I am preparing for a trip to Seattle, Washington. I leave on Sunday March 9th and return home to Kansas City on Saturday March 15th. I will try to write and post while I am away, but my coverage of comments will be mostly in the evening until I return.
I received two separate emails today about John Piper’s sermon, “How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels” at the 2008 Resurgence Conference. I suggest that you follow that link and read it. As I read it, I remembered the following article that I posted on March 2, 2006 titled “There is Only One Gospel.” I am not a theologian like Piper and I am not comparing my article with His sermon. I posted it below mainly to provide some Biblical exegesis on this topic. If we approach the Bible correctly, God will work through our study to change our hearts to line up with His will.
The reaction to John’s sermon, so far, has been one of outrage from some as Ken Silva shows us here while most Christians seem to be staying on the sidelines. Let us pray for God to work through this for His glory and to draw His people into the truth.
There is Only One Gospel
by Mike Ratliff
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:8-12)
The title of this article may surprise many. I have been in “conversation” on this topic for last several days with many who disagree that there is only one gospel. Their stance is that no one can know everything about the gospel. We must be tolerant of others views of salvation because the gospel is inherently unknowable. Several years ago, I may have bought that argument, but not anymore. Our God is a very precise God who does things His way in His timing and always for His glory.
The background passages I will use for this article will be mostly from the book of Galatians. However, we will look in Romans, John, Matthew, and Ephesians as well. Galatians was the Apostle Paul’s first epistle. Galatia was a region of the Roman province of Asia. This area is in modern day Turkey. This was the region of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. They planted several churches throughout that region. However, sometime after they returned to Antioch false teachers had come to those churches preaching and teaching that faith was not enough for salvation. They contended that the Gentiles in Galatia who believed must also keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. When Paul found out about this, he responded with the epistle or letter that we call Galatians.
This book is a great source for this topic because it deals with the same issue the post-modern Church is dealing with. The Galatians were told that there was another gospel. Today, as I stated above, the gospel is open to interpretation. Is it? I contend that the gospel is not open to anyone’s interpretation. It is only what the Bible says it is. This, of course, causes another huge cry of “foul” because people interpret the Bible differently. That is a shame, but it is a true statement. However, there would not be this huge variance of interpretations of the Bible or the gospel if we utilize careful exegesis, keeping everything in context.
Let’s start with the reason Paul wrote this epistle. As I stated above, he wrote it to address the fact that false teachers had come to the area and were deceiving those whom Paul and Barnabas had led to Christ. Many were falling for the false teachings. Paul responded by coming to the point right away.
Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead– and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 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 1:1-7)
Notice that Paul states that his Apostleship is not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father. He was establishing his authority for the rebuke that is coming. Then Paul tells the Galatians that this letter is not from him only, but also from all the brothers who are with him. That would include Barnabas. The next part of the greeting is actually a theological statement. He blesses them with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but he then states what Jesus has done for them and us. Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. Whose will was it that He did that? It was the Father’s will. Why did He will it and do it? It was for His glory.
The Greek word translated “deliver” means “to rescue.” That is a good way to look at our salvation. It is a rescue. What are we rescued from? The text says we are delivered from the present evil age. Some translations use “world” in the place of age. However, the word evil stands. Our salvation rescues us from something evil. Paul is telling us that we are rescued from the same fate that the unredeemed in this present evil age will experience. That, of course, is eternal separation from God in Hell.
The next statement Paul makes is one that expresses his disbelief in how quickly the Galatians have departed from the gospel of grace by turning to a false gospel. The words Paul uses here tell us that the false gospel is opposed to grace. In other words, it is based on works. Those who taught this false gospel tried to blend their works theology with the gospel of Christ. This is a favorite ploy of our enemy. He knows that most believers will resist outright lies, but a lie blended with the truth may slip through. The false teachers actually “troubled” the Galatians. The word “trouble” here means to agitate or stir up. This teaching does not bring peace to the body of Christ. It causes agitation and trouble. Why? Works theology is incapable of bringing rest.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
It always stirs up those who are bedeviled by it. Jesus’ call to “Come to Him all who labor and are heavy laden” is followed by a promise that He will give them rest. The words “heavy laden” in Greek refers to “those who are overburdened with ceremony.” In other words, they are mired in a works based theology. However, the real gospel of Jesus Christ brings “rest.”
