Why do false teachers attract followers?
The reason I feel called to write this article is because of how much the Gospel has been sugar-coated and watered down by many churches to where, in some circles, it has become nothing more than an exchange of eternal life and a one-way ticket to heaven for the low, low price of the desire to have it. Something is missing here.
Think back, if applicable, to how the Gospel was first explained to, or discovered by, you. It may have sounded something like the following:
mankind has a sinful nature (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23).
God loved us, so He rescued us from our sin by sending His Son to die for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
Hopefully, it was something akin to that. The Gospel message is undoubtedly the most important message we will ever hear. But the resulting Christian life is far more than placing the trophy of salvation on a shelf. Christianity does not end when we hear the Gospel. If our hearts haven't responded to the Gospel and our lives haven't outwardly changed, then something has been missed.
Wanna go to heaven?
The "Good News" of the Gospel is frequently presented in its simplest form (usually in 10 words or less). Then, what the ensuing benefits are of becoming a Christian.
You may have even read something that asked the question, do you know what will happen to you when you die? But it's uncommon to hear an explanation of what we are to do in the meantime.
So what am I saying? The Gospel is true. Within the church, however, the Gospel is often polished off and presented as a cost-free gift that will not only forgive you of every sin you ever committed, but insulate you from the ramifications of any future sins. It is possible for someone to have been presented with something called the Gospel and, at the same time, have been presented with an untruth, or at least a conveniently incomplete truth.
When the presenter of the Gospel only trades in the bright-and-shiny aspects of accepting this Gospel, thereby "closing the deal" on an unsuspecting seeker, they rob God of His role.
It's as if the presenter lacks the faith that God will move on this person, so, in a sense, they leave out the fine print and just present a saccharine Gospel. And a saccharine Gospel produces a saccharine Christian.
When the Gospel is doled out like candy to the masses, without a proper understanding of the cost to Christ of this gift, of God's grace, we wind up with a person who accepts salvation, but whose life is unchanged. We wind up with a Christian who bears no evidence of fruit in his life.
Please allow a small aside here. If you're new to the faith or new to seeking answers at least, I want to drill slightly deeper on this last point. The point is not that you don't fully understand the Gospel if it is not accompanied by guilt or a feeling of indebtedness over the fact that Jesus died for you. Rather, to have a fully-orbed realization of God's Gospel solution for mankind, one needs to fully grasp that it was us that deserved the torture, excruciating pain, and death that Jesus endured on our behalf so that we would not have to. He bore the wrath of God that was due to us, sparing us of this horrible outcome in order to reconcile us back to God; the way it was before mankind was separated from God by sin.
An attitude of gratitude
Additionally, a changed, obedient, heart-following life of a Christ follower is such due to a heart response brought on by the sheer contrast of what God offers compared to what we actually deserve. The Christian life is driven by gratitude and adoration of God for what He did. Without that drive, there is unlikely to be any fruit in one's life.
The danger of an un-fruited, unchanged Christian is that as soon as they lose their job, or their spouse cheats on them, or they can't have children, or they lose a loved one or contract cancer they immediately feel as though they have been short-changed by God and they walk away from what they considered faith.
They say things like, how could God do this to me? Haven't I been good? Isn't God a "good God?" They feel like God owes them. They don't understand what God has already done for them. So why don't they? As with much of what's wrong with Christians, the lion's share can be laid at the front door of many local churches.
One of the finest presentations of the Gospel that I am aware of came from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. In the first chapter, Paul gave a good prayerful greeting for the first 15 verses, then he rolled up his sleeves. Paul said he was eager to tell the church in Rome (he wasn't talking about the unchurched in Rome yet) about the Gospel. He said he wasn't ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. He said that in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed... by faith. Then he spent almost the rest of the letter explaining just what the Gospel was.
The wrath of God...
I won't give you the whole thing here. The point I'm making is in the very next verse:
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Romans 1:18
So let me just ask you; when was the last time you heard a presentation of the Gospel begin with the wrath of God? Frankly, outside of Paul's presentation here, I've never heard it. With little exception, most of the presentations--both verbal and written--I've encountered begin with something like the following:
Do you know what will happen to you when you die?
