WARNING: It Only Takes a Small Portion of Distortion

It’s the same, only different.

With his trademark dryness, my dad used to sooth my childhood disappointment with this one-liner: “it’s the same, only different.”  When I expected Disney World, Nike or Ground Round and got Thunder Island, Champion and TV dinners, he’d console me by saying “it’s the same, only different.” I remember believing him. I even remember, by the end, agreeing with him.  

As an adult, this isn’t working for me as much.  More and more it seems that if it’s different, it’s not the same. Taco Bell, diet soda, weight loss pills, and I guess I should make a reference to “fake news.” If it’s not the real thing, it’s not the same. And if it’s not the same thing, it doesn’t generate the same impact.  

When it’s not the real thing

The easiest personal example of this might be coffee.  It’s true that I learned to like coffee (I felt like it was a rite of passage from child to adulthood) by drinking a coffee substitute called Dunkin Donuts. By “coffee substitute” I mean a cup of heavy cream, a handful of sugar, four pumps of flavor syrup and a splash of coffee that constituted a hot cup of liquid dessert. Now, as a local roast, whole bean, fresh ground, black coffee drinker, it pains me to hear someone say “I don’t really like coffee.”  It’s horrifying to listen to them refer to the time they decided they weren’t going to drink coffee ever again—that time their grandma put four scoops of Folgers in a 12-cup Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker and poured everyone a tall cup of steaming coffee. Yuck.

A rule of thumb

If you can see through the coffee, it’s not coffee. This weak coffee counterfeit will taste like something, but not a smooth and popping cup of flavorful java.  So when someone says they don’t like coffee, I instinctively wonder if it’s possible they’re saying more accurately, “I don’t like hot brown water made with cheap and stale coffee grounds.” In that case , I don’t like coffee either.

I don’t like the Christian faith

Who hasn’t heard someone express their disdain for Christians? They express how off-putting Christians are due to how self righteous, preachy, materialistic, hypocritical and toxic they are.  Though I tend to agree that people claiming to be Christians do indeed act that way, I instinctively want to ask, “what if they’re not real Christians?”  What if their beliefs are so distorted that no genuine transformation has taken place?  

Distortions are the same thing, only different

At North Central Church, we believe in and expect that the true gospel has the power to transform every heart, home and neighborhood. We know that the true gospel has the power to radically change lives for the better through the transforming work of Jesus. Yet, like watered down coffee, Thunder Island or TV dinners, there are several “gospels” that are the same as the real thing, only different. Here are three distorted gospels, followed by the real thing:

The License Gospel: Salvation is a permission to indulge by God’s grace.

To believe this distorted gospel means you can be spiritually saved without any corresponding behavior restrictions. By your faith, God saves your soul and then, based on his limitless grace, he permits you to indulge in physical excesses—sexual and material gratification.  In this view, your new belief doesn’t manifest in new and selfless behavior, it excuses old and selfish behavior.

The Luxury Gospel: Salvation is a prosperity for my faith.

To believe this distorted gospel means you can be saved from poverty and sickness (lack).  By your faith and faithfulness to appropriately apply God’s promises, you can attract his favor for personal health and wealth.  In this view, God’s mercy primarily protects you from undesirable physical, financial and material hardship and wins goodwill from others based on your personal God-given abundance.

The Law Gospel: Salvation is a performance reward for my faithfulness.

To believe this distorted gospel means you can saved from God’s rejection based on performing and behaving well.  In this view, faith in Jesus is important at the start, but God’s acceptance and approval of you is ultimately achieved and maintained by religiously achieving good behavior and high moral standards.

The Liberty Gospel: The real gospel.

To believe this real gospel means you can be saved from God’s coming condemnation based on your sincere and full trust in Jesus alone.  In this view, God’s acceptance is a gift to be received, by faith, whereby He graciously allows Jesus’s life and death to substitute for yours. When you believe and receive this good news you experience a new joy.  This joy replaces our old life.  It has the power to generate a new and growing appetite to treasure and trust Jesus, a new power to overcome harmful natural desires and a new hope that helps endure human suffering.

I mean, think about it. When compared to these distorted gospels, the real gospel is the same, only different. Yet each small difference distorts the real thing into a meaningless counterfeit, and when you distort the real thing, you lose the real impact.  In my humble opinion, only real coffee is worth drinking and only the true gospel transforms lives.



Beware These Seven Counterfeit Gospels by Kristen Wetherell

Counterfeit Gospels Chart: How 6 Counterfeits Affect the Gospel Story, Announcement, and Community by Trevin Wax

7 Distortions of the Gospel Commonly Accepted As Christianity by Kevin Halloran

Making Sure Children Actually Hear the Gospel and Not Just a Bunch of Bible Stories by Ed Stetzer

The Benefits of Drinking Coffee Black (And Tips for Making the Switch) from Brewing coffee manually (you’re welcome!)


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