How can you distinguish between the true and false gospel? This article shows that the true gospel is the gospel of God, it is about Christ, it leads to salvation, and it promises a new life.

Source: The Evangelical Presbyterian, 2011. 2 pages.

The Authentic Gospel ‘What is gospel?’

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians expressed his astonishment that some of the believers were turning to a different gospel from the one that he had preached to them. False teachers had infiltrated the church troubling it and seeking to distort the gospel of Christ.

Through the years the church has been troubled with unbelief that has resulted in false teaching and gospel distortion. Dr Gresham Machen was invited to write an article for the Union Seminary Review in 1927 on the theme “What is the Gospel?” This was a follow up to a previous article on the same theme in an earlier issue of the Review, which had invited members of a congregation to give their answer to this question. Dr Machen commented “It is certainly interesting to discover what the people who actually form the membership of the churches think with regard to the basic questions of the Christian faith”.1One of the things he noted was that even in a relatively well informed congregation there was considerable confusion of mind.

The recent debate over N T Wright’s New Perspective on Paul provoked the comment from Burk Parsons that “his (Wright’s) portrayal of the gospel – and of justification in particular – is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognize as biblically faithful”.2How would we answer the question “What is the Gospel”? and how do we distinguish the authentic from the false?

The Gospel of God🔗

In Romans 1 Paul describes himself as an apostle set apart for the gospel of God. At the outset he declares the gospel he proclaims as belonging to God. He tells us that the gospel is something that was promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament foretold the coming Saviour. He reminds the Galatians that the gospel he preaches is not man’s gospel but was something that was revealed to him through Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter writes “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16); the gospel is not a myth as some would suggest but is the revelation of God to mankind. Peter links his message with the other apostles to affirm that they all preach the same message. Throughout the pages of the Bible we clearly see that the gospel is the Gospel of God. Paul writes “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed” (Rom 1:17).

The Christ of the Gospel🔗

The heart of the gospel centres upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul sets forth in Romans 1 the deity of Christ, descended from David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead. He reminds the Corinthians of the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the gospel that he preached, that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried and that he rose again on the third day, all in accordance with the Scriptures.

The gospel is not about social action or the improvement of the welfare of mankind. It is good news, that’s what the word ‘gospel’ means! The gospel tells us not merely that Christ died, but why he died and what he accomplished by his death. Watch out for those who tell you that Jesus was a great man and an example to follow but who omit to tell you the reason why he came and what he did. The One of whom Isaiah spoke came and fulfilled all that was spoken of him in the Old Testament Scriptures. The central truth of the gospel tells us that the Father sent the Son who loved us and gave himself for us. He died in our place upon the cross, taking the punishment for our sins, and completing the glorious work of redemption by his resurrection from the dead. As Machen wrote: “That is the centre and core of the gospel that the apostles proclaimed”.

The Power of the Gospel🔗

The authentic gospel transforms lives. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. Whenever the gospel is faithfully preached it will always bring reactions. It will arouse not only opposition, ridicule and contempt but will lead to faith in Jesus Christ. When Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17) we see the kind of responses that his preaching brought, some mocked, some procrastinated “but some men joined him and believed”. The authentic gospel transforms lives, translating men and women from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

The apostle Paul in his testimony before King Agrippa (Acts 26) speaks of that day when he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and his life was totally changed. He, who had been a blasphemer and persecutor of the church of Christ, was now called to be “a witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you”. We see this transforming grace at work in the life of Zacchaeus, his life changed and the evidence of that new life in his desire to obey the Word of God. The authenticity of the gospel is seen in transformed lives. Machen writes “How rich and how varied are the effects of the gospel in human lives; in what manifold ways our Savour holds communion with those who are his!”

The Promise of the Gospel🔗

The authentic gospel is one of promise. Not only has Jesus accomplished redemption for his people but, as John Murray reminds us, “Glorification is the final phase of the application of redemption”. In the death of Christ, the last enemy has been defeated and we “according to his promise are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”. Jesus promised a place in heaven for all those who love and trust him. The true gospel is a message of hope and certainty to a hopeless and uncertain world. The unbeliever is without God, and therefore without hope in this world.

How would you answer the question “What is the Gospel”? Machen reminds us that if we are to determine what the gospel is, we must turn to the Scriptures and to the Scriptures alone. “Not into our own souls but to the Bible should we look to obtain an answer to the momentous question “What is the Gospel?” 3


  1. ^ J Gresham Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, edited by D G Hart, P&R, 2004, p123. 
  2. ^ Tabletalk, February 2010, Ligonier Ministries
  3. ^ Machen, p132.

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