Millions of professing Christians claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ—and thousands of ministers claim to accurately preach His words. Could they be wrong? Is it possible that what they believe and what Jesus actually taught are in opposition to one another?
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It has been said that for every human being there exists a different opinion on any particular matter. This is perhaps no more true than with the teachings of Jesus Christ. While what He taught has influenced millions throughout the millennia, few—if any—seem to agree on the meaning of His words. Where there are 20 people gathered, you will find 20 different ideas on what Jesus taught. Most see this as reasonable, and in fact embrace such confusion.
It is likely that since the first century more than one billion people have read the words of Christ, and most of these have claimed to follow Him, calling themselves Christian. Perhaps you are among them.
But how many truly understand Jesus’ words? How many have “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15)? Could the following verse, also in Matthew, apply to you?—“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (13:15).
If you answered no, are you sure?
When you hear the word “gospel,” what comes to mind? How would you define it? Most professing Christians would say something similar to the following: “The gospel is the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus.”
Is this how you would answer?
Although this is the prevailing opinion in the world of Christendom, what is important is what the Bible states—and what Jesus actually taught on the subject. What hundreds of millions say is irrelevant if it does not line up with God’s Word.
Nearly everyone who professes to be Christian believes that the gospel (which means “good news”) is about the Person of Jesus Christ—His death, burial, resurrection—and His love for, and acceptance of, everyone. Each Sunday, millions gather at church services to listen to ministers speak about the Person of Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins, stating that He is the gospel.
Yet, in the book of Mark, the gospel is defined quite differently. After Jesus was baptized (which is when His ministry began) and then tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, Mark records, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (1:14).
Immediately following, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel” (vs. 15). After reading verse 14, it should be clear what gospel Jesus is talking about in verse 15. He clearly states that, not only must one repent, he must also believe the gospel. Which one?—“the gospel of the kingdom of God.”
Only 15 verses into the book of Mark, the gospel is clearly identified. Why then are so many unaware of what is the true gospel? If there were no other scriptures on the subject, these two would be enough to define the good news. But as any Bible student understands, more than one scripture is needed to paint a complete picture on any given doctrine.
The book of Matthew continues the theme of Jesus preaching the kingdom of God: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (4:23). Also, in chapter 9: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (vs. 35). In these two verses, the phrase “of God” is left out, but it is apparent they are speaking of the same gospel mentioned in Mark.
Toward the end of Matthew, Jesus declared that just before His Return the gospel would be preached to the entire world. But again, notice which gospel He refers to: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (24:14).
Notice that none of these passages say, “…the gospel of the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” In fact, this statement—or anything similar to it—cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. Instead, what is found is the continual theme of “the gospel of the kingdom of God.”
While the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s sacrifice is extremely important, since without it mankind would have no hope of receiving eternal life, it is not the gospel—it is not the message Jesus brought. Jesus Himself is not the gospel!
Rather, Jesus was sent as a Messenger: “Behold, I [Christ] will send My messenger [John the Baptist], and he shall prepare the way before Me [Christ]: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger [Christ] of the covenant, whom you delight in” (Malachi 3:1).
Messengers carry messages. Jesus was the “Messenger” of the gospel, not the message itself. He was sent from God with an announcement—and that announcement was not about Him. He functioned as a spokesman for the kingdom of God.
In other New Testament accounts, the gospel is identified by several different terms. For instance, in Mark 1:1, it is called “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Also, the apostle Paul refers to the gospel as “the gospel of Christ” nearly a dozen times. These are not contradictions, nor references to other gospels. The “gospel of Christ” is simply a way of saying that the gospel is Jesus’ gospel—in other words, the message He brought.
The overarching theme of Jesus’ ministry is the kingdom of God. Everywhere He traveled, this was the gospel He preached. He taught about it in parables. He sent out 70 men to preach the kingdom (Luke 10:9). He sent the first century apostles to preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2). Even after He was resurrected, Jesus taught His disciples about the kingdom (Acts 1:3).
Yet contrary to these plain scriptures, most modern preachers teach that the gospel of Jesus Christ is about Jesus Christ—that the gospel of the kingdom refers to Him. Again, Christ’s sacrifice is of paramount importance, but to say that it is the gospel simply contradicts the Bible—and Jesus’ own words while He was on earth!
