Yesterday, I watched some street preachers using speakers to proclaim their understanding of the Gospel. This post isn’t about the ear damage that many street preachers in Toronto are causing to both themselves and to random passersby with the excessive decibel level they have their speakers cranked up to, though, because these guys were among the few street preachers around here who actually use a considerate volume. No, this post is instead about them quoting certain passages from Scripture that actually mean the exact opposite of the message they were trying to get across, with no idea that they were distorting the Gospel so badly as to actually be proclaiming the false “gospel” that Paul declared would bring an anathema upon its preachers (though, to be fair, pretty much every traditional preacher in the world does this, although not on purpose but rather simply because they aren’t aware of what the actual Gospel that Paul proclaimed means). I should say, I believe they were almost certainly completely sincere in their message; they weren’t trying to proclaim a false gospel on purpose. They truly seemed to want people to avoid suffering in hell for eternity, and were preaching what they thought was the truth. Unfortunately, the truth ended almost immediately after they finished quoting the passages from Scripture that they did. That said, the reason for their distorted “gospel” is understandable, because it was based on common misunderstandings of other passages in Scripture that forced them to conclude that what they were preaching was the only thing that made sense (and, honestly, if someone doesn’t understand the other passages they’re confused about, the “gospel” they concluded the Bible teaches does seem like a somewhat logical one to arrive at, even though it does still contain contradictions that should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention).
So what were some of the mixed messages they were preaching? Well, to begin with, they repeatedly said that there’s nothing you have to do, or even can do, in order to be saved. One of them even pointed out that nobody in heaven will be able to take credit for being there in any way, or be able to say they did a single thing in order to get there; it was all because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection, that they ended up there. If they’d stopped right then and there and not said another word, they would have succeeded in proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God (even though I personally would have worded it slightly differently, it’s still close enough that it contains the Good News that Paul taught). Unfortunately, they then went on to add to the Gospel by telling the crowd that we do have to do something in order to be saved after all, which is choosing to accept (or receive) Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Of course, if you’re in the body of Christ, you already know where they went wrong there, but for those who aren’t, it’s that they contradicted themselves by saying there’s nothing you can do to be saved and that it’s 100% because of what Christ did that we’re saved, but then went on to make salvation at least partially based on ourselves, thanks to our own good or intelligent or wise or humble or righteous decision (pick one or more options, whichever ones it is you believe caused you to make the correct decision) to accept what Christ did. But if we’re required to do anything at all in order to be saved, even if it’s just making the choice to believe the right thing, it’s no longer 100% based on what Christ did. At the very least that makes it 1% what we did, helping save ourselves by making that good or intelligent or wise or humble or righteous decision to “receive Christ’s gift” (giving us cause to boast because we were better or smarter or wiser or more humble or more righteous than all those other sinners out there who didn’t choose to make the correct decision because they weren’t born with the genetic ability, and/or didn’t have the right life experiences, to be able to make that correct choice we did).
Now, if someone isn’t familiar with what various other parts of Scripture are talking about, it makes sense that someone would conclude they had to teach this contradictory message. After all, there are passages in various parts of Bible that, at least on first glance (and if you don’t dig deeper into them to find out what they’re actually talking about), appear to say that people who don’t make the right choice will end up punished for their sins in an inescapable fiery location. Of course, my long-time readers already know that these threatening passages aren’t saying anything of the sort (and are actually talking about consequences that apply to a very limited number of people, and that these consequences will take place here on Earth rather than by ghosts in an ethereal afterlife dimension), but few Christians today are aware of what these passages are actually talking about and so they end up making salvation under the Gospel of the grace of God a transaction in order to be saved from an eternity in hell or the lake of fire rather than a gift they do absolutely nothing to receive (not even choose to receive it), and that it has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding hell or the lake of fire at all as well.
This is a common mistake, though, since most people are under the impression that salvation is from hell or the lake of fire. Few people today realize that salvation actually has nothing to do with those things in any way whatsoever (in fact many people who go to hell are saved — and no, the reason they go there isn’t that they’ve lost their salvation, nor am I talking about purgatory; almost all true believers will actually “go to hell” for a time according to Scripture — and many people who avoid going to the lake of fire won’t have been saved under the Gospel of the grace of God when they do so, although all of that is a topic for another post). Perhaps somewhat ironically, one of the preachers actually quoted one of the verses that helps us understand what salvation is from, but he somehow managed to leave out the key word in that verse while quoting it, saying, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.” Now, if you know your Bible you know exactly what the mistake he made there was, but for those who don’t, he left out one of the most important words in that verse: the word “that.” The verse actually says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (emphasis on the word “that” there added by me). This verse is telling us that we sin because we’re dying (or, to be precise, because we’re mortal: “for that reason all have sinned” is what Paul is getting at there), not that we die because we sin. Only Adam and Eve became mortal because they sinned; everyone else genetically inherited the “wages” of their sin: mortality leading to physical death (not spiritual death; there isn’t a single passage in Scripture that I’m aware of which speaks of the so-called “spiritual death” most Christians mistakenly believe in), and sinfulness because of that mortality. So while most people are under the mistaken impression that salvation for the majority of people is from hell or the lake of fire, what salvation is actually from for most of us is mortality (along with physical death for those who have died before they get to fully experience their salvation), as well as from sinfulness because of that mortality (once we’ve been quickened — meaning made immortal — in the future, we’ll no longer sin because we’re no longer in the process of slowly dying). The truth about what salvation is from is known by next to no Christians today, though (aside from a handful of Christian Universalists, but even most Universalists don’t understand it), so it’s hard to blame them for not noticing that single word in the verse, or missing out on what it means, but that little word makes all the difference when it it comes to understanding what salvation is from, and the lack of understanding when it comes to this verse is causing Christians to preach the false “gospel” they do.
