what the gospel isn't
As described within the “why does the gospel need to be guarded?” category, the enemy has been working on counterfeit versions of the gospel for over 2,000 years. What the enemy hopes to accomplish is to give you false hope that you are saved. Then you go about your life assuming you are a Christian, maybe giving others misinformation on how to get saved. At the end of your life, you’ll be shocked to learn that you hadn’t in fact ever been saved.

misleading shortcuts

One thing false gospels have in common is they give the listener something to DO as part of being saved. These things are either nowhere in scripture or in scripture but taken out of context. They are a “call to action” so that by the end of the event, it’s clear how many people got saved. Incidentally, a call to action is a marketing tool used to prompt an immediate response. What makes this dangerous is that instead of focusing on believing to be saved, which often takes time to process and come to grips with, the false gospel encourages the listener to do something right then. The pastor may say, “if you’re sitting there and heart is racing you should stand up and come forward” or quote the verse, “today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b). You could be sitting in a church service, have a rebellious heart against God, not listening to a word that’s been said until you hear the pastor say that in order to be saved all you have to do is to repeat a prayer after he says it. Will saying those words make you now saved, even though you understand nothing about your sin condition and are inclined to hold to your belief that there is no God?

I had an atheist friend who agreed to go hear Billy Graham at a crusade years ago. At the end of Mr. Graham’s sermon, he invited people to walk forward if they wanted to get saved. To my shock, my friend said he’d like to walk forward. So down the aisle we went as Amy Grant sang, “Just as I am”. Standing in a huge crowd, I heard my friend repeat the words of a prayer that Mr. Graham led. Afterwards I told my friend how excited I was for him, to which he replied, “I don’t want to talk about it - I only did it because I was curious what would happen - nothing happened.” Over 20 years later, he still holds to his atheist beliefs and will not talk with me about God.

In the case of my friend, he knows he’s not saved. However, many who hear the gospel and are told to do something to get saved but aren’t ready to believe will be walking around with the false sense of being saved but are not. They aren’t saved because they didn’t do the one thing that scripture requires - believe. According to the original greek, “believe” means confidence and trust. Both words speak to having a clear understanding. The dictionary defines trust as “believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of”. So believing is not something that comes without knowing enough about Jesus and your sinfulness to trust Him.

call to action examples

Pray a prayer - the most common call to action is asking listeners to repeat a prayer. Ironically, the prayer itself often contains a clear gospel, but too often it comes at the end of a sermon that has nothing to do with how to be saved. The audience hasn’t heard the details of the gospel and then they’re asked if they might pray the prayer. So they have to agree to repeat something that they’ve yet to hear and process. Following the prayer, the pastor will say, “if you just prayed that prayer, you can know that you are saved!” If they didn’t understand what they were saying or weren’t sure they agreed with it, how could it save them? When Peter, Paul or any other disciple were asked what they must do to be saved, did they ever respond, “just repeat this prayer after me”?

Walk the aisle - this sometimes precedes the pastor asking people to repeat a prayer, but the act of walking the aisle is associated for some with getting saved. The problem is ANYONE can “walk the aisle”, but few are likely ready at that moment to truly believe. If someone walked forward but is unclear about the gospel itself, they could be misled into thinking they are saved when they’re not yet. We know the thief on the cross next to Jesus didn’t walk an aisle before he got saved.

Ask Jesus into your heart - the verse used to support this is “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelations 3:20) The problem is this verse is Jesus speaking to believers who have become complacent - NOT the unsaved. Nowhere in scripture does someone instruct an unbeliever to ask Jesus into their heart to get saved. It creates problems similar to asking someone to repeat a prayer to get saved. Anyone can say, “Jesus, I ask you into my heart”, even if they don’t yet understand their sin condition or accept that Jesus is God. If scripture doesn’t say it, why are you saying it?

Repent - this one is tricky, because there are a few instances where the word “repent” is associated with being saved. Everyone who is unsaved is going their own way and leaning on their own understanding. In order to believe, there needs to be enough humility to accept that you need what He did for you on the cross. Some might need to “come to the end of themselves” before they’re willing to believe. Someone operating in pride with a hard heart towards God is not ready to believe. All that said, if you are expected to literally turn from every sin before you get saved, there’s too much room for confusion and doubt (”did I repent for ALL my sins? maybe I forgot some so then I’m not saved yet”). After we get saved, for the rest of our lives, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and help us to become more like Christ.

Baptism - there’s a few big denominations that believe that if you were baptized as a baby then you are saved. But WHERE in the bible does it say that? You can’t make the decision to believe for someone else. People who believe this will go through life thinking they are saved when they are not. Being baptized as an adult is something that can be done after someone is saved. It doesn’t save them, but is an opportunity to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and what that means to us. When someone is saved, they receive the Holy Spirit (some call this the baptism of the Holy Spirit). This is something God does for us when we believe. When scripture says, “believe and be baptized” it’s referring to this happening as a result of believing.

Anything else other than believe - some will tell people to “make a commitment to Christ”. Where is that in scripture? Don’t add anything to the gospel, even if you’ve heard a pastor you respect say it. Take the time to verify that what you tell people is biblically accurate (and used in proper context) and don’t create opportunities for people to wrongly assume they are saved when they are not.

other incorrect assumptions

Going to church saves me - there are many people who go to church every week who are not yet saved. There is no scriptural support stating that going to church saves a person. Only when a person believes that Jesus is God, that they are sinners and understands that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and was resurrected conquering death will they be saved.

Taking communion saves me - some believe that taking communion (bread and wine/grape juice) saves them from their sins. Jesus tells us to remember what He did for us when we take communion. “And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (I Corinthians 11:24) Eating and drinking something cannot take away our sins and will not save us. We must BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.

Being good will save me - Scripture tells us, “No one is good--except God alone.” (Mark 10:18b) You may be good compared to others, but compared to God we are all a mess. Because God is perfect, He needs us to be saved through what Christ did on the cross in order to wash away our sins. Otherwise, even the NICEST person on earth will need to be sent away from God’s presence and spend eternity in Hell. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) If you pride yourself on being good you might want credit for that and therefore resist the fact that none of your own goodness counts for anything with God toward salvation. It’s so important that you let that go and make room for His greater good that He will work in you for HIS glory (and not yours).

My parents are Christians, so I guess I am, too - If your parents are saved, you have the benefit of seeing their examples and likely their prayers. That said, we must each individually believe in order to be saved. Entire families will not go to Heaven unless each and every person in a family comes to the point where they believe. If you are saved and have unsaved family members, pray that God will find ways to point them in His direction and will work to prepare their hearts to believe. Don’t give up - prayer has power!

I got confirmed therefore I’m saved - confirmation teaches you about Christian beliefs, but going to a class does not automatically make you a Christian. Many who get confirmed are a little too young to really understand what it is they’re taught. Regardless, to be saved you must believe and no one can force you to do that - to believe is a choice that we must each make when we’re ready.