Does “Simplicity in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3) Refer to a Simple, As In Easy, Gospel?
Updated: Jan 22
The passage reads:
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Did Paul mean that if the gospel isn’t simple than it must be corrupt? Simple as in easy, uncomplicated, basic? The passage cannot be divided from the verse that follows:
“For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”
Does repentance and the Lordship of Christ take away from the simplicity of the gospel or make the gospel to complicated or more complicated than it should be? This is an argument occasionally heard but I think the opposite is true. The true gospel is the most “simple,” because it is the one you can show from the Bible. A false gospel is one where you have to read into the text of scripture or manipulate scripture or ignore scripture, and that is what complicates the gospel and corrupts the simplicity that is in Christ.
The erroneous concept of simplicity of the gospel as in an easy gospel arises usually from three different ways.
1. One, by claiming the gospel to be simple means very easy to understand even for someone of little mental capacity or how we would maybe describe something as simple — without very many moving parts or easy to assemble.
2. Two, 1 Cor 1 where Paul says that the saving message isn't for the "wise" or the "scribe" or "the disputer of this world." Since it isn't for the "wise," it must be for those not so wise. It is the "foolishness of God," (v 21) something that doesn't even make sense in its lack of complication, a simplicity that would not be expected by an intellectual researching His plan of salvation. He would make it more sophisticated.
3. Three, Peter and John’s description in Ac 4:13, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." The idea here is that the gospel of Jesus is one for even the "unlearned and ignorant men." It must be simple, because that's how the original disciples of Jesus were — simple. They weren’t simple however, because in Scripture the simple are almost predominately, if not entirely, lost people (e.g. Ps 19:7; 119:130; Pr 1:23-32; 9:16; 14:15, 18; Rom 16:18).
These concepts all tie allegedly to 2 Cor 11:3, quoted above, where Paul warns of a Satanic subtlety that corrupts the simplicity in Christ. This verse however is not saying that the gospel is simple, as in easy, ignorant, basic.
It is important and worthy to explore what "simplicity" means in 2 Cor 11:3, if "simple" has the same meaning here as we use the word today. Words do change meaning over time, especially in hienz 57 languages like English. Other examples are found in our English Bible such as “careful” in Phil 4:6 (“Be careful for nothing…”) which actually meant “anxious” a half millennial ago.
The word translated simplicity, “aplotes,” is found eight times in the NT. It is translated "liberality" in 2 Cor 8:2, "bountifulness" in 2 Cor 9:11, and "liberal" in 2 Cor 9:13. It is translated "singleness of heart" in Eph 6:5 and Col 3:22. In Rom 12:8, the KJV translates it also “simplicity," but the obvious meaning is similar to 2 Cor 8 and 9, for it reads, "he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity." That is, give liberally and bountifully. The foremost Greek lexicon BDAG defines it as: "Of simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached’, ‘without hidden agendas’." The meaning of the word translated "simplicity" fits with the understanding of a true gospel.
The simple gospel, the true one, is one in which it is clear cut how to be saved, who is saved and that all can be saved, which is repeatedly detailed in Scripture. You can know this gospel. It is available to all. It doesn’t exclude pointed preaching against sin or true repentance or the fear of God (which without no man can be saved — Ps 66:16; Pr 1:20-31; Ac 13:26). It doesn't muddle it up the nature of Jesus with convoluted explanations, leaving out His Lordship, nor does it deny the absolute necessity of repentance and what it means. It isn't the contemporary gospel, where it’s almost impossible to judge, because a person could live in sin and a state of carnality and still be “saved.”
The corrupted “simple” gospel seems to come with a hidden agenda that plays around with the Lordship of Christ. You receive Jesus as Saviour in the “simple gospel,” and then maybe receive Him as Lord at some later date. Related to that is a rejection of repentance for conversion and the fact we become disciples and slaves (servants) of Christ at the moment of conversion. As all of the doctrine of salvation relates to the modern understanding of simple, the later additions or omissions to a true gospel have complicated the true simplicity. Salvation comes through believing in Jesus Christ, and He's either the Jesus of the Bible or He's not. And believing without true repentance is a false faith.
