Beware of the False Gospel of Discipleship
The Seriousness of a False Gospel
There is a huge mistake being made today in many pulpits, books and other forms of Bible teaching.
It is not trivial.
And it is not being "picky" to point it out.
It's serious because it's a "different gospel" or "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6).
And the Apostle Paul wrote, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8)
What The True Gospel Is
Before looking at the false gospel in question, it should be noted what the true Gospel is. This is not a simple task, although the Gospel itself is simple enough for a child to understand.
The reason it's not that simple to simply state the gospel is because it is somewhat expandable in it's content.
In other words, when we say the Gospel involves believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, we can expand greatly such things as "what does 'Lord' mean?", "who IS Jesus Christ?", "what does it mean to 'believe'?", etc.
Still, for our purposes here we need to state it with a certain amount of simplicity in order to contrast it with the "false gospel of discipleship", remembering that the Gospel is "Good News".
So let's plow ahead and arrive at a useful and simple definition.
Let's look at two Scripture passages for some guidance:
"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which 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 according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..." (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
This passage indicates the basic historical events of the gospel -- the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This passage, along with several others, indicates the substitutionary nature of the Gospel -- that we needed His righteousness, and He had to take our sins on Himself and pay for them on the cross.
Again, all of this is quite expandable, but we can capsulize the true "Good News" (Gospel) as follows:
The Gospel is the Good News that since we have all been born sinful and deserving of the wrath of God, but since God loves us, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth as a Man, and that this Jesus died on a cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead -- and that whoever believes in Him as Lord and Savior will not perish, but have eternal life as a free gift.
There is a lot packed into that, yet it is very simple, and is based on faith so simple that a child can (as Scripture capsulizes it) "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
Faith alone. Sola Fide, as the phrase was put in the Reformation. "Not of works, lest any man should boast", as Paul put it to the Ephesians.
What The False Teaching Of Discipleship Is
The false gospel of discipleship typically takes a form like this:
"It's not enough to just believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and believe that He died for your sins and rose again. The gospel also includes that you must DO what Jesus said in many places in the Gospels.
"Among other things, you must 'deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him', Matthew 16:24.
They in effect say that we must be WORTHY to be saved (a ridiculous thought) since Jesus said we're not worthy of Him unless we take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 10:37,38), which they say is part of the gospel of salvation, and a requirement for salvation.
As one prominent Pastor put it (echoed in song by a prominent Christian musician, and repeated as though it were Scripture), "To give all that you are, for all that He is; this is the gospel according to Jesus."
Of course that's NOT the Gospel. That's legalism.
We don't need to become worthy before we become His, and we don't buy or earn "all that He is" by our own "giving" of ANYTHING.
His eternal life and salvation that He gives us are FREE (Romans 6:23, "...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.")
The Confusion Of This False Teaching
The problem with this false teaching is that it demands the question, "How much must I deny myself to be saved?" Or, "How much must I take up my cross?" "What cross?" "How long?" "Have I really given ALL that I am for all that He is?" "How can I tell?" "And what if I think I've given all that I am, but I really haven't?" "Or what if I think I've given all that I am, but I take something back?"
And on and on go the demonic whispers to undermine the simple faith of a true believer who is confused by what it was that brought him salvation.
And think of the confusion of a lost person hearing such a message! "What indeed must I DO to be saved?", they are wondering!
And the teacher of this false "gospel of discipleship" cannot even answer this simple question, because they have grown up Kudzu-like vines of "works" that choke and confuse the truth of the gospel of faith alone.
The absurdity of this false gospel should be obvious just by comparing two verses on discipleship spoken by the Lord Himself (follow me closely here, please):
Matthew 16:24 reads, "...he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me."
If that was a requirement for INITIAL salvation, then how would one explain the parallel verse in Luke 9:23?: "...he must deny himself, and take up his cross DAILY and follow Me."
See my point? If one has to take up his cross DAILY in order to be saved, how many DAYS must he take it up? Will he be saved if he takes it up for three days? One hundred days?
Besides, Romans 1:16 says that the Gospel is THE POWER OF GOD FOR SALVATION TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE! There's no power in setting standards of behavior for the lost in order for them to attain salvation! That's not Good News!
Yet these teachers continue imposing standards of DISCIPLESHIP upon the lost who are not even disciples yet! In order for them to believe the simple gospel!
Sidenote: they will almost always say something like, "Now this isn't works salvation". But denying it doesn't make it so. They are blind to the fact that it really IS works salvation. Like the Roman Catholic teacher who imposes works and sacraments on the people and calls it "faith".
And believers in congregations all over the place buy into that false teaching, after they themselves have already been saved by simply believing the Gospel!
No wonder Paul wrote the Galatians with a rare emotional rant of shock and anger because they had so soon allowed themselves to be entangled in "works plus faith" teachings.
And yet his words for the sheep were not nearly as angry as his words for the teachers themselves.
May these teachers of the "false gospel of discipleship" repent, and begin preaching the true Gospel of faith apart from works.
A Word About Soteriology
Soteriology is the Doctrine of Salvation (Greek soter means savior). It's the study of HOW we are saved. It's an important and biblical and fascinating study.
But Soteriology is not the Gospel either.
The Gospel is basically a truth proclaimed, not a detailed explanation of the process of regeneration, believing the Gospel, justification, sanctification and glorification -- each with voluminous words of clarification and controversy.
I feel compelled, however, to point out one thing from our study of biblical Soteriology.
Faith in Jesus Christ is itself a gift from God. It's not something we manufacture. He must open our hearts and reveal Jesus Christ to us, or we will not believe.
Yet wonderfully, if He does open our hearts and reveal Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we can't NOT believe. This is what theologians call "Irresistible Grace".
Not that God brings us kicking and screaming into His family, but that He opens our hearts and we see Him with new eyes and a new heart, and we believe in Him.
How does faith come? The Bible itself says that it comes from hearing the Word of God.
And so, if you don't consider yourself a believer in Jesus Christ, I recommend that you read the Book of John.
It was written by John the Apostle under the inspiration of God Himself, to bring folks to faith in Jesus Christ.
It was written specifically "...so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31)
Interestingly, the Book of John says nothing about "denying yourself" or "taking up your cross". Nothing about YOUR works, but only the work that Jesus Christ Himself already did for us on the cross.
In fact, in John 6:28,29, when they asked Jesus, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?, He answered, ""This is the WORK of God, that you BELIEVE in Him whom He has sent."
The Beauty of Discipleship
Does that subtitle, "The Beauty of Discipleship", surprise you after what I've just been saying?
Although discipleship is not the Gospel -- although discipleship is not the cause of our salvation -- discipleship is a wonderful thing.
When one becomes a Christian, they become a disciple. A disciple is a "learner" and a "follower". Learning of Jesus and following Him is the greatest of privileges.
And the "surrender" involved in following Him is one of the highest things that we are called to do as already-saved believers. To grow in the attitude "not my will but yours be done, Lord" is not only sublimely precious, but the source of great joy.
But to teach this growing, learning, surrendering lifestyle as "the Gospel" -- to teach it as the requirement for being saved -- is to put the cart before the horse.