There was a TV show back in the ‘90s called “Dinosaurs” that I used to sneak into the living room at night to watch. The reason I had to sneak-watch this show was that my loving and protective parents had a problem with the Baby in the show who was very disrespectful (albeit hilarious). The Dino Baby called his father “NOT the Mama” in the TV show. Without fail, he would interact with his Dino Dad referring to him only as “NOT the Mama.” No matter the tone of voice, change of behavior, or a different approach, the title “NOT the Mama” stuck. Many times the Baby would even hit his Dad with a frying pan to the beat of yelling “NOT the Mama!”
If only there was a little Dino Baby that popped out of nowhere and yelled “NOT the gospel” whenever a false gospel was being presented.
“Jesus died to make you rich!”—NOT the gospel!
“Jesus died to make you physically healthy!”—NOT the gospel!
“Jesus died to give you the desires of your heart!”—NOT the gospel!
“You may be the only Bible someone ever reads!”—NOT the gospel!
“You can earn your way to heaven by doing good works!”—NOT the gospel!
“Live like Jesus and stand up for the oppressed!”—NOT the gospel!
“The more you give to God the more he will give back to you!”—NOT the gospel!
“Jesus died so you can now live a changed life of obedience!”—NOT the gospel!
“You now have the power to live a new life and never sin again!”—NOT the gospel!
“Name it and claim it! You can now speak things into reality!”—NOT the gospel!
“If you pray hard enough God will give you what you want!”—NOT the gospel!
The Early Church and the Gospel
In Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia, we see right away that the early church receiving a rebuke of “NOT the gospel.” This is comforting from a certain point of view. If the early church is already being tempted to make the gospel something it is NOT, then it should come as no surprise that this is a common issue we still face today. The church confusing the gospel is nothing new. A defense of the actual gospel has always been an issue, inside and outside of the church. This is the result of the sinful, turned-in-on-itself human heart to make the gospel anything other than Christ.
The human heart never wants God more than it wants itself. Our sin nature will twist the gospel into our own work, or something that we are responsible for. We want to see our blood, sweat, and tears in the gospel rather than Christ’s blood, sweat, and tears.
In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul writes, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ, for a different gospel, which is really not another gospel at all. There are, however, some who are trying to disturb you by perverting the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven would preach any gospel other than the one we preached to you—a curse on him! As we have said before, so I now say again: If anyone preaches to you any gospel other than the one you received—a curse on him!” (EHV)
There is not another biblical gospel. Although there may be some theological hills that are not important enough to die on—the gospel is not one of those hills. To alter, add on to, or take away from the gospel in any way is anathema. It will be a false gospel that surely only gives damnation to the recipient rather than Christ.
Later in Galatians 3, Paul doubles down on the “what are you doing?!” theme of his letter.
“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the message that creates faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now trying to reach the goal by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3, EHV)
I don’t know about y’all, but I definitely recollect a few times where the Bible mentions that calling someone a “fool” is a very serious thing (Matthew 5:22). Yet Paul finds it important enough to deploy the title of “fool” for the Galatians multiple times.
Notice how Paul is suggesting it must be witchcraft to leave the actual gospel for another and in many ways he is right. The gospel is so good that to leave it would be downright, spellbindingly stupid. Our sin nature or our “free will” is under the spell of pride and self. It will always choose the gospel that glorifies “self.” Like a magnet, Old Adam will always gravitate to the desire of having some sort of supporting role in his own salvation. But the actual gospel reveals that Jesus Christ, Son of God, saves you—all by himself.
THIS is the Gospel
“Brothers, I am going to call your attention to the gospel that I preached to you. You received it, and you took your stand on it. You are also being saved by that gospel that was expressed in the words I preached to you, if you keep your hold on it—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,
- and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5, EHV)
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ—full stop. No buts, ifs, ands or others. He died for our sins and was raised. This is so much better news than any of the other gospels that we might invent.
If you had a part to play in your salvation, that would effectively be bad news. The gospel is not waiting on your permission for it to be given. It was already given 2,000 years ago on the Cross of Christ.
NOT a Deal
It is not a deal. It is news. It is not something waiting on the table if you just sign the dotted line to receive it. There are no conditions for you to meet in order for the gospel to be the gospel. It is the good news of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
The gospel stands alone as the gospel. It is the gospel without your response to it and without the effect that it may have on you. Scripture surely references a new creation in Christ as a result of the gospel. But any action, change, response, service, love of one’s neighbor, improvement of performance in the life of a Christian is NOT THE GOSPEL. These are surely effects of the gospel, but they are NOT THE GOSPEL in and of themselves.
The gospel is good news. And I pray for Christ’s sake that whenever you hear a gospel that is not the gospel, a little baby dinosaur will invade your imagination by yelling “NOT the gospel!”