Common followup question:
- What is the gospel? Don’t we have to agree on that?
- What about “false teachers”?
- Who are not to be considered wolves among us?
What is the gospel? Don’t we have to agree on that?
The gospel is the “good news,” as most Christians know, but the topic of the news is not as complicated as we sometimes make it. When analyzing the use of “the gospel” in the New Testament, it becomes quite clear that the identity of Jesus is the gospel – indeed Jesus Himself is the gospel, the Word that became flesh. So if we agree on the fundamentals of who Jesus is , as we’ve seen above, we will be agreeing on the good news about Him as well. Let’s look together at each way in the new testament other words are used to clarify the “gospel” and how these references can be grouped:
- The gospel of Christ and His kingdom
- “Gospel of Jesus” Christ (Mar 1:1)
- “Gospel of Christ” (Rom 1:16, 15:19, 29; 1Co 9:12, 18; 2Co 9:13, 10:14; Gal 1:6-7; Phl 27; 1Th 3:2)
- “Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Th 1:8)
- “Christ’s gospel” (2Co 2:12 )
- “Gospel of the glory of Christ” (2Co 4:4)
- “Gospel of the kingdom” (Mat 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mar 1:14-15)
- The gospel of God and His Son
- “Gospel of God” (Rom 1:1-3, 15:16; 2Co 11:7; 1Th 2:2, 8; 1Pe 4:17)
- “Gospel of His” [God’s] Son (Rom 1:9)
- The gospel of salvation and grace
- “Gospel of your salvation” (Eph 1:13)
- “Gospel of the grace of God” (Act 20:24)
- “Gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15)
- The gospel of Paul and all the apostles
- “My [Paul’s] gospel” (Rom 2:16 , 16:25 ; 2Ti 2:8)
- “Our gospel” (2 Co 4:3; 1Th 1:5; 2Th 2:14)
- The glorious and everlasting gospel
- The glorious gospel (1Ti 1:11)
- The everlasting gospel (Rev 14:6)
When Paul referred to the gospel as his gospel or the gospel of the apostles in general, we know that he did not mean that the good news was about him or that it ultimately originated from him, so although those references help us to remember how the gospel was spread and the special role Paul and the apostles had, it does not help define it for us. Likewise knowing that the gospel is glorious and everlasting is wonderful but not very explanatory. What stands out is that the gospel is good news specifically concerning Christ and His kingdom, God and His Son, and salvation and grace. Sound familiar? Just based on the way the word was used we can get a sense that the gospel was the good news that Jesus is the Christ, God’s son, and savior.
Fortunately though, we don’t have to guess. Paul tells us plainly what the gospel is:
"Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, [and] declared [to be] the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Romans 1:1-4)
"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve." (1 Corinthians 15:1-5)
The good news concerns Jesus, who is the Christ and was born according to the flesh. And the good news is that as Savior He died for our sins, and that He was buried and rose again on the third day, which declares Him to be the Son of God.
Jesus is the Christ as “attested by God…by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him” (Acts 2:22). Jesus is the Son of God as it was “declared…with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). And Jesus is the Savior according to the scriptures, and this is indeed the greatest news of all!
…But of course, if all of that were true but there was no way to apply His payment for our sins, or if it was only a partial payment, or if it wasn’t certain the payment would go through, then it wouldn’t actually be good news at all!
"Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who commits in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and commits in Me shall never die. Do you commit [into] this?' She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, I commit that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'" (John 11:24-27)
Inherent to the good news that Jesus the Christ, God’s son, and Savior is the good news that we are able to get a guarantee of resurrection with Christ – forgiveness for all of our sins, past, present, and future all at once – and that it requires only a surrendering of ones entire self to Him.
What about “false teachers”?
Unfortunately, the most common response to a message of unifying the Lord’s people is not “I’m ready!” but “what about false teachers?” What about wolves? The fear seems to be that God’s people, even with His Spirit, will not be capable of keeping out false doctrine or sin if we come together. The assumption seems to be that we are keeping out false doctrine and sin better while divided! This is simply not true, and furthermore this lie is the enemy’s greatest advantage. Unfortunately, what people are really asking with this question most of the time is, “what about people who have the same Jesus and the same good news, but aren’t enough like me?”
Of course sometimes when a person responds to a charge for unity by asking about false teachers, they are genuinely interested in understanding how we will fend off the wolves together; but the sad irony is that typically this is not the case, and instead they are asking for reasons that resemble another type of wolf: divisive people (heretics). If we are really just trying to ward off other followers with differences of tradition, culture, language, skin color, age, worship styles, learning styles, diet, exuberance, faith, maturity, etc. then we ourselves have become wolves, trying to separate out those who Christ died to join together. Our response first needs to be “I’m ready!” and then all that is left to be said is “You’re will, Lord, be done!” – He will always lead His people mightily when our goal is obedience to the Lord and unity with one another.
