By Rick Becker 17 January 2024
In 2024, we find ourselves in the same position as Jude, who found it necessary to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). And as in Jude’s day, the threat lies within the visible church. Perhaps unlike Jude’s day, we are dealing with men and women who have not only “crept in unnoticed,” but announced their presence and status in the evangelical industrial complex with great boasting. Self-aggrandizing, self-appointed, and falsely anointed apostles, prophets, and celebrity teachers have fulfilled the words of Paul – “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). They teach a different gospel, a false gospel that makes false promises.
Right from the start, from the first time we hear the “gospel,” we have a set of expectations in our mind as to what the gospel includes in the form of benefits. Sadly, the “gospel” these days is usually a brief and ambiguous two-minute explanation at the end of a message or more likely a show. It’s what precedes the two-minute “deal” on offer that also creates a host of unbiblical expectations based on false promises. For example, it may be a message on tithing, and how God will prosper those who tithe regularly to the church. If it’s a “church” under the spell of the New Apostolic Reformation you can almost guarantee that the service will include some outlandish testimonies about encounters with God, angelic visitations, trips to heaven, miracles, signs and wonders, or a new revelation from God, etc. The perception is that what has been witnessed in the meeting is normal Christianity instead of the lunacy and abomination that it is. By the time the “altar call” comes, hearers have already formed some kind of an idea of what’s included in the “package” and what the Christian life looks like. And it’s a grand picture – supernatural encounters, supernatural shortcuts to health and wealth, the ability to prophesy, perform miracles, speak things into being, hear directly from God himself, receive new revelations, and generally speaking have a successful and happy life. God is reduced to a genie who will help you achieve your goals and dreams, and of course, leave a legacy.
So what does the gospel promise us? Let’s go back in time, and consider another perspective – that of a convert in the early church. What were the key elements they heard concerning the gospel, and what were their expectations regarding their lives as believers?
When we examine the sermons given by the Apostles in the book of Acts, a clear pattern emerges as far as the proclamation of the gospel is concerned.
• On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the crowd heard a Christ-centered message – Christ’s death (vs 23), Christ’s resurrection (vs 24), Christ’s ascension (vs 33). While the focus on that particular passage is often the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (often abused in Charismatic/NAR circles to justify “spiritual drunkenness,”) it is also a fulfillment of Christ’s words about the Spirit’s operation: “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (vs38)…”And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on urging them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (vs 40).
Note the effect of Peter’s sermon: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what are we to do?” (vs 37).
• Peter’s second sermon: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).
• Peter preaching to the Gentiles: “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and to testify solemnly that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify of Him, that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:42-43).
• Paul’s message at Antioch in Pisidia contained the same elements as Peter’s first sermon, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the good news that “through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38).
• Paul’s custom “And according to Paul’s custom, he visited them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:2-3).
• Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill: “So having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now proclaiming to mankind that all people everywhere are to repent, because He has set a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).
The key elements – our guilt before God, a coming judgment, the death and resurrection of Christ making forgiveness possible, and the call to repent.
What were the expectations of converts in the early church?
People who heard the Apostles preach the gospel would not have been thinking about all the benefits contemporary false teachers promise. The fisherman would not have imagined how God would revolutionize his business and cause his nets to be supernaturally filled. The cloth merchant would not have expected God to give them supernatural downloads with information on a new manufactural process or dyes. No one who heard the Apostles preach the gospel, or describe the promises of God for all believers would have expected God to make them a powerful force in one of the Seven Mountains of Societal Influence – an NAR ideology that Christians will influence or eventually have dominion in this world.
The Seven Mountain Mandate is more than ideology, it’s a carrot that’s being dangled in front of carnal people who imagine that Christianity is a path to success, dominion, and power in this world. Believers would have understood that their focus should not be on the kingdoms of this world. They weren’t in the position to make the same mistake as many Jews who thought that Jesus would set up an earthly government. Their belief was in the resurrected Christ who didn’t come to save the worldly systems and Christianize the world, but save people from the world and lead them into a kingdom not of this world.