In John 7:18, Jesus said, “He that speaks of himself seeks his own glory.” Certainly then Christ would not contradict Himself and speak a message about Himself.
Do not take lightly the significance of believing the true gospel. It is so important that Paul was inspired to warn us of a danger: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).
This is quite a statement! It unmistakably reveals that the first century apostles preached one gospel and that all others are false. Also, those who preach any but the true gospel are under a curse. Believe your Bible. You can be deceived into believing false gospels.
Further solidifying the fact that there is only one gospel message, in Galatians 2:5, Paul stressed the hope “that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” So there is only one true gospel—with all others being false.
Do you believe the correct gospel? Are you sure?
For much more information on the true gospel, read our booklet What Is the Kingdom of God? In addition to expanding upon certain points covered here, it reveals that the good news of the kingdom of God was preached throughout the Old Testament, and is actually the very centerpiece of the entire Bible!
The booklet also explains exactly what is the kingdom of God. Some believe it is in the “hearts of men.” Others think it is wherever you find a particular church. Still others believe it is Jesus Christ Himself. And some believe it is on earth now, with others believing it is yet to come, but not understanding how or when this will occur. You need not be confused. You can know the truth of the matter—made plain!
Perhaps the hallmark of mainstream Christianity is the belief that the Law of God has been nullified, done away with. Most Christian leaders teach and lay members believe that the Ten Commandments are impossible for man to keep, so Jesus needed to abolish them through His death. In their eyes, trying to obey God but constantly failing is equated to being in “bondage to the Law.” But now that Jesus has “kept the Law in our place,” we are “free” from having to keep the commandments, so the thinking goes. (The phrase “nailed to the cross” comes to mind.)
Some even claim that they keep the commandments “in the heart,” thus spiritualizing away any need to actually obey God.
Yet most will say that, although not mandatory for salvation, the Ten Commandments are still “nice principles” to live by, and Christians should more or less try to obey God (with the near-universal exception of the Fourth Commandment). Most agree that murder, stealing and lying are wrong; and some would generally agree, to one degree or another, that children should obey their parents, committing adultery should be avoided and coveting can lead to less than desirable outcomes. Of course, the penalties for doing these things are subject to debate.
Many professing Christians sincerely believe that, while we should strive to keep some aspects of the Law of God, overall it is not a necessary ingredient in receiving salvation. To illustrate this thinking, an Internet website states that all one must do to become a Christian and receive eternal life is recite one simple prayer: “Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”
The site then states that if this prayer expresses the desire of an individual’s heart, he should pray it and Jesus will enter his life. Finally, the page reads, “Congratulations on your decision to accept Christ!”
In the minds of many, receiving salvation is that easy; simply recite a prayer. There is no more to it than that. Whether a person then goes on to obey God is not important. Once “a decision for Christ” has been made, eternal life is secured—or is it?
Similar to the gospel, opinions on whether commandment-keeping is necessary are irrelevant. What does matter is what the Bible states and what Christ taught on the subject.
Contrary to the popular opinions of men, Jesus did not come to earth to do away with the Law. Instead, He came to live in accordance with it—to obey it. Notice Christ’s own plain words in Matthew: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (5:17). Jesus fulfilled the Law by obeying it.
Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” One of the purposes of Christ fulfilling the Law—living a perfect, sin-free life—was to satisfy or pay in full the death penalty (“For the wages of sin is death” – Rom. 6:23) that mankind has earned by breaking God’s Law (“For sin is the transgression of the law” – I John 3:4). Had Christ sinned even once, humanity would have no savior, and thus no hope of eternal life. Someone needed to pay the price of man’s sins. Jesus did so by living a perfect, sinless life and dying in our place.
Also, by Jesus fulfilling the Law, He set an example for us: that we should follow in His steps. Of course, we could never live as perfectly as He did, but He showed us that obeying God is possible.
In the book of Luke, Jesus asks a question that all who consider themselves to be His disciples should seriously ponder: “Why call you Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (6:46). Many profess to follow Jesus Christ, calling Him Lord (which means “master”), yet He asks them, in effect, “If I am your Master, why do you not obey Me?”