But for those who are truly wondering about the concern of false teachers, it’s really quite simple. Paul summarized the three main types of wolves best in the following verse where He was rebuking the ekklesia in Corinth:
“For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:4)
In John 10:10 we find:
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy….”
The three type of wolves introduced above come to steal, kill, and destroy, respectively, and should be accursed, avoided, rebuked, or rejected to varying degrees according to the following passages:
One who brings a false Jesus – Do not receive or greet him
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ [as] coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist....Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:8, 9-11)
This is very straightforward. This not figurative but a literal command for all believers: if someone comes to you and is actively bringing a different teaching about who Jesus is, don’t welcome them into your house or even greet the person.
One who brings a false Spirit of division– Reject him
“Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
“For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ….But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” (Jude 1:4, 17-19)
We learn from this that those without the Spirit among us are recognizable in that they cause divisions.
“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:9-11)
The response to someone who is causing divisions (out of a divisive Spirit) is to “reject” them. The following passage helps clarify what that means:
"See that you do not reject Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who rejected Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven" (Hebrews 12:25)
To reject someone may not mean that they are put out, although it could mean that if they do not remain quiet, but it certainly means that the person is cut off from speaking. This is what we must do to those who do not heed correction concerning a tendency to cause division, presumably until their heart changes.
One could assume we can still greet them, but we cannot listen to them. And since Paul makes it clear they are continually “sinning” in this, we cannot eat with them.
One who brings a false Gospel – Let him be accursed
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed*.” (Galatians 1:8-9)
“If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed*. O Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)
“Accursed” above is the Greek word anathema, and literally means “put up,” such as when a memento is put up on a mantel. The word was used to describe how entirely abandoned something was when it was sacrificed (with no way of getting it back). In the case of objects, they were hung up on the wall of the temple, and in the case of animal offerings the fire put them up into the air.
Either way, the meaning is clearly that we would take these people who bring a message of Jesus that differs from the truly good news of Jesus and put them to the side, out of our life, and out of our mind, letting God address their issues if he so chooses. We are not called to reject them, so we can presumably have some kind of greeting and cordialness with these type of people. And again because they call themselves believers but do not walk in the truth, we cannot eat with such people.
Who are not to be considered wolves among us?
Now that we have gone through the three types of wolves, it is good to remind ourselves who are not wolves. First of all, the weak among us are not wolves.
An Unrepentant Brother Is Not a Wolf – Do not keep company or eat with him
“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)
“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count [him] as an enemy, but admonish [him] as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)
Although it is true that we shouldn’t even eat with or keep company with unrepentant brothers (greeting them is not forbidden), and although they could, if left alone, spread unfaithfulness to other followers, unrepentant brothers aren’t enemies!
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who [are] spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 1:20-23)
We must remember that sinning brothers, despite being disobedient to Christ, still claim the same Christ, Spirit, and gospel. If we are a witness that what a brother is doing is wrong, we must immediately refrain from eating with them, but we have no right to reject them altogether and must follow Christ’s command to bring another brother to discuss the issue. And if the brother will not listen to the two, we again have no right to reject them altogether and must follow Christ’s command as best we can to bring the brother before the ekklesia of Christ in that city:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
“Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” (1 Timothy 5:20)
This is one of the most important reasons for all the Lord’s people in our city to come together as the ekklesia. Without it there is no ultimate accountability on earth. If there is no ekklesia formed, it’s impossible to send a person out – if not from the ekklesia, what would we really be sending them out of anyway? We should not eat with the person and must separate ourselves such as retracting our deep fellowship, our home, our gatherings, etc., but what are those things in the spiritual realm? What are those things in the view of everyone else? Without the ekklesia to send a person out of, he will not be seen as sent out, but simply separated from a few people (a necessary thing, still, but not as impactful). Being sent out from the ekklesia, however – that is, to be separated from all of God’s holy people in their city – would be noticed both in heaven and on earth!
A Weak Brother Is Not a Wolf – Receive him
On to the second non-wolf, weak brothers:
“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, [but] not to disputes over doubtful things.” (Romans 14:1)
Take special note of the above verse because it is foundational for distinguishing between the wolves and the weak. The phrase “doubtful things” above literally means “things thought-through”. If you have ever concluded some doctrinal belief based on a series of in-depth scriptural studies that required you to draw charts and chase obscure phrases and textual variants down rabbit holes…you “thought through” it, and therefore it’s not something you should dispute over.
We are not free to be the judge of our brothers, ever. The only freedom we have is to witness of the truth, and in that way judge. If it is an obvious teaching, if Christ or the apostles helped us out with a contextualized command, if it is something the Spirit tells us plainly…only then can we judge what is true. Otherwise we make ourselves to be the judge.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11-12)
“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems [one] day above another; another esteems every day [alike]. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes [it] to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe [it]. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” (Romans 14:4-6)