warned us against “the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” ( 1 Jn. 2:16 ) And Paul warned us to flee from immorality ( 1 Cor. 6:18 ), and to pursue righteousness. ( 2 Tim. 2:22; top ) A lot of Christians know how to flee - they get out of the world - but they don’t know how to pursue righteousness - that is, they don’t know how to get the world out of them.

Paul told us to “set our affections on things above.” ( Col. 3:2 ) Not only are we supposed to be turning away from something, we’re supposed to be turning ourselves - heart, soul, body and mind - toward something. Toward the “prize of the high calling” to be like Jesus in this world. ( Phlp. 3:14; top ) What is that high calling? Like Paul, I want to be a true disciple - one who has set his affections on the wonderful things that are above. That means letting go of all that this world offers by way of security and honor and pleasure.

And that’s how we’ll know if we are following the true gospel. The true gospel challenges us at every turn. It unsettles us. It requires things of us that hurt. Our flesh will squirm. The devil will attack us in our weakest areas. Other Christians will offer us less radical ways to follow Christ. But in the end, we’ll be transformed from the inside out. We’ll be clean. We’ll be shining lights.

And then everything we say will be light and grace to people lost in this dark wilderness in which we live. Then we’ll know by the fruit of the Spirit in our lives that we are His disciples.

[1] Norman Grubb, Rees Howells, Intercessor (Fort Washington, Penn.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1967) 38-40. back

[2] Ibid. back

[3] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. back

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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