Wednesday, August 13, 2008
08.10.08 Tricked, Hoodwinked, and Duped - Assistant Teacher, Nathan
On Sunday, August 10th Nathan led our class as the new assistant teacher for One.
1 John 2:18-29 (You can read the text here [link])
The apostle John wrote this letter in the early 90s A.D. He wrote to address a serious doctrinal issue that kept coming up in churches. False teachers were teaching a form of Gnosticism in the churches, and some had even broken away from the church and taken church members with them. Although, Gnosticism did not fully develop as a system of belief until the second century, most scholars agree that a form of proto-Gnosticism (Gnosticism in its early stages) was growing in the late first century. Scholars and historians are able to identify two different forms of Gnostic teaching that were growing at the time. Although the details may be different the gist was the same.
The proto-Gnostic teachings that John addresses are, in their most basic sense, a form a dualism. The culturally acceptable belief was that all matter was essentially evil and all spirits were essentially good. Therefore, as far as human beings were concerned, the body of a man was evil and the spirit of a man was good. Also, there could be no coexistence of the two, and so, consequently, Gnostic philosophers had a serious problem with the incarnation of Christ. In accordance with Gnostic teaching, Jesus could not have been both God and man at the same time, and therefore the doctrine of the humanity of Christ could not be accepted. Although rejecting the humanity of Christ was the most serious error of Gnostic teaching, other errors followed. For instance, because the spirit was good and the body was bad, you could do anything you wanted to with your body. Anything! Sex, drunkenness, whatever, it did not matter because the spirit and the body of a man were not related, according to Gnostic teachings. Furthermore, relationships did not matter, so you could treat anybody any way you wanted. Also, there was a serious emphasis on knowledge and the goal was to obtain this special form of knowledge which led to a very elitist group with elitist teachers.
John writes this epistle amidst this backdrop. One important point to remember is that these Gnostic teachings were being taught in churches. Not just any church, but churches founded by the apostles. Many Christians were left shaken by what had transpired in their churches. John was the last remaining apostle at this time and was considered to be an authoritative voice because of his close relation to Jesus. No doubt, many Christians were eager to hear from the apostle John.
Introduction to the Text
John’s first epistle instructs believers on how they can know that they are indeed Christians according to 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Many of the proto-Gnostic teachers, who taught an elitist view that you had to obtain special knowledge for salvation, no doubt left many wandering about the certainty of their salvation.
John spends chapter 1 and chapter 2, through verse 17, affirming the truth of the incarnation, stressing that Christians walk in the light and not in darkness, and that Christians love their fellow believers. Beginning with verse 18 of chapter 2, John begins to specifically address the false teachers teaching this false doctrine. He begins a contrast of believers to nonbelievers. In essence, John leads us into a courtroom and lays out the evidence before us. He plainly explains the evidence of a Christian.
1. The Evidence of Continuing with the Fellowship (verses 18-19)
John reminds us in verse 18 that many Antichrists have come. Antichrists, as it is used here, refer to “pseudo” or “false” Christs who are, even though they may not realize it themselves, are against God and teaching a false doctrine. These false teachers had infiltrated churches and had left many churches and taken other members of the congregation with them. John tells the recipients of the letter in verse 19 that these people “… went out from us, but were not of us.” In other words although they were with and part of the congregation, they did not belong in the fellowship of believers because they were not Christians. Because, as John goes on to write in verse 19, “… if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” If these people, who taught and believed this false doctrine, were indeed Christians, they would not have left this fellowship of believers. True Christians have a desire to be in fellowship with other Christians. In accordance with Hebrews 10:25, there should be an evidence for a desire to receive instruction from God’s word, worship God corporately, and experience mutual encouragement and edification from other Christians. And, as John reminds them, because these teachers and their followers left the congregation, they made it very plain to see that they were not truly Christians.
2. The Evidence of the Holy Spirit (verses 20-27)
In verse 20, John reminds his readers that they have been given the Holy Spirit. True Christians will show evidence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is not in the past tense, as in, “I prayed a prayer 20 years ago to receive Christ.” The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is in the present tense. In other words, the Holy Spirit is working in our lives right now in the following ways:
A. Relationship with Jesus – John tells his readers in verse 21 that they “… do know the truth.” John is not only saying that they know the truth of the gospel, but that they know the TRUTH, Jesus Christ. In John 14:6 Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” True Christians will not cling to dogmas or good works, but only to Jesus Christ. John 3:16 is one of the most well-known bible verses. However, there is wonderful nugget in it that on the surface we may not see to clearly. In the original Greek, the word translated to “believes” (“… whoever believes in Him…”) is in the present participle tense. Therefore, a correct translation would be “whoever is believing in Him.” John writes in verse 24, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” The implication, once again, is that true Christians remain or continue with Christ because if you are abiding in Christ, then Christ is abiding in you.
B. Reliance on Sound Doctrine – Remember that these proto-Gnostics denied Jesus’ humanity. Therefore, because they denied Jesus, they did not have Jesus. True Christians will continue with the sound teachings of the church. Anyone who begins to deny doctrines cardinal to the faith gives serious doubt to the genuineness of their salvation. As John writes in verse 25, those who remain with the truth of the gospel have eternal life, those who do not, do not have eternal life.
C. Internal Polygraph Machine – True, maturing Christians should be able to determine a false doctrine when they see one. In verses 26 and 27 John tells the readers that the Holy Spirit will enable them to determine the truth from error. Because knowledge was so central to the proto-Gnostic teachings that only special, elite people who had the knowledge could teach others. John reminds them that they do not need a special teacher because they have the Holy Spirit.
3. The Evidence of Righteousness (verses 28-29)
As we discussed earlier, the prevailing Gnostic philosophy was that because the body was matter, then the body was bad. Because the body was bad and separate from the spirit you could do whatever you wanted involving your body. A few weeks ago when B.J. covered 1 John 1:5-9, he pointed out that Christians cannot live lives of habitual sin. That is exactly the case here, so I will not spend a lot of time rehashing that point. True Christians will show evidence of growing in righteousness. That does not mean that we are perfect and never sin, but it means that our lives are characterized by a desire for wanting to be more like Christ.
You may be wandering what does this have to do with us? Well, it has a lot to do with us, and it is a pretty serious matter. What we have been discussing is known as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. However, it has been watered down in recent times in evangelical circles and become known as “eternal security.” Often, preachers and Christians refer to someone who has prayed a prayer of salvation and been baptized as eternally secure. Is a person who has shown no evidence of being a true Christian a Christian if they prayed a prayer 30 years ago? No, they are probably not. I am not a judge and I am not trying to be a judge, but our faithfulness and obedience to the gospel is at stake. We cannot lead people down a path of destruction by allowing them to believe they are Christians, when indeed they are not.