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There is no other gospel then the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you believe that? Or perhaps a better question is “Do you understand that?” There are many aberrant gospels filling our churches across our nation today: The gospel of prosperity, the gospel of self-esteem (self-image), the gospel of greed, the gospel of materialism, the gospel of a good life (free from trials), the gospel of success (as the world defines it), the gospel of self, the gospel of popularity, and the list goes on and on . . . .
Do you remember what Jesus said to His disciples? He said:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” ~Matthew 16:24-26.
Those same verses in The Message Bible state:
Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
Aberrant gospels are everywhere telling us–and this is the bottom line in all of them–that we can have what we want and Jesus, too. And, as an old friend of mine says, “That smells like smoke and comes from the pit of hell.” Self-sacrifice is not something we hear about from a lot of pulpits in America today and yet it is a crucial message we desperately need to hear. We cannot have it all and Jesus, too, as Jesus stated that “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians about this very subject. Let’s look at what he had to say in Gal. 1:6-10:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Gal. 1-6) specifically addresses the issue of those who use religion in order to control others through manipulation and also addresses our own self interests. Paul explains his own background in doing this (manipulating others) before he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road and his life was forever changed (see Gal. 1-2). Paul’s heartfelt letter to the Galatians is a clarion call to not fall back into the ways of legalism and manipulation from others or by being consumed with our own self interests but to embrace the freedom that we have in Christ, living life by the Spirit and not living for ourselves, and doing good to all (see Galatians 5-6). Here’s a portion of what Paul had to say in Gal. 5:13-26 (MSG):
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom [emphasis mine]. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
“My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
“This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
“Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”
Paul’s words read like front page news, don’t they? One of the best ways I can think of to truly live a life in the Spirit and not be consumed with self interests or manipulated by others is to get into the Bible daily and let it change you from the inside out. As Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” And, of course, Paul also wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Renewing your mind comes from reading and meditating on the Bible and regularly communicating with God through Jesus Christ in prayer . . . daily, if possible.
In short, don’t be fooled by what the world offers you, and don’t be fooled by what a lot of churches offer you, either. Find a church that focuses on Jesus and how we should live and not on ourselves and what we want. When our focus is on Him, He has promised to meet our needs (Phil. 4:19) and give us so much more than we can even imagine . . . .
And that, folks, is real freedom . . . .
YouTube Video: “Endless Song” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg:
Photo credit here