I read a great book recently by Trevin Wax entitled Counterfeit Gospels. I have had the privilege of getting to know Trevin recently and I am pleasantly struck by his deep love for the gospel and his belief in the local church. This book helps believers to know the true biblical gospel versus a counterfeit, because "even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth."(13)* We live in a day where there are counterfeit gospels everywhere. The scary thing about a counterfeit gospel, as with counterfeit money, is that it can look authentic, which is often why it is believed to be real.
As followers of Jesus, we are carriers of the gospel message. We have been commissioned to go and tell (Matt. 28:18-20/Acts 1:8), but we must get what we are telling right or there can be devastating results.
Let's look at one of the counterfeit gospels we face so that we will be more prepared to stand firm. Let's look at "the therapeutic gospel." The therapeutic gospel completely changes the intent of the gospel because it attempts to diminish the effects of "the fall." Trevin writes, "We call this counterfeit "the therapeutic gospel" because it confuses our spiritual symptoms (a troubled marriage, anxiety, anger, addictions) with our spiritual disease (sin). Because the diagnosis is superficial, the treatment is also superficial."(44) There are many different ways in which the therapeutic gospel manifest itself.
Versions of the Counterfeit Gospel:
- The Happy Meal Gospel (45-46): This counterfeit distorts the gospel by making our lives all about the pursuit of happiness. When we make the central goal of life being happy, we will often use our happiness to trump Scriptural authority over our lives. Our gospel message becomes about how Jesus came to give you the happiness you are looking for.
- The Fill'er Up Gospel (46-48): This counterfeit distorts the gospel by posturing that people are really just "like a car running low on gasoline." We have bad self-images and self-esteem. What we need is to believe in ourselves. Sin in this gospel distortion is anything that would make us doubt our worth. The gospel prescription becomes a pep talk which champions a belief in yourself: you can do it, try harder, you are a winner, etc.
- The Paid Programming Gospel (48-50): This counterfeit distorts the gospel by treating the gospel as a commercial for a product that promises to make your life better. This gospel preaches to people that coming to Jesus will make your life better. The problem is we do not define what "better" means. For some, better means that some of your emotional or physical circumstances are going to improve. The problem though is that it does not get to the heart of our real problem: spiritual brokenness.
- God as the Vending Machine (51-52): This extreme counterfeit distorts the gospel by presenting God as the dispenser of blessings if you do your part. It is often called "the prosperity gospel." The ultimate problem with this false teaching is that it puts God in our debt, when in reality, God owes us nothing! As Trevin states, it "inverts our relationship to God, making him out to be a puppet whose strings are pulled by our actions."(52)
There is much more that could be said when describing these. The counterfeits are subtle and can be easily missed in the sermons we hear and books we read. The gospel message is not therapy to help us cope with our lives. The gospel is the awe-inspiring announcement that sinful, undeserving people are given the gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who bore the wrath of God reserved for us. Yes, we deserve wrath and condemnation for our sin against a holy God. The gospel is about the rescue we experienced through Christ, not the help we were given to cope with life.
To conclude this discussion about this counterfeit gospel and the true gospel, Trevin captures it like this, "The therapeutic gospel makes grace expected. The biblical gospel makes grace amazing."(61)
Leaven a comment below around the following questions: in what ways have you seen these counterfeits in or around your life? Why do you think we are so quick to be drawn to these counterfeit versions of the gospel? What do you believe are protective measures we can take to prevent falling for a counterfeit in our own lives?
* All references from the book are in parenthesis
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