Beware of These 7 Gospel-Distortions

A dear friend of mine worked in a bank overseas for about a year, handling large amounts of money. During training, she had to study various bills and learn their details so she could easily discern counterfeits if they came along.

She studied the real thing so she could identify distortions.

The same goes for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As leaders in the church, we want to be women equipping women to know the gospel so we can identify false “gospels” and grasp how the truth applies to our lives.

But where do we start?

Build the Foundation

We begin with the gospel to build a firm foundation for all our events, gatherings, Bible studies, and small groups:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:1–2, 8–9).

This passage answers three questions that we can use as a framework to help our women build a firm gospel-foundation:

Saved from what? The wrath of God. There is no gospel apart from the existence of the wrath of God and His righteous judgment against sinners (v. 9). This is an uncomfortable reality, but it’s one we must teach our women, because ignoring or belittling sin does not mean sin goes away. God is the standard—and we have sinned against him.

Saved by whom? Jesus Christ. Christians are saved from the wrath of God by the righteous blood of Jesus, the spotless, sacrificial Lamb who absorbed the wrath on our behalf (v. 8). Only Jesus has the power to save desperate, dead sinners from God’s wrath by giving them eternal life in His Name, accomplishing what we never could.

Saved how? By grace through faith. True faith says, “I bring nothing to the table. I come empty-handed, but Christ gladly gives Himself to me.” We teach our women that faith is trusting Jesus to rescue us from sin, because we know we can’t rescue ourselves. And faith is trusting Jesus to do this apart from anything we have done.

Beware the Distortions

When the women in our churches forget the gospel, they’re more likely to be carried along and tossed about by the world’s ever-changing ideas. So just as it’s important for us as leaders to build a firm foundation for the flock under our care, we must also beware the distortions at work in our world and churches.

Here are seven gospel-distortions we should be aware of as we seek to lead women well:

1. The “Good Person” Culture

This one says, "We’re all basically good people. We make mistakes and mess up—nobody's perfect—but we’re good people at heart."

This claim is wrong, and it’s dangerous. We need to remind our women that ignoring sin does not make it disappear. There is Someone to whom we will be held accountable, and even though our pride doesn’t roll with that idea, sin is real, and it’s a power we need rescuing from. No one is good, not one (Ps. 14:3).

2. The “Self-Esteem” Culture

This distortion claims, "You’re so awesome that you deserved a Savior and all He can give you to solve your problems."

“Self-esteem” has infiltrated our churches, especially our women’s ministries. If we took inventory of all the women's studies on the market, we’d find plenty of self-help tactics that make us feel good but a stunning absence of the doctrine of sin, because sin doesn’t make us feel good—so it’s masked in words like “insecurity” and “negative self-image.” But when we belittle the idea of sin, we lose the gospel.

3. The “Expressive Individualism” Culture

This one claims that Christianity is all about “being true to yourself,” “following your heart,” and “living authentically.”

But this idea runs counter to everything the gospel says. We’re sinners who can’t trust our hearts because they’re deceitful. This distortion will seem appealing to your women (even to you!) because it makes truth all about you! But it will only lead to confusion and, ultimately, spiritual death.

4. The “Optional Jesus” Culture

This belief says, “Jesus is a way, not the way. A person can find their way to God through a number of different spiritual experiences.”

To say that Jesus is optional not only goes against the Bible’s teaching about who Jesus is (John 14:6), but it thwarts the gospel. Ask your women to think about this: As C.S. Lewis said, if Jesus is only “a way” to God, He’s either a lunatic or a liar for the divine claims He made and His sacrifice on the cross was for nothing. It was a waste of a life. And if this is true, then “our faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

5. The “Prosperity Jesus” Culture

This distorted view of Jesus says that He guarantees His followers a happy, healthy life with no troubles.

But Jesus suffered. And those who believe in Him will suffer too (Mark 8:34). We must help our women guard against the belief that Jesus is here to cozy up our lives and make everything easy for us. If they’re deceived into believing this, they won’t follow Jesus for long, because they’ll be disappointed, bitter, or even hardened to God when things don’t go their way.

6. The “Faith-And” Culture

This distortion claims that “faith and” something else is sufficient to save me: Faith and my good works; faith and enough self-loathing; faith and a right understanding of God.

Many of our women struggle to believe that God would give such a free gift without requiring them to earn it. Because our sin-nature screams for independence and control, we want to have something to do with our salvation. But we cannot add one thing to the work and person of Jesus Christ. It is finished; death is defeated; evil is overcome. All because of Him.

7. The “Faith-So” Culture

The opposite end of the spectrum says, “Jesus is my righteousness and perfection, so I can live however I want because in the end, I’m saved!”

Theologians have called this “cheap grace.” Yes, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, but we are set free from sin’s power to live for Christ, not to remain in our sin and live any way we want. Faith does not give us the freedom to stay in sin; it frees us from sin so our lives increasingly point to Jesus.

As a leader of women, what would it look like for you to build a firm gospel-foundation for them this ministry year? How will you equip your women to discern gospel-distortions? Praise God, this beautiful gospel applies even to these efforts, as you entrust your women to Him and walk by faith that He’ll equip you with everything good to do His will and point them to Jesus.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Heb. 13:20–21).

About the Author

Kristen Wetherell

Kristen Wetherell is a wife, mother, and writer. She is the author of Humble Moms and Fight Your Fears, co-author of the award-winning book Hope When It Hurts, and editor of 12 Faithful Women. Kristen enjoys teaching the Bible to women at conferences, events, and retreats. She and her husband, Brad, have one daughter.