In an increasingly realitivistic age, the church needs–more than anything else–a renewed commitment to the timeless truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems we have become adept at spotting false teachers on TV. We can quickly and easily call out Osteen, Jakes, Meyer, Dollar, and others as wolves in sheep’s clothing. As we should. But the kind of false teaching that is more subtle, confusing, and dangerous to the propagation of the gospel deals with an inability to reconcile love and truth.
The gospel is often put forth as God’s love for a fallen and broken world, which is remarkably true. But what is often forgotten is what the gospel demands and creates–repentance and faith. Love that is offered in place of the absolute demand of God in the gospel to renounce self, repent of sin, and run to Christ, is not love that is produced by the gospel. Ultimately, any love that is offered that doesn’t lead to the greatest possible joy is deficient.
The love and acceptance that is being espoused in the moral and sexual revolution we are experiencing in the West is far from the gospel because it is devoid of any absolute truth. In fact, the basis of this kind of love is the total absence of absolute truth. Absolute truth, in the new morality, is oppressive and an enemy of self-autonomy. And anything short of full and complete acceptance is bigotry and anti-love.
In the coming months and years, the church will be forced to wrestle with its language and actions in a culture that will continue to challenge her truth claims. The greatest challenge, though, facing the church will be whether or not she will effectively speak truth in love. By nature, the gospel is a message of inseparable truth and love. Standing firm in an age of moral and cultural confusion will depend upon our teaching, believing, and application of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I want to spend a few moments in 1 Timothy 1 to examine the effects of false teaching, such as a hermeneutic that separates truth and love for the sake of cultural relevance, as well as the effects of the true gospel.
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
Paul instructed Timothy to stop false teachers from continuing to teach something different than the true gospel. He shows us that the gospel is the most crucial thing to the life of a church and a Christian. Without it, neither can survive. The reason Paul commanded Timothy to stop the false teachers from opposing the gospel is because the gospel is too sweet to get wrong, change, or ignore. It is too great to keep quiet about. And it is too satisfying to replace with anything else.
The gospel is like a fresh glass of water on a hot summer day. When your mouth is dry and sweat is rolling down your face after running and playing with your friends or family, nothing is more satisfying than an ice-cold glass of water. Now imagine if you were outside playing tag with your friends. The sun is right above your head and you are running all over your front yard. You start to get short of breath and call for your mom to bring out some water. What if when she handed you the glass and you put it to your lips, you tasted salt water?
Salt water looks enough like drinking water that you may not even notice the difference. However, while regular drinking water replenishes and quenches your thirst, salt water only makes you more thirsty. Even though it contains water, it is unsatisfying because of the salt that is mixed in.
The same is true of false teaching and false teachers. False teachers take the truth of the gospel and change it so that it looks somewhat the same, but has totally been robbed of its satisfying elements. Any message that changes or ignores the gospel is unsatisfying and cannot quench the thirst of the soul. Paul shows us a few effects of the gospel that make it absolutely irresistible.
First, the gospel produces a new heart. We sin because we all have sinful hearts. Like poison, our sinful hearts weaken us in our daily lives. But in the gospel, we are given new hearts that change everything about the way we live.
Second, the gospel produces love. Out of our new hearts that we are given, we are able to love in a godly way. Paul shows love for Timothy and the church at Ephesus by reminding them to focus on the gospel and fight false teaching.
Third, the gospel produces peace. When we were guilty before God in our sin, there was no hope for peace with God. But when Jesus died for us, he took our guilt upon himself. Now we are at peace with God and have a “clear conscience.”
Fourth, the gospel produces genuine faith. A genuine faith is a faith that is really there. Only this kind of faith is saving, and only this kind of faith can sustain you when hard times come.
False teaching is ultimately unsatisfying. It leads to hypocrisy and confusion in the church. It fails to see a connection between love and truth. But the gospel produces a dynamic love from truth that demonstrates itself in joyful worship and a transformed life.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.