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)
Carefully read those verses. We usually emphasize Paul’s extreme apologetic stance on what he thinks should happen to those who distort the gospel. However, for this study let us look at what Paul is saying about the real gospel and all false gospels. Did the Galatians know the gospel that Paul preached? He is telling them that they must compare the gospel He preached to them with the one coming from the false teachers. To do that they must know what the real gospel is. I know that sounds simplistic, but this should be obvious. The gospel can be known and when a false gospel comes along it should be easy to see that there is a difference. What should believers do with a false gospel? They must reject it and those who espouse it.
With this in mind, what was the gospel that Paul gave the Galatians? Paul preached the same gospel to everyone. It was unchangeable as far as Paul was concerned. Let’s look at a passage from his letter to the Ephesians.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Here we see that Paul preached and taught that all people are born dead in trespasses and sins. That means that before salvation we are spiritually dead. We are spiritually helpless. We cannot even choose to seek or obey God. There are no seekers of God outside of the grace of God. However, God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were spiritually dead, made us alive together with Christ. He made spiritually dead people alive in Christ. This is regeneration. This is God resurrecting His people from spiritual death unto a new life in Christ by making them Born Again. How did He do it? It was by Grace through faith. The faith is not the believer’s own faith. Instead, this faith is gift of God. The next passage is crucial. This salvation is not a result of works, so that no one may boast. This is vital for us to understand. Our salvation must be understood to occur in a way that excludes our ability to boast. That eliminates the possibility of any “decision” on our part. The saved person is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that they should walk in them.
Did you notice that good works follow salvation? They never come first. The faith that we exercise in belief is the faith that is a gift of God. It is not our faith. If it was then we could boast because it would be our work. God set up salvation in a way where sinful, spiritually dead people can be made righteous and possess eternal salvation
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (Romans 3:27)
Saving faith, therefore, cannot be a work that people do. As we saw in Ephesians 2:1-10, this faith is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The regeneration of believer’s hearts that give them the faith to believe and repent is a work of God alone. This is monergism. Monergism is a word that describes a process that is accomplished by one entity. The monergistic gospel that Paul taught the Galatians stated that their salvation was God’s work alone according to His purpose.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-12)
When did God choose those He elected to save? It was before the foundation of the world. Why did He do it? He chose them and blessed them in Christ with every spiritual blessing to make them holy and blameless before Him. He loved them before He even created them. Out of that love and affection for those He chose, He predestined them for adoption through Jesus Christ. Why? It was according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed them in the Beloved. What is this blessing? In the Beloved (Jesus Christ) the chosen have redemption through His blood. They also have the forgiveness of their trespasses (sins) according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon them. The result of these blessings is that, in Christ, they have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of God. What criteria did God use to place His love on them? It was according to the counsel of His will in order that all in Christ are saved to the praise of His glory.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
In the passage above, we see that those whom God chose were foreknown by Him. That word means to foreknow a person. The object of that verb is the word “whom.” This is not speaking of knowing what people will or will not do, but is speaking of knowing a person personally. God looked down through time before He created the world and placed His love and affection on those whom He predestined. What was that predestination? From Ephesians 1:3-12 we saw that God predestined His chosen so that they could become holy and blameless before Him and that they would be adopted through Jesus Christ. In Romans 8:29-30 we see that it also includes that they will become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. This makes perfect sense. God predestined His people to become holy and blameless before Him so they must become conformed unto the image of Jesus Christ. The process to accomplish this includes adoption into God’s family. What happens to those whom God predestines? They are called. What does this mean? This is the monergistic work of God in regenerating the hearts of those being saved.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 Emphasis Mine)
This is the effectual call of God. This call or rebirth transforms a depraved, sinful, God-resisting person into a Born Again believer who loves and believes God. At the moment of rebirth, the believer sees their sin and how it separates them from God. They believe the gospel. They turn away from their sin in repentance as they turn to Jesus Christ for salvation through the faith God gives them. Those who are Born Again believe then are justified by God. This is a legal term. It is an act of God where He imputes the Righteousness of Jesus Christ to the believer. Their new righteousness “justifies” them in God’s sight. After justification, God adopts the new believer into His family. They are now Jesus Christ’s sibling. The last act of God in this passage states that God glorifies the believer. This is the culmination of predestination.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians had a specific intent. He wrote it to address the polluting affects of grace plus works to the gospel. In our post-modern era we have similar attacks on the gospel plus myriads of other synergistic versions of it. Some are blatantly “works theology” while others are simply weak versions of the monergistic gospel we find clearly taught in scripture. Some false gospels lead people to trust in works to be saved, while others teach, correctly, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone while insisting that the faith to believe must come from the believer. It is a mistake to say that no one can be saved who are in churches who line up behind this sort of gospel. God saves His people whether it is by hearing the right gospel or a watered-down version of it. Our salvation is in His hands not ours. However, the monergistic gospel is bound to the sovereignty of God and gives Him all the glory. The synergist may claim their version of the gospel gives all the glory to God, but in a sense it does rob Him of some because works are still involved.
