Too hip for our own good
“Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God. But whoever stays with the teaching, stays faithful to both the Father and the Son.“ – Vs 9 MSG
Today there is a trend in Christian circles to be relevant and contextual. It is the mantra of the postmodern crowd who believe that we have to do all we can to make the gospel more palatable and approachable to a new generation of believers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for relevancy and making the scriptures relatable to your audience, but we always run the risk of altering the message in such a way that the central message of the cross can become clouded and even lost. This seems to be the message behind John’s short little letter. Whether he is writing to an actual woman (lady) or referring metaphorically to one of the churches in Ephesus, we don’t know. But it seems clear that he warning his reader(s) about false teachers. This was a growing problem as the church spread throughout the known world at this time in history. The apostles were the gatekeepers of the truth and their numbers were declining. New churches were springing up as the gospel spread, but there were not always knowledgeable teachers in place to educate the people. So it was easy for well-intentioned, but misguided individuals to pop up and begin teaching their version of the Truth.
John simply warns about “anyone who is so progressive in his thinking that he walks out of the teaching of Christ.” The New International Version translates it this way: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ…” This person has “run ahead” or gone too far according to the New American Standard Version. The Greek word means “to go further than is right or proper.” They’ve overstepped proper bounds. So much so, that John was bold enough to say that they don’t have God. Their teaching was so wrong it revealed that they were not even in Christ.
So what was it they were teaching that was so bad? Well, according to John, “They do not believe that Jesus Christ came to earth in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist” (Vs 7 NLT). At best, they were denying the incarnation of Jesus. He didn’t really come in human flesh. He wasn’t really born of a virgin. But they also were probably denying His death, burial and resurrection. If He didn’t really come in a human body, there was no reason for Him to die and resurrect. And that means He doesn’t have a human body today. So in essence, they were denying the key elements of the gospel message. Most likely because it didn’t sell well in their cultural context. They had updated the gospel story to suit their own tastes and to attract an audience that might have found the original version a little too hard to swallow.
Is this happening today? You bet. In countless ways. There are entire movements within Christianity that downplay everything from the divinity of Christ to His miracles. There are churches and teachers out there who over-emphasize Jesus’ humanity and downplay His deity. They stress His role as a model for life as a man, and lift Him up as an example to follow. But in doing so they virtually eliminate His role as Savior and redeemer. They turn Jesus into more of a life coach and self-help guru than the Savior of the world. These teachers stress social action and civic awareness, but downplay man’s sin and our need for a Savior. In their efforts to make the church more missional, they fail to teach the gospel as life-transformational. Behavior modification takes the place of heart transformation. The Bible becomes little more than a blue print for living and Jesus gets turned into a life coach with some great tips for making a difference in the world.
This is another gospel. But it is NOT the gospel of the Bible. So John warns us to not even give someone who teaches this kind of stuff a greeting. “If someone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite him into your house or encourage him in any way” (Vs 10 NLT). Sounds a little rude doesn’t it? But John knew that false teaching of any kind was dangerous and especially among new believers who were not yet grounded in the truth. They were susceptible to the lies, the pretensions or plausible lies, that sounded so good, but were far from the truth. The lies are subtle and deceptive. They sneak in and catch us unawares. They are cloaked in a lot of terms that seem familiar and give them a sense of validity and credibility. But we have to check to make sure that the truth of the gospel message regarding Jesus Christ remains unchanged. The context should never change the content. Relevancy should never change the reality of Jesus Christ and His incarnation, substitionary death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and coming return. Or the fact that salvation is available through Him alone, but grace alone.
Father, keep us pure. Help us stay focused on the truth of the gospel message. False teachers abound today and sometimes we have a hard time seeing them. Give us eyes and ears to see and hear truth and recognize falsehood. Protect Your church Father from the lies of the enemy. Help us to see that they are subtle and we can be so susceptible to them if we are not grounded in Your Word and knowledgeable of Your truth. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men