The phrase fake news refers to news presented to influence our beliefs and opinions instead of just delivering facts. Because of the increase of fake news on social media and other platforms, it can be difficult to discern truth from fiction. The same holds true in how the gospel is presented.

Related: Watch an animated gospel presentation

The message of how God relates to us and our world is the most important message to be announced. Unfortunately, if mishandled, it can become a distorted message that ends up being far from the truth.

Here are three questions you can use to truth-test a gospel message.

What is the source of the message?

People draw on various sources to back up what they say. Some use experience: “Because this happened to me, it must be true.” Others draw from emotion: “Because this feels right, it must be true.” Still others rely on an authority figure for validation: “My pastor said…” And while none of these sources are wrong in and of themselves, they are not credible unless they align with scripture. The Bible is designed to be the measuring stick (or standard) against which doctrine is measured. (2 Timothy 3:16) Any gospel message must align with scripture as a whole. 

Does the message present the “bad news”?

Gospel means “good news", but it is against the backdrop of bad news. It is the solution to a problem some call the divine dilemma. On one side you have God who is perfect, pure, and holy. On the other side you have people who have fallen short of God’s perfection and deserve the penalty for sin, which is eternal separation from God. Thus, we have the dilemma of how a holy, perfect God can be reconciled with the people He has created who fall short of His perfect standard and stand guilty before Him. The Bible puts it this way, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19) This “bad news” is essential to the gospel message as people need to know of their condition before God in order to see their need for Christ.

Is the basis of the message the person and work of Christ?

Christ is the foundation and heart of the good news. Because of this, the gospel must include who He is and what He has done for us. He is the Son of God who came to the earth as one of us in order to be our “sin bearer.” He took the penalty for our sin when He died on the cross and rose from the dead so we can have eternal life. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) A gospel message that points to anything other than (or in addition to) the person and work of Christ as the basis for salvation is a “fake” gospel.

What is the message asking people to do in response to the gospel?

In Acts 16, the Philippian jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?” In other words, what must I do to be rescued from the penalty of sin and be made right with God? The answer Paul gave is the only acceptable answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) The word “believe” means “trust”. We must trust in Jesus Christ as our sin bearer and as our only way to heaven. Any additional requirement for salvation (baptism, good works, church attendance) over and above faith alone in Christ alone is “fake news”.

Information arrives and spreads at a pace like we've never seen before in the digital age. Because of the tremendous speed, the desire to fact check takes a back seat to the desire to share what we've seen or heard. While it's certainly worth pushing back on this trend, it's essential we do so in relation to the gospel.