A couple weeks ago I wrote about some street preachers here in Toronto who were inadvertently preaching a distorted “gospel” (I recommend reading that post first, before finishing this one). Of course, they didn’t mean to do so. They seem like very nice people, for the most part, who mean well. Unfortunately, however, not knowing how to rightly divide the word of truth will inevitably lead to this consequence, just as it does in nearly every pulpit of every Institutional Church building across the planet. Because they’ve been coming to preach here in my stomping grounds in the downtown core pretty much every Saturday recently, I’ve had an opportunity to pick up on a few more details from their messages that I didn’t think to write about in my last post, and I wanted to comment on some of those details.
One of the biggest problems was that they insisted on preaching about sin as though it was still a problem that needs to be taken care of rather than something that was already taken care of for everyone some 2,000 years ago. When Christ died for our sins, sin was dealt with entirely, and is no longer being held against us. Yes, there will still be a judgement for one’s works, or acts, at the Great White Throne Judgement (for those who end up being judged there), but that’s not about sin so much as about works of evil (which should not be confused with sin; sin and evil are two completely different concepts), and since sin was taken care of on the cross, whether we believe it or not, it’s no longer something for any of us to concern ourselves about (other than to coming to understand that we have indeed sinned in our lives, of course). Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection on the third day, Paul explained in various places in many of his epistles that everyone will eventually experience salvation (meaning immortality leading to sinlessness), and under our current dispensation, God is currently at peace with us, and simply asks us to be reconciled to Him (meaning be at peace with Him in our minds) as well because of this fact.
Another interesting statement that many of them repeatedly made was that they weren’t calling people to be religious in order to be saved. This statement isn’t entirely accurate, however, since they were indeed asking people to turn to religion in order to be saved (although I should say that they weren’t deliberately lying so much as they were simply confused about what religion is). As Robert Farrar Capon explained so well, religion is anything — from believing to behaving to worshiping to sacrificing — that someone thinks they have to do in order to get right with God. So even though they rightfully stripped the other three types of religious requirements from their “gospel,” they left one religious requirement in: having to choose to believe something specific in order to be saved. But, as I explained in my last post, if someone has to do anything at all in order to be saved (even if that “anything at all” is something as seemingly simple as having to choose to believe the right thing), it’s ultimately salvation by works, and if it’s salvation by works, it’s also religion.
Now, as for why they‘re under the mistaken impression that something is required for salvation under the Gospel of the grace of God is because certain things actually are required for certain types of salvation in Scripture. The problem is, they’re mixing and matching different types of salvation, assuming they’re all talking about the same thing each time salvation is discussed in Scripture. This chart they used, which I took a picture of yesterday, should make it clear exactly where they went wrong.
Of course, pretty much anyone who has been in the body of Christ for very long at all can immediately see why they’re confused just by looking at that chart for a few seconds, but I will elaborate a little for everyone else. There are quite a few mistakes in that chart, but to begin with, they have two “roads” and “destinies” which they base upon whether or not one has made a good or intelligent or wise or humble or righteous decision (pick one or more options, whichever ones it is that causes someone to make the correct decision) to accept what Christ did. Aside from that obvious problem (since salvation under the Gospel of the grace of God isn’t based on us in any way whatsoever at all, but is entirely based on the fact that Christ died for our sins, and was subsequently buried, and then resurrected on the third day, and has nothing to do with whether we accept that fact or not), you might have noticed another glaring issue on their chart, which is that most of the passages from Scripture they reference have nothing at all to do with the Gospel of the grace of God to begin with, but are instead about something else entirely.
You see, Jesus wasn’t talking about “going to heaven or hell after you die” in those passages. It’s important to remember that Jesus came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, so nearly everything He said while He walked the earth was meant for Israelites, and has to be interpreted in the context of Israel and the promises (and threats) made in the “Old Testament” books. Basically, the Good News He preached was the Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom, which was about the kingdom of heaven coming to earth (specifically to Israel, or at least with Israel as its centre) from the heavens, and the threats were primarily about missing out on getting to live in that kingdom here on earth, either because they’d remain dead (meaning they wouldn’t be resurrected along with the rest of the righteous dead 75 days after Jesus returns to earth), would die during the Tribulation or the Millennium and have their dead bodies burned up (and possibly also be consumed by worms) in a valley in Israel called the valley of the son of Hinnom (which is where the “hell” Jesus talked the most about will be located), or would simply weep and gnash their teeth in anguish because they’ve been forced to live in the “outer darkness” (or the figurative ”furnace of fire”) of the rest of the world that isn’t Israel. Again, it’s important to remember that these are threats for Israelites, not for Gentiles who were never promised the kingdom in the first place. Instead, Gentiles have another promise, one made by Paul, which is an indissoluble life because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection on the third day (this is called Paul’s Gospel, also known as the Gospel of the Grace of God, which should never be confused with the Gospel of the Kingdom). Those whom God has elected to be given the faith to believe what the Good News in Paul’s Gospel means will experience salvation (again, meaning immortality, and sinlessness because of that immortality) early and get to go to heaven (which just refers to outer space in Scripture; it’s not an ethereal realm dead people go to as ghosts), but everyone (even the Israelites who rejected Jesus as their Messiah) will eventually experience salvation because of what Christ did, albeit on earth instead (well, the new earth).
The problem is that almost nobody has been taught how to rightly divide the word of truth, and hence assume that Jesus and Paul were talking about the same things. Paul’s teachings came from the same Christ, but Christ’s message to us through Paul was entirely different from the message He taught while He walked the earth (there’s a reason Paul called these things “mysteries,” which just means “secrets”: it’s because they weren’t revealed to us by anyone else prior to his revealing of them in his messages, not even by Jesus). If one hasn’t come to an understanding of the fact that the 13 epistles signed by Paul are teaching an entirely separate message (with an entirely separate Gospel) from the one Jesus gave to Israel (and the messages that Jesus’ disciples later wrote about in their own epistles), it’s no surprise that they’re confused about what’s to come, and that they end up creating charts like the one above. They’re not intentionally misleading people, because they‘ve been inadvertently misled themselves, but it is crucial that they come to understand what the differences between the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision writings are if they don’t want to continue teaching unscriptural falsehoods.