As far as operating in the supernatural was concerned, the only people on record who imagined they could operate in the same authority and power as the Apostles were Simon the sorcerer, and the seven sons of Sceva. Unlike today’s false apostles, prophets, and demon slayers, the Apostles didn’t open schools of supernatural ministry or teach believers how to prophesy or exorcise demons. Unlike the popular contemporary and therapeutic gospel, those who heard the true gospel in the early church would not have “accepted Jesus” to cure their disease, perform miracles, or be successful in this world.
They didn’t expect their social status to be changed merely by the fact that they were now children of God (Eph 6:5-8). They didn’t expect their problems to go away or circumstances to change for the better. In fact, as the years passed by they likely heard the gospel from an Apostle who had recently been imprisoned and endured a flogging for their faith (Acts 16:22-24; Acts 4:40-42). What sort of life do you think new converts expected under Nero’s rule:
“Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
They would have been taught that the Christian life is one of self-denial – not self-fulfillment:
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:14-15).
And that inevitably, the Christian will suffer:
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” ( 1Peter 1:6-8).
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
What is the gospel?
Essentially, the gospel is about the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the way that sinners can be reconciled to God – justification by faith (Ephesians 2:1-10).
This was the gospel that Paul preached: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:1-5).
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2).
The hearer of the true gospel, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, will be concerned with one thing – reconciliation with God. Their soul will be gripped with holy fear when they recognize that they are sinners under the wrath of God, destined for eternal punishment under God’s justice. That’s the bad news, the good news is the gospel. Jesus didn’t die so that your earthly circumstances would improve. His work on the cross was not for earthly and temporal gain or comfort. He didn’t die to make you happy, but holy – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). We receive what we don’t deserve – salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:1-10), and the forgiveness of our sins: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
When the “good news” becomes anything else, or when the gospel comes with promises that God hasn’t made, it’s another gospel. An attractive gospel that the natural mind can understand because it appeals to the passions of the natural man.
What has God promised believers?
The person and work of Christ benefit those who are saved. Apart from forgiveness of sins, there are other promises or benefits that we can expect to experience during our life on earth.
Let’s begin with the negative – what has God not promised believers?
Typically, false promises include the following:
• All the blessings God gave Israel under the old covenant (Deuteronomy 28).
• God wants all believers to prosper financially.
• All believers can speak in tongues, learn to prophesy and perform signs and wonders.
• Our words are causative, and we can “speak life” into negative circumstances.
• God will change your circumstances for the better.
• Healing is guaranteed in the atonement and therefore all the sick should be healed.
• We can receive mantles, double portions, and anointings from “generals of the faith” who have passed away, or living apostles, prophets, and celebrity teachers.
• We should expect encounters with God, visions, angelic visitations, and hear directly from God.
• We can expect the world to get better because God has given Christians dominion, and wants us to influence or take dominion of this world because Jesus is not coming back for a “defeated bride.”
• Linked to the above – there will be a “billion soul harvest” and great end-time revival.
• We can bring heaven to earth.
• There’s a great transfer of wealth on the way – from the wicked to the righteous.
What the scriptures teach concerning promises of God for believers – note that God’s promises to us are primarily spiritual and eternal:
Redeemed from the curse of the law, Gal 3:13.
Redemption and forgiveness, Eph 1:7.
Eternal life, John 4:14.
New creation in Christ, 2 Cor 5:17.
Sealed with the Holy Spirit, Eph 1:13.
Peace with God, Romans 5:1.
Delivered from the domain of darkness, Col 1:13.
Holy and blameless before God, Col 1:22.
The peace of God, Phil 4:7.
Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Rom 8:9.
Comfort in our troubles, 2 Cor 1:3-5.
Anointed by the Holy One, 1 John 2:20.
All things work together for good, Rom 8:28.
And finally, a promise that is never taught in the New Apostolic Reformation and many Charismatic churches: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). If this was taught, they would not practice grave soaking or seek impartations from their apostles and prophets.
When we understand the true gospel, when we realize what God has provided for our spiritual growth, we reject and resist all the self-appointed teachers, apostles, and prophets – pretenders who claim to hear from God and speak on his behalf, but distort the gospel. When we understand the gospel and what God has promised – we stop searching for what God has already revealed, and we stop seeking after that which God has already given.
What gospel have you believed?