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What's Their Gospel Message?

Part six of the blog series: How to Read with Discernment.
Read part one: 5 Reasons to Test What You Read
Read part two: What Do They Mean When They Say _________?
Read part three: What Aren't They Saying?
Read part four: How Are They Using Their Bible?
Read part five: Are My Ears Itching?

Knowing the true gospel is of central importance to reading spiritual books with discernment. Every spiritual book has a gospel, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right gospel. For example, the health and wealth movement preaches a gospel which is certainly false. And there are numerous other forms of gospels that you’ll find in spiritual books that are anything but biblical. They may use biblical words but that doesn’t mean they’re preaching what the Bible is teaching. How can you tell the true gospel from its false counterparts?

What is the Gospel?—Gospel-Grace and Gospel-Conduct
The word “gospel” literally means good news. Jesus’ apostles taught that this good news was that we (as enemies to God in our sin) can be reconciled to God through the blood of his son Jesus Christ by faith (cf. Rom. 3:9-26; 5:8-11; Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 1:11-23). That’s the grace of the gospel. Flowing out of gospel-grace comes gospel-conduct. The true gospel compels us to live in accordance with what Christ has done by imitating him (1 John 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:21) and his apostles (1 Cor. 11:1) in how we love God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). In other words, the life of love and holiness that we live is to be an outflow of the mercies of God lavished on us in Christ Jesus (Rom. 12:1ff). This is gospel-grace and gospel-conduct.

Gospel Counterfeits
Unfortunately, Christianity did not make it past the first century without a number of counterfeit gospels seeking to penetrate the church. Legalism (salvation by works—a gospel without grace), antinomianism (meaning ‘anti-law’—a gospel that rejects God’s standard for living), and other teachings sought to pervert the true gospel. This is no laughing matter. The apostle Paul reserved the strongest language for such false teachers. He declared that anyone who teaches a gospel other than the one he received from Jesus should be damned (Gal. 1:8, 9). That type of language certainly ruffles twenty-first century sensibilities. But, for those who believe that the apostles spoke the word of God, that’s what we must believe, and that’s how we must feel about false gospels.

If you want to read spiritual books with discernment you need to know what the gospel is. But, in addition to that, you need to know what the false gospels are teaching. Knowing the counterfeits will heighten your senses to see, hear, and smell false teaching.

As you read spiritual books this summer don’t neglect to ask yourself, “What’s their gospel message?” “Does it fit with what Christ and his apostles taught? Or is it a perversion of the truth?” Being able to discern that will help keep you safely between the lines on your journey down the path of spiritual discernment.

A Bit of Homework— Resources for Discernment

As we conclude this series I must leave you with some homework. A few blog posts will not do you any good unless you put some effort into going deeper. The resources listed below are books that I go back to time and time again to help me grow as a discerning reader. There are many more titles I could add, but working through this select list will help get you started.

Discerning Sound Doctrine, Generally
--Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (Zondervan, 1994)*
--An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III & Raymond Dillard (2nd Ed., Zondervan, 2006)*
--An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo (2nd Ed., Zondervan, 2005)

Discerning the Gospel and its Counterfeits, Specifically
--What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert (Crossway, 2010)*
--Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael Horton (Baker, 2008)
--Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope by Trevin Wax (Moody, 2011)*
--Jesus Made in America: a Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of Jesus by Stephen Nichols (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

Discerning through the Improvement of Reading & Comprehension Skills
--How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stewart (Zondervan, 2003)*
--How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler (Touchstone, 1972)

*Books marked with asterisks are in the First Free library.