The two biggest ways that both "believe" and "Jesus Christ" are perverted today are related to one other. The gospel is corrupted when "believe" does not include true repentance (Lk 5:31-32; 9:23-26, 57-62; 13:1-5; 14:25–15:32; 18:9-30) and “Jesus Christ" does not include Him as Lord. Jesus is the way to the Father (Jn 14:6). You can't get there going your way, and your way happens to be idolatrous until then (Rom 1:19-32). Jesus said that if you did not repent, you would perish (Lk 13:1-9). He said if you believe, you won't perish (Jn 3:15-16). True repentance is the catalyst to true faith (Matt 21:28-32; Ac 3:19 and 4:4). They are two separated doctrines, but they dovetail for salvation.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ and True Faith
1. Jesus will save indeed. He's the Saviour (2 Pet 3:18) but the thrust of His saving message was about Him as King (Jn 12:13), Lord (Phil 2:11), God (Jn 20:28), the promised Messiah (Jn 1:12-13). The lost who genuinely desire salvation can’t receive a divided “Christ” who is only Saviour but receive Him as God, Lord, King, and Saviour, both as Redeemer and Ruler. The emphasis in Scripture is on receiving Christ as Lord. Jesus is Saviour no doubt but this specific title Saviour (“Soter”) is found only 39 times in the entire Bible (24 in the NT), not once in Romans and only twice in Acts (we don’t get “Saviour” till 5:31) while the title of "Lord" 675 times in the NT alone. “Lord” is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” This is the Divine name for God.
2. The consistent truth of Scripture is that "Jesus is Lord,” Yahweh or Jehovah. “Saviour” is found only 3 times in the gospels, one of which is in John (4:42), and twice in Luke (1:47; 2:11). It is used more times in Titus (6) than the gospels and Acts combined. In all those initial messages of Peter in the book of Acts, it was Lord—Ac 2:20, 21, 25, 34, 36, 39; 3:19, 22; 4:24, 26, 29, 33. Throughout Acts on every page you‘ll see the Apostles thundering "Jesus is Lord.”
3. In Romans, that great salvation book, “Lord” is found 45 times in 39 verses, but zero times “Saviour.” As Paul explains the great doctrine of salvation so much in that book, he doesn't mention "Saviour" at all. Even when "Saviour" is used in Scripture, it gets used with "Lord" over 1/3 of the time. The preaching of Lordship of Jesus is all the way through the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and fits with OT salvation as well. And what was John the Baptist preaching in Jn 1:23? “Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” So we see it’s the same message as the OT prophets. And indeed it would be; salvation has never changed.
4. Does all this mean anything? Absolutely! The title "Saviour" in the NT is used almost exclusively on behalf of and directed toward believers — Jesus being described as their Saviour. The outcome of salvation. Jesus becomes our Saviour but is received as Lord. That‘s also how the Bible reads, with nothing contradicting that. Saviour is never used in a presentation of salvation in the Bible, but Lord consistently. There’s also no example of anyone calling upon Jesus as Saviour, but plenty as Lord.
5. The pejorative nature of "Lordship salvation" is that "Lordship" is added to salvation. It’s not. It’s just salvation. I still like the label in spite of the attacks against it, since it distinguishes from a deficient salvation most common today in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. This title was given as a pejorative by inventors of a new doctrine of salvation to replace the Biblical doctrine historically taught. Every major statement of faith over the previous five hundred years or so from Baptist and other Bible-believing churches had “Lordship salvation” as their doctrine of salvation (Rome destroyed most records prior to this). Due to Calvinists using the term, sometimes falsely, all sorts of garbage has been dumped on it to where it must be defined. It isn't hard to defend, just avoiding tortured sound bytes.