They also quoted Paul when he wrote that “it’s by grace we’ve been saved, through faith,” not understanding what that actually means. They did, in fact, quote the whole passage, but somehow entirely missed the fact that the salvation, grace, and faith are not of ourselves but are instead a gift from God, as they quoted those very words. Because of their misunderstandings of the various “hell” and lake of fire passages in other parts of Scripture, they once again assumed that these places must be a threat for those who don’t make the right decision, which means that, even though Paul wrote that the salvation, grace, and faith are given to us as a gift, meaning we have no actual part in our salvation ourselves since otherwise we could boast about our works (and, yes, having to choose to “accept the gift” would indeed count as a “work” if it’s something we would have to do in order to be saved, as it would give us something to boast about), they were forced to make that faith dependant upon us, as something we have to build up enough of within ourselves so that we can believe the Gospel (even though that faith is not out ourselves according to Paul). Because they misunderstood Jesus’ messages to His audience that if they didn’t believe in Him they’d “perish” (along with various other threats that seem to talk about never-ending punishment in hell), as well as thought He was saying that if they do believe in Him they’ll go to Heaven forever, not realizing that Jesus was talking about something else entirely from the Gospel of the grace of God in those messages, these preachers went ahead and overlaid those threatening (and promising) passages onto this one, assuming they were talking about the same thing (even though doing so makes this passage contradict itself). But what they failed to realize is that if someone has been given the gift of faith written about in this passage, it means they already believe the Gospel of grace. Basically, they’ve either been given the gift of faith and hence believe (which means they’ve been saved, at least relatively speaking) or they haven’t been given the gift of faith and hence haven’t believed (which means they have not yet been saved, again, relatively speaking). There isn’t any basis for saying someone who has been given the gift of faith still has to choose to “accept that faith,” because they’ve already got the faith that saves them if God gave them that gift, since having faith literally means believing and trusting. To put it simply, we have absolutely zero say in whether we have faith or not, and if we have faith, we’ve believed and have been saved (again, from a relative perspective; from an absolute perspective, everyone has been saved — or has been promised eventual salvation — on the basis of what Christ did, whether one believes it before they die or not, but we’re talking about relative salvation in this paragraph, which is about joining the body of Christ and getting to experience immortality early, during the next two ages, rather than the promise of eventual immortality for all humanity at the end of the ages that is salvation from an absolute perspective).
They also kept quoting the passage that says God will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. They seemed to forget the Bible also tells us that God works all things according to the councel of His own will, which means that if God wills something, He gets it. But, again, because of the misunderstanding of Jesus’ “threats,” they assumed that God actually won’t get everything He wills, once again distorting the Gospel into a transaction one must make with God before they die, and also detracting from the absolute sovereignty of God.
There was a lot more they said that I could go on about. In fact, I don’t think they interpreted a single passage of Scripture accurately, thanks to their lack of study about what the various passages mean, leading them to bad conclusions such as that the rich man in Luke 16 would stay in hell forever even though they had a large chart with them that included the lake of fire as a separate place from hell, not seeming to realize that using the story in Luke 16 in this way demonstrates they either don’t seem to understand that the rich man in this story would eventually leave the “hell” he was said to be in (which means this story is not a good example of a threat that one’s stay in hell will never end), or that they somehow seemed to forget that fact altogether even though it was on their chart. And they also quoted the passage in Matthew 25 about the Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats, not realizing that it has nothing to do with Heaven or “hell” either, and that everyone remains quite alive in various places here on Earth by the end of it, and that the “sheep” in that passage aren’t a reference to believers at all either (I’m not going to get into the details here, but I wrote about it previously in this article if you aren’t familiar with this fact). But I’ve already gone on long enough, so I’ll leave it at that for now. If you aren’t one of my long-time readers when it comes to my website, though, you’re likely wondering what it is I think the various threatening passages about “hell” are actually talking about. For that I’ll point you to this article, since it would take more space than I have to get into here.