Wolves. They are amazing creatures. Fast, beautiful, smart, crafty, sneaky and dangerous. Just a few days ago, while out walking the dog, we spotted a black wolf less than a quarter of a mile away just watching us. On one hand this was a wow experience – living in rural Montana we get to have those from time to time. But it is also a reminder that we have to be vigilant at all times, even when we are just out for a walk. When they get in a flock of sheep, wolves will randomly and savagely kill sheep after sheep with abandon. A pack of wolves can and will kill a family dog. So we called Toby, our Aussie, close and watched the wolf disappear over the ridge.
In my last post, I talked about the simplicity of the gospel. One of the greatest concerns I have is how the gospel is changed from its purity and simplicity to be twisted and distorted by those who don’t love the truth. The Bible warns over and over again of the need to guard the treasure of the gospel that we have been entrusted with (2Tim 1:14). Most assuredly, not all who claim the name of Jesus are truly disciples of His. Jesus warns us in Mat 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Paul similarly says in Act 20:29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
The New Testament is filled with descriptions of these ravenous wolves. In the book of Galatians, Paul tells us that he is “ amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”. Gal 1:6-7
How are they distorting the gospel in Galatians?
In essence, they say the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is not enough. You must add works to it in order to be saved. The problem in Galatia was that the believers were being told they had to be circumcised in addition to their faith in Christ. The disturbers and distorters were adding Law to Grace. They failed to understand that God’s standard in Mt 5:48 is “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. You must do your best – try harder! That is not Good News! The reason Jesus Christ came was to keep the Law perfectly for us because no human has ever been able to do that – no matter how hard they tried.
We see legalism today when you hear a teacher say things like “you must do” or “unless you do”. The legalist adds a list of rules that must be kept in order to be saved – or “prove” your salvation. But the truth is that we can’t keep all those rules. The gospel sets us free from the law of sin and death because of the grace of God. You can stop sweating it out – and find peace in the grace and mercy that is ours in Christ.
- Moralism – “But I’m a good person”
The gospel is distorted when we add a list of all the things we don’t do to prove that we deserve to be saved. Really? For example, “I don’t go to movies” or “I never drink alcohol” or “I never read fiction”. The list of “I don’t s” goes on forever. This is not to say that we are not responsible to obey what the Bible teaches from a response of love toward our Savior. If we are truly saved, we will be hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and seeking to know the Lord and His Word.
But there are so many made up rules that help us imagine we are better than others. And really – that is the heart of it. We are comparing ourselves to others and not to Christ. And if I am better, nicer, and cleaner…than that guy surely Jesus must love me more. If I read my Bible and pray more than that girl surely Jesus loves me more. Right? No. Jesus loves us in spite of all our sin – no matter how deep the sin is. And that is what the gospel is really all about. For it is by grace (undeserved and unearned favor) you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works. Eph 2:8-9
If you know what you are looking for, a wolf is pretty easy to identify even from a distance. Knowing sound doctrine by knowing the Word of God is the best way to protect yourself from the ravages of these wolves we are warned against. Keep it simple and keep your focus on the Savior.