The greatest threat to the Christian Church is not the culture we live in. Despised the ever-present culture-wars, it is not the greatest potential of damage to the Church. Christianity has faced cultures far more hostile to the Christian faith and have experienced exponential growth.
@@The greatest threat to the Christian Church is not those on the outside of the Church, it's those on the inside.@@
On the inside of the Church, wolves creep in and twist, misuse, and abandon God's Word. The insiders use the right words, but use them the wrong ways. They make people feel motivated, but they mix and mingle words in a way that doesn't point people to the work of Jesus. They muddy the waters of law and grace and leave people confused at best, condemned at worst.
Because this threat comes often from within the Church, it can be incredibly difficult to detect. Teachers with Bible's in their hands, good intentions, and a large following will inspire and motivate, all the while failing to give people what they need the most.
I want to highlight three of what I'd suggest are the most prevalent and foundational distortions of the Gospel. They aren't the only distortions, but they are incredibly dangerous and have many other distortions that build upon them.
Distortions of the Gospel
Legalism elevates the rules and ignores the Gospel. It's an abandonment of God's Two Words for a self-righteous preference for One Word (Law). It focuses on behavior and obedience and minimizes the possibility of failure to obey. Often for the legalist, grace is a past event but not a present reality. Grace got them in, but it's their effort that keeps them in and progresses them along the way. For the legalist, assurance is always found in good behavior. Instead of an objective act - like the cross - they look to their own devotion, obedience, and commitment.
Legalism creates a dishonest church.
Because legalism requires that we behave in order to belong, we learn to create a facade of holiness. If obedience is how we are accepted by God or your church family, we figure out how to keep the mess hidden.
Consider these words from psychologist Henry Cloud:
"It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] group. In the church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group, it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In one setting people look better but get worse, and in the other, they look worse but get better."
Does the Church have a problem with denial?
Grace frees you to put down your masks. Jesus frees you to be the mess that you are. He frees you to stop pretending you're good enough and trust him to be the one that is good enough.
Lawlessness is the opposite end of the pendulum. Where legalism elevates the law and dismisses grace, lawlessness elevates grace and dismisses the law. The problem with this distortion of course is what we lose when we lose the law.
The primary function of the Law is to expose us. It reveals that we're far worse than we thought. Sin is the problem. But if you lose the law, you're also eliminating an awareness of this problem. And if you are not exposed to your sin, what is the need for a Savior?
The danger with lawlessness is that the lawless will wax poetic about grace, love, and acceptance but never get beyond a hypothetical concept of sin and grace. And that's a problem. If we only hypothetically know of sin, we only experience a hypothetical forgiveness. If we aren't willing to call sin a sin, we want look for a real, flesh and blood forgiveness.
Unlike the previous two, this distortion maintains both Law and Gospel, but mixes, mingles, and confuses the two.
Glawspel is when people are giving the commands of God, revealing our sin and calling it grace. This distortion is dangerous because it leads to confusion and despair. We despair as grace is always out of reach and full of burdens.
For example, you could hear a preacher say, "Grace demands that give up whatever is getting in the way of following Jesus." Or, "Grace requires that you let go of your idols and hold on to Jesus."
These could sound good if you weren't listening closely. But think about it, they are impossible statements. And they do nothing but pull us away from the work of grace. Jesus makes demands, he has requirements and rules. He might even tell us to get rid of our idols, but it's still the Law.
The Law and the Gospel don't do the same thing; let's keep our categories straight.
@@Grace doesn't make demands, it only gives.@@ And grace always gives to people who can't meet the demands.
This is why Paul writes:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." - Galatians 1:6-7
A distortion of the Gospel is no Gospel at all. Don't settle for a mediocre Gospel that burdens and doesn't ever deliver. Jesus gives what no other 'gospel' gives: grace and peace.