In his excellent commentary on Galatians, Phil Ryken warns of the danger of false gospels saying:

“…[C]an you distinguish between the true gospel and all the false gospels in the contemporary church?  We worship in a church of many gospels.  There is the gospel of material prosperity, which teaches that Jesus is the way to financial gain.  There is the gospel of family values, which teaches that Jesus is the way to a happy home.  There is the gospel of self, which teaches that Jesus is the way to personal fulfillment.  There is the gospel of religious tradition, which teaches that Jesus is the way to respectability.  There is the gospel of morality, which teaches that Jesus is the way to be a good person.

What makes these other gospels so dangerous is that the things they offer are all beneficial.  It is good to be prosperous, to have a happy home, and to be well behaved.  Yet as good as all these things are, they are not the good news.  When they become for us a sort of gospel, then we are in danger of turning away from the only gospel there is.

Raymond Ortlund Jr. has tried to imagine the church without the gospel.  “What might our evangelicalism, without the evangel, look like?” he asks.  “We would have to replace the centrality of the gospel with something else, naturally.  So what might take place of the gospel in our sermons and books…and Sunday school classes and home Bible studies and, above all, in our hearts?”[1]  Ortlund lists a number of possibilities:

  • “a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause”
  • “a confident manipulation of modern managerial techniques”
  • “a drive toward church growth”
  • “a deep concern for the institution of the family”
  • “a clever appeal to consumerism by offering a sort of cost-free Christianity Lite”
  • “a sympathetic, empathetic, thickly-honeyed cultivation of personal relationships”
  • “a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power”
  • “a warm affirmation of self-esteem”

In other words, the church without the gospel would look very much the way the evangelical church looks at this very moment.  We cannot simply assume we have the gospel.  Unless we keep the gospel at the center of the church, we are always in danger of shoving it off to one side and letting something else take its place.  Martin Luther rightly warned that “there is a clear and present danger that the devil may take away from us the pure doctrine of faith and may substitute for it the doctrines of works and of human traditions.  It is very necessary, therefore, that this doctrine of faith be continually read and heard in public.”[2]  The good news of the cross must be preached, believed, and lived.  Otherwise, it will be lost.

The church’s greatest danger is not the anti-gospel outside the church; it is the counterfeit gospel inside the church.  The Judaizers did not walk around Pisidian Antioch wearing T-shirts that said, “Hug me, I’m a false apostle.”  What made them so dangerous was that they knew how to talk the way Christians talk.  They used all the right terminology.  They talked about how they “got saved.”  They told people to “trust in Christ.”  They “presented the gospel.”

Only they did not have the gospel after all.  We should expect, therefore, that the most serious threat to the one true gospel is something that is also called the gospel.  The most dangerous teachers are the ones who preach a different Christ but still call him “Jesus.”

[1] Raymond Ortlund Jr., A Passion for God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 205.

[2] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, trans. And ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, in Luther’s Works (St. Louis: Concordia, 1963), 26:3.

Taken from: Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 20-21.


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