There are all kinds of ways to hear the gospel. We may hear it in a church, from someone speaking on TV or radio, or perhaps by direct conversation with another person. ‘Faith comes by hearing’ is a maxim drummed in to us from very early in our Christian journey. We hear, through faith the Spirit enables us to believe, and we cross over that invisible line from unbeliever to believer. The journey begins.
But what if hearing the gospel and receiving the gospel are not the same thing? What if the gospel that now makes its way across the airwaves, or is preached from the pulpit, or is conveyed by word of mouth has become so distorted and limited that it bears hardly any resemblance to the pure and measureless gospel delivered by Jesus Christ Himself?
Paul didn’t mince words when challenging the Galatian Christians with this very question.
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7 NKJV). Or as The Message put it:
I can’t I believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head.
Whichever version you prefer, it had become obvious the gospel they were hearing from others was a distorted gospel. The Greek word Paul used, ‘metastrepho’, translates in English to ‘corrupted’ or ‘perverted’. It means something which has been turned into the opposite character of what it truly is. Strong language, don’t you think? He goes on to call those bringing such a perverted gospel ‘anaethema’ or accursed…..not once, but twice (Gal. 1:8 and 9).
What got him so stirred up?
In a nutshell, this perverted gospel the Galatians were hearing from others held no revelation of Christ. There was no Christ-life in it. Rather than lead these Christians into spiritual freedom, this corrupted gospel would lead them back into spiritual bondage that had nothing to do with the authentic gospel of grace which Christ suffered for, died and rose to deliver them into. It was so contrary to the gospel Paul himself had received and originally preached to the Galatians he labeled it a gospel ‘according to man’.
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12,13).
The gospel we choose to embrace must go beyond our hearing: it must be received into our inner spirit through a revelation, an unveiling, of Jesus Christ. This authentic gospel, carried by Heaven’s Breath, the Holy Spirit, will always bring deeper revelation of Christ, because it’s the Spirit’s joy to reveal Christ (Jn. 16:14). The authentic, Spirit-borne gospel will always draw our faces towards Jesus and progressively liberate us, not only from the rule of sin, but also the rule of Old Covenant Law. This ever deepening revelation of Christ was the only gospel Paul, once profoundly immersed in Law, knew – and the only gospel He tolerated.
And yet this gospel Paul called ‘perverted’ is today openly tolerated, practiced and preached by multitudes of Christians worldwide. Millions of Christians boast about their freedom in Christ while still observing such false doctrines as spiritual coverings, mandatory tithing, patriarchy and numerous other distortions that cloud and corrupt the pure gospel. Any doctrine that teaches we can please God by following certain rules is a perversion of the New Covenant gospel. Anything!
Jesus Christ did not just come to bring us good news. He is the Good News. He did not come to show the way back to the Father. He is the Way. He did not come to tell us truth, He is the Truth. He did not come to save our lives. He came to be our Life. Unless the gospel we receive plunges us into an ever deepening revelation of Christ Himself, it is not His gospel.
So many of us have been literally immersed in a Christianity based on observing commandments, rules and traditions we don’t even know we are embracing a perverted gospel. Our only hope of deliverance is a far deeper revelation of Christ, a revelation of Christ that continues to increase within us with every passing hour. It is as we embrace such a revelation that we are progressively liberated from a religion ‘according to man’ and ushered into the freedom of ‘sonship’. We are led from the law-based gospel of Moses to the far superior grace-based gospel of Christ:
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17)
Paul, the former “Pharisee of the Pharisees” spent years unlearning a perverted gospel with none but the Spirit as His teacher and revealer of Christ. After his life-changing encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus, it was some years before he even consulted with Christian leadership, and then another fourteen years before he met with them again (Gal. 1:15-19; 2:1-2) During that time he was being taught by the Spirit and re-educated concerning everything he had formerly believed.
I can bear witness to studying in the same ‘unlearning’ school of the Spirit, and am yet to graduate. Perhaps you can also. Half a life time spent in institutionalized Christianity takes a lot of unlearning, but thankfully the Spirit is patient!
As He leads us into His school of ‘unlearning’ the Spirit will call many of us away from institutional, organized Christianity into widely diverse pathways, yet always with the same destination in mind: the deeper revelation of Christ to our souls.
If we are regularly involved in a local church, we may find ourselves becoming restless, hungry of spirit, seeking that ‘something more’ we can’t quite put our fingers on. The Spirit is wooing us into a deeper revelation of Christ and it will not always be found within familiar walls. We can ignore, in which case our love for Christ will increasingly grow lukewarm as we distance ourselves from the Spirit’s overtures. We can knowingly resist, in which case we risk quenching the Spirit. Or we can follow.
Know that following will come at a cost that may involve loss of relationships, straining of family ties, and isolation. No-one desiring a greater revelation of Christ can avoid the Cross. To follow the Lamb we need to have resolved in our hearts that He is worth the cost of following.
Unlearning the gospel of Moses to learn the gospel of Christ is the greatest journey I have ever undertaken, but I would not turn back to the old way for anything this world can offer. What I have learned about Christ on this journey is far more than I can share in this one post. I have learned that He is infinitely deeper, wider, higher and greater than my formerly limited gospel would ever allow me to imagine. I have learned that He is not at all concerned with the rules, customs and traditions I used to think were important to Him. I have learned that as I embrace Him as both Fulfiller of the Law and End of the Law, together we can explore the vast expanse of His grace without hindrance or condemnation. I am learning, at last, what it means that He is both my Promised Land and my Rest (Heb. 4:9).
I am unlearning a gospel that measured my value by my hours of church attendance, financial contributions, conformity and rule-keeping and learning a gospel where my righteousness has been freely bestowed without my needing to earn or keep it.
I am unlearning a gospel where a hierarchy of human mediators stood between me and God and learning a gospel where Christ is the only mediator I will ever need or desire.
I am unlearning a gospel that devalues and insults Christ’s sacrifice by adding man-made additions to the finality of His Cross (Gal 2.21).
And I am learning the sheer exhilaration of doing Life with Life Himself.
How about you?
Don’t be afraid to enter the Spirit’s School of Unlearning. It is the portal to your new life of rest from dead works, ‘for you, brethren, have been called to liberty’ (Gal. 5:13). That does mean you.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond. All rights reserved. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.