Where will you spend eternity?
Will you/Would you like to go to heaven when you die?
Are you in pain?
The problem I see with approaches such as these is that they put payoff first. They attempt to attract people to a Gospel message using bait like they're trying to bag trout. And they wind up attracting people who are only there for what God can do for them.
Messages like these; and much worse, messages like these from churches and the false teachers who fish from their pulpits are attractive, they're bright and shiny. They use quick-canned messages like come as you are or winning starts here to attract the lost or the un-saved, if you will, and they get you on their boats with the yummy-looking bait, with no regard for producing disciples of Christ. They are not leading to changed lives.
You get eternal life! And you get eternal life!
I once heard a comment from a well-known Pastor named John MacArthur. Forgive me for not properly citing it but I cannot remember if it was from one of his books, interviews, or sermons. But the statement was something to the effect of, 'we do such a poor job of presenting the Gospel that it cannot be rejected by the un-elect.'
Now regardless of your feelings for the Pastor's use of elect language, it's tough to argue his larger point. The church has taken it upon itself, in too many instances, to attract anyone and everyone to Jesus even if they have to leave some unpopular truths out to do it.
The difference between the two messages is that God's message, incompletely alluded to earlier, is one of lavish, eternal, unmerited provision from the Creator God and His Co-Head and Son, Jesus. Provision that comes in the form of eradicating sin; the very thing, the only thing, keeping us separate from Him for all eternity even though true justice would leave us with our duly-earned penalty.
The other message never addresses sin. It offers forgiveness for wrongdoing which frees your wheels from the rough road of life. It's all solution. It's the offer of the better without a discussion about the worse. Then the respondent to this message finds himself squarely back on this road if he'd ever found himself off of it in the first place.
I've been coming to this church my whole life
The point I will leave you with is this; an incomplete Gospel message is even more attractive when it is wrapped up in a box-and-bow of feeling welcomed. The truth is, these churches do a good job of attracting the tattooed, pierced, divorced, single mother, formerly abused, struggling with substance abuse, won't-come-cause-I-can't-find-a-ride questioners, doubters, and seekers alike simply because they make them feel welcomed where the "typical church" does not.
The sad irony is, the church on the flip side of the bright-and-shiny coin is one of cautious pessimism. We have the truth here, but based on your tattoos, nose ring, and questionable choice of hair color, you might not like it. Here's a coffee cup and our website address. Sit right over there and come as long as you like. If you're still here in a year and I haven't forgotten we've met, I'll try and remember your name. I'll tell you how often I feel we should have lunch together sometime, but I'll never actually invite you. And I will never share the Gospel with you since that's the church's job and this is a great Gospel-believing church... welcome.
It quickly becomes obvious, and as a result, unwelcoming, that churches like the latter do a poor job of attracting the same people as the churches like the former because they do not want to attract them. This is made evident by their absence from the church's pews. The members are comfortable with the church family they grew up with and the people they have over for barbecues and they don't want to feel guilty for not inviting you. So it's just easier this way.
All the while, these same churchgoers congregate and marvel at how these false teachers attract such a following. How come the false message becomes a megachurch and the truth we have here is such a small one? I wonder.
On this website, there is another article on church shopping which I do believe is an important one. If you have come to believe in God, then I believe that scripture makes it clear that you need to join a local church. For a defense of this belief, please read my article on churchless Christians.
That being said, be prepared to make compromises when seeking out a church. You may not find many people willing to introduce themselves to you or act like they approve of you when they do. You may not like the music, lights, kids' programs, or even the coffee shop. But the church doesn't belong to them any more than it belongs to you. So if you find yourself in a church that has most of what it should have, especially a proper Gospel message, compromise and make yourself at home. The rest will come.
One compromise you cannot make, however, is a proper presentation of the Gospel. An improper or incomplete Gospel message is a non-starter. You can usually learn what a church says it believes on its website under "foundational principles," or "core beliefs." You can learn if they practice what they preach by attending the church. But be careful, it will be full of Christians.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.