I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7)
There is only one gospel! And yet there are many who are confused about what that gospel is. This doesn’t mean that everyone is out to undermine the authority of Scripture, sweep away orthodox teaching, and lead people to hell. Far from it. Many believe they have unlocked the key to the real gospel and are rescuing Christianity. Others say with their mouths that they believe the same gospel message and yet by their life and conduct say something all together different. Many are in fact unintentionally teaching a false gospel.
Such is true of our first candidate: the gospel of rule-keeping. The gospel of rule-keeping teaches that Jesus made the way for you to get saved, but in order to stay saved or to stay in God’s good graces you must perform at a certain level of morality. There are rules which you, as a born-again Christian, must keep in order to stay a Christian. The rules often vary but usually take some form of the following: have a daily “quiet time,” go to church every time the doors are open, don’t drink, smoke, cuss, or fornicate, don’t watch “R” rated movies, and sometimes don’t dance or play cards. Often Christians are always encouraged not to hang-out with those who do any of the aforementioned things. Usually this is characteristic of hyper-fundamentalist churches. In most cases these churches will tell you they believe the gospel of Jesus’ perfect life for sinners, death for their payment, and resurrection for their justification. Their rules, however, and their conduct reveal something different.
There are two common responses to the rule-keeping gospel which actually impair the Christian’s walk. The first response is one of arrogance. The Christian who does a good job of “keeping the rules” becomes arrogant, proud, and condescending. He/she is good at avoiding all the listed sins, but sadly their arrogance has blinded them to the sins they are committing. They become “super Christians” who look down on all the rest of us who regularly struggle with sin. This is not the kind of godly behavior that should result from the gospel-impacted life. The Scriptures say that God hates the proud (Jeremiah 50:31-32). The gospel causes us to bear the burden of a weaker brother, not belittle them and burden them with unbiblical rules.
That leads rather naturally to the second response to this “gospel”: condemnation. The sinner who is not successful at keeping all these rules is prone to a spiritual depression, a constant questioning of their salvation, a self-loathing that does not honor God and does not lead to further holiness. By constantly focusing on ourselves instead of focusing on Christ we are going to find ourselves often very depressed, because we are not perfect. Only Christ is perfect and while he is sanctifying us, such sanctification is a process.
The gospel of rules ultimately takes the focus off of what Jesus has done and puts it on what I am doing. Either Jesus has saved me 100% or I have something to boast in when I get to heaven: namely my own work. But such a teaching does not comport with the teaching of Ephesians 2.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
We are saved completely by God’s grace, and we are kept saved completely by God’s grace. While the pursuit of holiness is extremely important in the Christian life if you are relying on it to save you, or keep you saved you have misplaced the gospel. You are like those Galatian believers whom Paul wrote to saying:
16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
If you find yourself, in those moments of insecurity, focusing primarily on your growth, your holiness, and your work, then friends you need to rethink the gospel you have believed. Rule-Keeping is not the gospel!