Those who refuse to believe the Biblical gospel attempt to change it or create a new one that elevates the will of Man to be equal or greater status than God’s. Their false gospels teach that God created only the possibility of salvation for all men because Christ’s work on the cross did not guarantee the salvation of anyone. Their gospel teaches that Jesus died for all of the sins of all people. Their version of election is diluted to state that God foreknew those who would elect Him. The salvation of Men is in response to the preaching of the gospel. They either accept it or reject it, but it is completely their choice. Those who do choose wisely are rewarded with salvation. They are then Born Again and justified by faith that they generated themselves. Some teach that salvation is not permanent. It can be lost if they apostatize. This version of the gospel is synergistic rather than monergistic because it is a work of cooperation between Man and God. Again, it must be stated that God saves His people, however, those who adhere to a monergistic, God-centered gospel and a cross-centered life will have an understanding of God that draws them to see their life as completly in God’s hands while the synergistic gospel’s inconsistencies hide that fact.
The gospel Paul preached and taught excludes the possibility of boasting. The synergistic gospel, by its very nature, provides for the possibility of boasting. Think about it. If people are saved because it was their decision then they can boast because they made the right decision, but lost people did not. However, the monergistic gospel eliminates that possibility because it is God’s work alone. It is by His grace through the faith He gives to those He saves.
Those who do come to an understanding to the truth of Gods’ wonderful monergistic work in their salvation should be humbled by that knowledge. Unfortunatly, many do become prideful and elitist in their stance against the synergists. This is not Christlike behavior. A solid and true understanding of salvation must lead to humility rather than boasting.
There is only one gospel. It is the gospel that Paul preached and taught. He wrote it out for us in his epistles. Jesus tells us that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him or her. (John 6:44) This is in complete agreement with what Paul taught. The authentic gospel is the monergistic work of God to save His people. God the Father chose His people then predestined them for glory. The Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, died on the cross to pay the price for the elect’s sin. His substitutionary death on the cross was the propitiation for their sins. He was the perfect sacrifice as the Lamb of God. His death was sufficient in the eyes of the Father to satisfy His wrath against the elect’s sin. The Holy Spirit calls each believer to salvation, regenerating their hearts unto salvation all in God’s timing and according to His will and all for His glory.
Lastly, as a friend pointed out to me today, no one is saved because they have the right doctrine nor are they damned if they happen to be in the wrong church. God saves His people by grace through faith. No one deserves it and no one can earn it. If you are monergistic in your doctrine then you should be humble and cooperating with God in becoming Christlike. If you are synergistic or simply inconsistent in your doctrine that does not mean you are not a believer. It does not mean that you will not or cannot grow in grace. However, the more we submit to the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ the more God is glorified in us. If we are living like that then we will also be actively uprooting pride from our hearts while cultivating humility there. Inconsistencies exist in us all, but Christ’s grace is greater.
Oh my Lord God! You are holy, righteous, and perfect. Thank you for the cross! Thank you for choosing Your people then saving them in a way that accomplishes Your will perfectly and eliminates the possibility of their boasting. Your ways are perfect. Thank you for my salvation my Lord. I pray that those reading these words who are not yet in your Kingdom will repent and believe your gospel according to your will as you draw them unto salvation. I ask these things in Jesus name—Amen!
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.