In our day there is still much confusion in regards to the Gospel. There always has been actually. In Italy the Gospel is known of only as some kind of book in the church building that gets read from sometimes. In the USA the Gospel has been heavily distorted to the point that the Gospel so many believe is no longer the Gospel at all but has become a counterfeit known as the "prosperity gospel". We will talk more on this in the future because it must be addressed especially when we talk about missions and evangelism.
Recently in Italy we had the privilege to lead a woman to Christ who was desperately lost in sin. We were able to lead her to Christ only after having to lovingly confront gross sins in her life that no one else had the courage to confront. One of the main reasons her life was so destroyed was because she was taught a false gospel all her life and led to believe she was well with God. Once confronted with God's holiness and her depravity the Spirit brought her to her knees in repentance and forgiveness to receive then the true Gospel of grace and salvation; time will tell if her conversion was genuine.
The Point - In missions we must be aware that countless souls think they are well when indeed their soul is still under God's wrath. We must also be aware that this false gospel has deceived millions and has even been exported to the mission fields around the world.
Jesus taught His disciples the importance of this concept as recorded in Mathew 7:21-23 -
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
*A little effort to study and understand the false gospel (like knowing cultural idols) is not a waste of your time but necessary if you are to be faithful to your call in the Lord's global mission. Here is one example of how this distorted gospel works. More will come later:
A woman I will not name who believes with all her heart that God wants all Christians to be healthy and wealthy once boasted to me of her possessing the glory of God, an extraordinary filling of the Spirit of God, and even a special gifting to heal others yet she said:
"I don't believe what people teach! Especially when it's anti-anything God said in Joshua 1:8!! I believe what Jesus teaches me in his word, as I walk with him and talk with him, and his proof is what he has done in my life."
2 things to help us see the deception of this statement:
1. This person believes in sign-gifts of the Spirit, yet apparently not the Spirit's gift of teaching. This is upsetting and a bit backwards and is likely why she has ceased to listen to the Bible teachers God has given Christ's church for the edification of its members. As a result of not having a teachable spirit false doctrine has infiltrated the mind and heart and her faith is based on verses taken out of their context in the Bible. - The Enemy primarily deceives the masses not by open and clear false teachings but by mixing truth with lies - He used this method on Christ Himself when he tried to tempt Jesus using the Word of God.
2. The perfect example is this dependency on an out-of-context verse like Joshua 1:8 where God says if Joshua obeys the specific Word God gave him than God will cause him to prosper. Now don't get me wrong, there is great blessing in obedience to God's word for Christians. God's blessings, as we know, are often different and greater than what our sinful flesh considers blessing.
We must obey, but we must study His Word carefully to know what He is saying, to who He is saying it and why and then we can understand together with the whole teaching of Scripture what is means to us in our day and context.
In Joshua 1:8 God was talking to Joshua, not you and me. The prospering Joshua would have was for a very unique episode in God's redemptive story to one day in the distant future bring salvation to every nation, not just Israel. Joshua's call was to slaughter entire people groups and lead Israel to take over their land. He obeyed God's word and God made him good at just that (in this he was prosperous). Clearly, no disciple of Christ today would dare say that God is calling him/her to prosper in the same way God called Joshua to prosper.
The prospering that God has in mind for us is primarily that of the soul, through saving-grace, regeneration and sanctification.
May the Lord grant us discernment to recognize the true and false in regards to His Gospel. May our hearts be content and fixed on the one true Gospel. It is perfect! It is the power of God in salvation (Rom. 1:16). It needs no modification! It needs nothing added or taken away! It is sufficient to fulfill God's purpose! It is easy enough for even kids to understand yet profound enough to confound for a lifetime!