It has been interesting to see some of the responses to my recent posts concerning the book of First John. Much of what John was dealing with in his letter head to do with heresies entering the early Church. As Christianity spread, so did the variety and numbers of different interpretations of the gospel. The book of First John is a pastoral letter addressed to believers and designed to both warn and encourage them. His intention was to provide them with assurance concerning their beliefs in Christ. Throughout the letter John used the phrase, “by this we know.” He wanted them to know, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But He was much more than just a human savior, an earthly deliverer who would provide them with victory over their earthly enemies. He came to be their Savior from sin and their means for enjoying a right relationship with God. For generations, the Jews had believed that the Mosaic Law was the key to achieving a right relationship with God. Human effort had been the accepted means by which men could find favor with God. The sacrificial system, given by God, was used by men to have their sins cleansed and forgiven. The very fact that the sacrificial system existed was proof that men were incapable of keeping God’s commands. Paul writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21 ESV). The law revealed man’s sin, but could do nothing to remove it. The law simply exposed man’s inability to meet God’s holy standards. Which is why God provided a Savior.
But it is at that point that so many continue to stumble today. I have received comments from some who refuse to accept the deity of Christ. They argue that Jesus was nothing more than a man, created by God. This is not a new view. John battled the same errant belief in his day. One of the comments I received stated, “‘And the Word was made flesh’ talks about the Word or the Speaking which became a reality, namely a man of flesh and blood, who after his resurrection proved to his disciples that he was not a Spirit (though God is Spirit) and told them so.” It is subtle, but what he is saying is that Jesus was nothing more than a man into whom the Word or Spirit of God entered. He was flesh and blood. But the disturbing point about this teaching is that it rejects the deity of Christ. For John, the deity of Christ was a non-negotiable ingredient to the gospel. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was not speaking of some disembodied Spirit or force, but of Jesus Christ Himself. He was from the beginning. He was the eternal life. As John states in his gospel, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3 ESV).
There are those today who still reject the deity of Christ. They refuse to accept Him as God. This was the same problem Jesus ran into during His earthly ministry. On one occasion, as Jesus was walking through the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews demand to know if He is the Messiah. Jesus makes a simple, but direct comment: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And the immediate response of the Jews was to pick up stones and kill Him. Why? They provided the answer. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV). The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God. He was not just claiming to be a man who had the Spirit of God within Him. He and God the Father were one. It is Jesus’ deity, miraculously blended with His humanity, that made Him a fitting sacrifice for the sins of man. To believe anything else is to believe another gospel. If we believe that we can simply emulate the life of Christ and share in the divine Spirit as He did, we miss the point of His life, death, and resurrection. The belief that God became flesh is essential to the gospel. Yet, as in John’s day, there are those who refuse to accept it. Again, one of the recent comments I received put it this way: “Having come down in the form of a god, does not mean Jesus came down as the God of gods.” In other words, Jesus was NOT God, but a little god. And according to this teaching, we can become a little god by following His example. But this is NOT the gospel. And the apostle Paul had strong words for those who would attempt to explain away the true essence of the gospel message. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).