With human beings, when someone is another’s master, he has authority over him. Think of parents as masters of their children. What good parent does not tell his little ones what to do? What parent lays out rules for sons and daughters to live by and does not expect them to obey?
Surely then Jesus, as a Christian’s Master, would expect His followers (“children”) to obey His words. Yet, amazingly, many do not. They prefer to follow “commandments of men,” as Jesus describes in Mark: “Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (7:7-8).
Have you considered that it is possible to worship Christ in vain? Yes, it is possible to think about Him, talk about Him and refer to Him often as Lord—as millions do—all in vain! Most believe the common “tradition of men” that the Law of God is no longer in effect, though this directly contradicts Jesus’ own words found in Matthew.
Then how does one follow Christ? Jesus shows us in John 8:31: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples indeed.”
During Jesus’ ministry there were a number of Jews who, like so many religious believers today, believed on Christ, but did not actually believe Him. They did not do what He said.
The phrase “continue in My word” is simply another way of saying “obey Me.” The Greek word for continue means “abide, dwell, endure, remain, stand.” Those who abide in, dwell in, endure in, remain in and stand in—or obey!—Jesus’ words are His disciples, not those who only profess to believe, without any action.
Beginning in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus taught His disciples during what is commonly referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Various topics are addressed, including that of obedience. In chapter 7, Jesus clarified who will and who will not enter the kingdom of God: “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven” (vs. 21).
Again, many call Jesus their Lord, or Master, but fail to do what He says. Here, Jesus points out that only those who do “the will of the Father” will enter into the kingdom of God. To do the will of the Father means to obey Him, and of course to obey Christ as well.
In verses 22-23, Jesus expounds upon this: “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name and in Your name have cast out devils? And in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity.”
The Greek word for iniquity means “violation of law, wickedness, transgression of the law, unrighteousness.” These verses indicate that those who profess to “know Jesus” and to be His disciples, and yet transgress or disregard the Law of God, will be told by Christ that He never knew them.
That is serious!
Continuing the account in Matthew 7:24-25, Jesus illustrates the wisdom in obeying Him: “Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.”
That “rock” is Jesus Christ! “And I say also unto you, That you are Peter [Greek: pebble], and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus was not speaking about building His Church upon Peter. Would Christ build upon a mere man? Of course not! The Church is built upon the living Christ, who is again described as a “rock” in I Corinthians 10:4. As such, building upon His words is likened to building a house on solid ground.
The apostle Paul was inspired to describe God’s Church as “the household of God,” which is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
In Matthew 7, however, Jesus demonstrates the condition of those who hear His words but do not apply them: “And every one that hears these sayings of Mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (vs. 26-27).
Not obeying Christ is likened to foolishly building a house on shifting sand: Eventually, the disobedient, like the house, will fall. When storms (trials and temptations) come, they will not stand.
Finally, consider Matthew 19:16, in which a young, rich man asked Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life: “And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”
How do you suppose Jesus responded? Did He say, “Accept Me into your heart as your personal Savior and you will receive eternal life”? No! Instead, He plainly said, “If you will enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments” (vs. 17).
Most ministers and churchmen claim that keeping the Law of God is impossible. But Jesus declares, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (vs. 25-26).
It is possible to obey God, but only by Christ living in Christians, through the Holy Spirit. And as Jesus stated in verse 17, obedience is mandatory for receiving eternal life—no matter the smooth words you might hear preached every Sunday.
Very few ministers teach the full truth of Jesus’ words. This may have been the first time you read these scriptures explained correctly in their proper context.
This leads to a question: Are you willing to believe your Bible? Are you willing to believe Jesus Christ? Is it your desire to hear Christ say to you, “Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your Lord” (Matt. 25:21)?
Much, much more could be written not only about what Jesus taught concerning the gospel, the Law of God and many other subjects, but also about the topics covered in parts one through three of this series. There is simply not enough room in only four articles to fully answer the question “Who is Jesus Christ?”
What you have read in this series is only the beginning. Be sure to visit rcg.org and read our book The True Jesus Christ – Unknown to Christianity. This book, unlike any other, thoroughly addresses the topic of the true Jesus Christ of the Bible, and exposes the false Jesus who so many unwittingly worship today.
Also, you may wish to read Chapter Seven of the book The Trinity – Is God Three-In-One? for more on the subject of “another Jesus.”