6. The “belief" of the true gospel is not mere intellectual assent. It means more than just registering something in the brain. Interpretation is guided by the laws of language. Belief must be what the Bible says. Belief involves the will. If someone believes Jesus is the Christ, he has acquiesced to Jesus' authority and upon conversion will obey His Word (Jn 14:23-24; 1 Jn 2:3-5). That’s what “the just shall live by faith” means. The reign belongs to Jesus, not himself. If someone is to come to Christ, he must deny himself. He must relinquish self as lord for Jesus as Lord. He recognizes that. That means he turns from himself and becomes a follower of Christ (servant or slave—same meaning).
Someone who stays on the throne of his own life doesn't believe like this. Most evangelicals and modern day Christians however want the repentant-less “belief” to still to be belief and the Lord-less "Jesus" to still to be Jesus. It isn't. It's a distortion. The distortion is what complicates simplicity. The word “believe” actually entails the idea of committal or entrustment in the common NT verb "to believe in/on Him,” the verb found in texts such as Jn 3:16 is evident, and translated in a form including “commit” in Lk 16:11; Jn 2:24; Rom 3:2; 1 Cor 9:17; Gal 2:7; 1 Tim 1:11; Ti 1:3. The idea of committal or entrustment in “faith” is clearly exemplified in Lk 16:11 (committing or entrusting true riches to a person); Jn 2:24 (Christ not committing Himself to the unregenerate); Rom 3:2 (Gods Word being entrusted or committed to Israel); 1 Cor 9:17; Gal 2:7; 1 Tim 1:11; Ti 1:3 (an administration of the gospel being committed or entrusted to Paul
7. Very often the incomplete, and therefore false message exempt of Lordship/repentance perverts the teaching of Scripture even more so by twisting the doctrine of sanctification. Deceptive professors of faith go on serving themselves, believing they are saved and that their disobedience is somehow justified by a belief in some future moment of dedication and “discipleship.” They're saved, just not “dedicated” or “discipled.” Jesus is Saviour to them, but not quite Lord. At some later date, they might bump themselves up to that higher plateau of spiritual existence, perhaps when they get "revival." "Lordship" is just one of the steps of Christian growth. All this is evil. It’s also two-tiered Christianity—Keswick theology.
If someone diminishes the identity of Jesus to widen the threshold or broaden His appeal to the lost or some other reason, you get another Jesus. That's actually what 2 Cor 11:3-4 is talking about more than anything as related to the distortion of the gospel, that is, another Jesus Who will not save, albeit a more palatable Jesus to someone who wishes to remain in charge of His own life and on his own throne. The Bible reveals a faith and another gospel that cannot and will not save (exemplified in Jn 2:23-25; Ac 8:13-24; 1 Jn 2:15-29; Jam 2:14-19; 2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:6-9; etc). Men present this alternative Jesus, because he's easier to accept, but he doesn't save, because he isn't Jesus. “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Cor 11:4).
People today are more messed up about the true gospel than ever.
It's actually simple. Jesus is either Lord or He isn’t. That's simple. That's not hard to grasp. True faith involves entrustment and committal, an exchange of masters and humbling of self, and true repentance, which involves all three faculties of man: intellect, will and emotions, and produces turning from all sin (Ac 14:15-17; 1 Th 1:10), from self (Lk 14:25; 18:10-14; Matt 6:24), from ones stuff which is idolatry (Lk 18:22-30; 19:1-10) and from family and those close to us (Matt 10:34-39; Lk 14:25).
Embracing a belief and Jesus that excludes repentance and Lordship is a distortion, and that complicates simplicity. Jesus is either Lord or He isn’t. That's not hard to grasp. What makes it hard? People want to stay in charge and their own way. They want a Jesus who’ll save them, but not rule them. Men present this alternative Jesus, because he's easier to accept. But he doesn't save, because he isn't Jesus. Is this you?
“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Is 55:6-7).